When we think of product companies, what typically comes to mind are the things they make and sell. But it takes much more than that to become a brand that customers love. While Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Company offers timeless, high-quality products, their team has also invested in thinking beyond the basics to focus on company culture, an authentic American ethic, and solid values to drive customer experience.
Sara Fritsch is Vice President of Product, Brand, Marketing and Sales at Schoolhouse Electric, and took the time to introduce us to the intangible ingredients that form the core of their business. Sara will be speaking at this year’s Delight Conference about what’s not for sale and the art and impact of authenticity.
Creating a backdrop for authentic experiences
Amber: How do you create intangible experiences while also keeping a focus on day to day business? What are the “not for sale” elements of Schoolhouse as a company?
Sara: There is a literal interpretation of not for sale, and then the metaphorical one, and I love the way they play off each other. First and foremost, we believe that your home should reflect who you are, where you come from and what you believe in. We want to help create a beautiful backdrop for people’s lives and experiences. In a more literal sense, our customers don’t come to Schoolhouse to style their entire home. We provide some key pieces to mix and match with pieces that you have collected and curated throughout life. Don’t buy a new dresser if you have one that brings back good memories, or that has a story, or that you fell in love with at a vintage shop.
You might see a beautiful image that’s getting pinned a million times on Pinterest, and maybe a key part of that image is a vintage dresser that we don’t sell, but there is a beautifully displayed light on it, along with some hardware that we do sell.
Values drive delight
Amber: Tell me about Schoolhouse Electric’s values and how they represent your company.
Sara: The products we make and sell are tangible evidence of what we believe in. They are beautiful, thoughtful extensions of who we are, why we’re here and how we source things. For example, if you’re making spaghetti sauce, there’s more that goes into it than ingredients. There’s the love that you put into it, the fact that it’s your grandma’s recipe and the way you feel when you are making it. All of that can be tasted in the final product.
Good customer experience comes from the inside out. It’s important to teach and preach your values within the company and trust that they will shine externally as well. We treat our employees with respect. When we do that for each other, it spreads to our customer experience as well. I think these are timeless values and that its always the right time to focus on getting them right.
Find your why
Amber: How can other companies create “not for sale” strategies?
Sara: People aren’t only going to buy what you do; they’re also going to buy why you do it. So, if you accept that to be true, you’d better focus pretty hard on identifying your why and make sure that it’s both compelling and authentic.
So if I think about my personal why, I obsess the details of our products so that your home provides you a great canvas to create experiences that are important to you and memories with people that you love. I want to sell things to people who realize that the best things are not for sale. And I want them to trust that whether its lighting or a couch, we are going to get it right. We don’t offer 500 options. We have a few things for you to choose from that we really believe in. And from there you can just enjoy life because you’ve got the backdrop covered.
And in relation to Schoolhouse as a company, our mission is to create iconic American products, with an American mindset and aesthetic. It means we have a very mindful supply chain and sourcing strategy, but beyond that, we are focused on redefining an American take on the art of living. France has “joie de vivre” and Italy has “dolce vita.” How does that translate in America? I hold us to a high level of accountability for defining that and demonstrating what it could and should look like.
Amber: How do you choose the locations for your stores and what part does that play in your culture?
Sara: At Schoolhouse we believe in second acts. The company started when Brian, our founder, discovered some old turn of the century molds that would likely have just disappeared. He bought them, blew glass into them and started this business based on them. Our locations are similar. Our Portland factory, and our soon-to-be Pittsburgh location are both buildings with a past and we are committed to giving them a future.
That is also true of the fact that we’re keeping a lot of old American manufacturing and craft alive. Glass blowing is an example, and also sewing and metal spinning. Our global supply chain includes many American manufacturers that we are proud to collaborate with.
Growing in the right direction
Amber: Tell me about why Schoolhouse is not planning to go the IPO route. How would that change your customer experience and work culture?
Sara: There are three main reasons.
One, we are having a lot of fun. I think that’s clear in our product, our store displays, our digital efforts and our catalogs. Fun is absolutely a competitive advantage, in life and business. The second reason is that we have a lot of control. We answer to ourselves, and we have very high standards for ourselves. Number three is our ability to be nimble. As soon as you have investors or a board, it slows things down. The way we’re currently structured means we can pivot quickly, and we can make sure that we continue to have a good time while we’re doing it (see number one).
All photos courtesy of Schoolhouse Electric & Supply
About Sara Fritsch
Creative and charismatic, Sara Fritsch embodies right-meets-left-brain ingenuity. A thought leader to her core, Sara brings big-picture thinking into laser-sharp focus through strategic innovation and a willingness to take risks. As Vice President of Product, Brand, Marketing and Sales for cult lifestyle brand Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co., Sara has crafted a roadmap for success and profitable scalability without sacrificing authenticity. With the heart of an artist, a degree in mechanical engineering, and over 15 years of top-tier business consulting experience, Sara is able see all sides of the proverbial coin and problem-solve accordingly. A proud proponent of “progress over perfection,” she believes big gains come from celebrating small victories.