Restoration Hardware, Fall 1998

At first, the inaugural issue of retailer Restoration Hardware’s catalog confuses several of the judges, since despite the title, only a few of the catalog’s 68 pages sell bona fide hardware. What’s more, the front cover, which consists of a photo of a dog playing with a faux sheepskin toy, a larger picture of the toy itself, and a narrative about what happened when the writer gave his/her dog the toy, is “disconcerting,” says one judge. “and it doesn’t convey the mission of the catalog.”

So how does Restoration Hardware nail down a Silver Award? To quote another judge, “With copy and product selection that makes this catalog distinctive. It is at once comfortable, helpful, retro, and nostalgic.”

Judging by its product selection, the company defines “hardware” very loosely. Products range from a bag of popping corn for $2.50 to a leather sofa for $2,850, with all manner of cleaning products, toys, tools, and knickknacks in between. Yet the panel generally enjoys what a judge describes as “a wonderfully tasteful, interesting, clever mix of products, all centered around the home.”

What ties the merchandise together is the presentation. “This is an elegant catalog promoting elegant products in a truly tasteful way,” lauds a panelist. Even mundane items such as marble polish and sponges are crisply photographed against a clean white background and granted a full paragraph of copy.

And what copy! “The writer is speaking personally, one on one with the reader in the most interesting copy I’ve read in a long time,” enthuses one judge. “And yet the copy provides the needed detail so that the customer can make a purchase decision.” Take the description of a metal fork made for roasting marshmallows: “The world’s comprised of two types of marshmallow roasters: those who delight in setting them ablaze, and others who gingerly brown the outer layer to a puffy golden brown. No matter how you roast, our almost 3-ft. long `stick’ will make you the envy of all twig bearers at your next campfire. Attached to a stay-cool wooden handle, dual stainless-steel prongs hold up to four marshmallows or even a sizable wiener….” Raves another judge, “What’s not to love about the copy? Bravo!”

The customer service, on the other hand, garners mixed reviews. The guarantee, for instance, is lauded as solid and complete, but it’s promoted only on the inside front cover and the order form. And the shipping options and the sales tax requirements could be presented more clearly, say a few judges.

Such shortcomings, though, fade in the face of what most of the panel agrees is an exceptional debut. “Restoration Hardware shows that you don’t always have to shout to sell,” concludes one judge. “You can connect with customers by engaging them and bringing them in with stories and memories they can share. The catalog recognizes that impulse buys happen not just in a store, but at home too.”

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