Fitz and Su of Fitzsu explain their design business concept that has evolved in the age of e-commerce.
Su Sazama and her business partner and husband Fitz (he does not give a last name) met in Chicago — he a design grad, she a performer and advertising major. After rehabbing properties they came to LA where they launched Fitzsu, a store located on Melrose, and then also in Pasadena, selling modern, mostly European, dining and cookware.
As retailing trends changed, they decided to close their brick and mortar stores and create a new business model: a combination of online selling and showcasing their products in their home, which they have fitted out as an informal, by-appointment only, showroom for their design aesthetic that they’ve dubbed (thank you Le Corbusier) their “machine for living.”
The goal of the home and the website is to present Fitzsu as more than just product, but as themselves: a friendly couple with two adorable dogs and a distinct aesthetic and worldview that they share with like-minded customers. They engage customers with themed events and share their lives on a blog where they document their design-related travels.
It’s one manifestation of the evolving approaches to retail in a time of exploding online commerce — not to mention exploding main street rents.
DnA visited them in their home/showroom in Mid-Wilshire and found out just how much they’ve turned their business into their own creative design project, even to the point of projecting a film on the living room wall, curated to suit their guest’s tastes (when we visited, The Conformist was playing.)
DnA: Start by telling us why you created the home-showroom.
Su: The goal is to offer the shopping experience that’s missing now in e-commerce. So we have the adjoining living design store where people can come visit, and it is conceived as an extension of the home.
Fitz: Everything we sell we want to use. So, the people who visit our online presence get to know us and find that they have friends with the same interests, maybe some of the same ideas about workflow and efficiency that we have.
DnA: You said that your business model changed because buying habits changed, but presumably there’s that issue of overhead as well and the costs of a main street storefront.
F: I think that that’s absolutely true. But we can really interact with the customers in ways that we never could when we had a storefront. For example, we can dedicate a lot more time to demonstration. So it’s a much more efficient and creative solution than just being about dollars for dollars.
Besides, I can tell you we probably could have built three stores for the price of the website!
DnA: Yes, tell us about the web site.
Fitz: It took us really almost a whole three years to build it and we’re very proud of it. There’s nothing on the site that is not placed there on purpose. We have been selling online since 2001. This is our fifth published website and we took it extremely seriously.
It’s very beautifully designed by Cory Grosser, one of the best young American designers today and it has a real vignette feeling to it. And literally every single word on the site is original and about 8,000 of the 9,000 or so images on the site were all shot right here in the living design store. It’s when you see a hand in a photo holding something and you know it’s myself or Su holding it — it’s just very personal on that level.
F: You know we are the anti-big box e-commerce. We don’t think the one portal where everybody shops is a very good experience for everyone. So we’re trying to build something that’s very personal. It’s curated but there are real people behind it, it’s about doing business with people and so when the website is successful it’s because we’re conveying what’s happening here through that medium. And it’s working.
DnA: Now one thing that you do have on your website, that a lot of e-commerce sites don’t have and can be crazy-making, is a phone number.
S: Absolutely, I mean even in our listing on Google there’s a phone number. We want people to call, we answer the phone and if you have a question we want to answer it. And, you know it’s a competitive advantage because the bigger places don’t have the personnel with expertise anyway.
DnA: You have equipment set up in your house for doing photography as well as vignettes of products.
S: So today we’re receiving you. But another day we might receive brides and grooms and if they’re building a new home, we set it up for that because we do have samples of everything here, which is nice because that’s where the personal touch comes and they don’t just wander around the room looking at things trying to figure out what they want to do. We sit down and we have a conversation.
F: Most of our social occasions also become part of the business. So if someone comes to our house and we have dinner or brunch parties that’s going to be on our social media and on our Instagram.
S: Like he said, it’s Fitz and Su. It’s art. It’s us, it’s our lifestyle. We love it. We’re so grateful to be able to work in it and so it all kind of becomes our life — really, it’s all one thing.
DnA: You are on a residential street. It’s not as if you have hordes of people coming here but do your neighbors ever object?
F: We’ve never had anybody say anything about it. Besides, we have businesses up and down the street — either they’re techno or something like guitar lessons. And then I think some neighbors like to know that some people are here during the day so the neighborhood is is actually watched over. Besides, you can’t miss the big red dot.
S: I mean, there’s a ten foot red dot on the front of our house. We’re not hiding the fact from our neighbors and they all know exactly what we do. We walk our dogs probably three times a day. It’s a great community.
F: Again, these are identifiers to our customers. You know those are some giant Helvetica letters and if you can spot Helvetica then you know you’re probably our customers.
DnA: Now when you closed the brick and mortar stores and embarked on this three or so years ago were you scared, were you nervous?
S: Terrified, because it was so out of the box for people.
F: We were very confident in what we were doing, but it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared when you tippy toe in the water that you’ve never been in before.
S: But I just have to say we studied it as if it was an art project because to be honest our concept is, this is an art project that is going to last the rest of our lives.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.