British home furnishings brand Oka opened its second U.S. store in Dallas this fall. Photo by Kris Ellis.
DALLAS — To hear it from Oka officials, there’s really not that much difference between elevated styles from the U.K. and Texas.
At the recent grand opening of the British home furnishings and design brand’s store in Dallas, a presentation was held in which panelists held a paddle with a Union Jack on one side and a Texas flag on the other. When a product was shown, they had to decide, on the spot, which flag represented it best.
“It was amazing because people couldn’t tell,” said Krista Stelling, Oka’s senior vice president of sales and marketing in the U.S. “It showed us from a style perspective and a look and feel (that) there is an expectation of what we see in our minds as British, but it’s so transferrable to the U.S. market, and it’s incredibly wanted here.”
The London-based brand was founded in 1999 by Lady Annabel Astor, Sue Jones and Lucinda Waterhouse, who steered Oka for years and grew it to 14 stores in the U.K. It was purchased by Investindustrial, an Italian investment firm, in 2018, and acquired Wisteria later that year. “That was a good way for them to understand the U.S. market and the Texas market,” Stelling said of the Wisteria buy.
Oka (pronounced like a British person is saying “ochre”) launched in the U.S. in fall 2019 with an online offering and seasonal magazine, and it opened its first store in Houston earlier this year. It plans for a third U.S. store in Westport, Conn., in 2022.
Stelling said Oka officials saw the U.S. as a great place for potential growth because its point of view would really stand out in a crowded field.
“There’s not another brand like Oka here in the U.S. From a brand and look and feel and where it serves in the home décor marketplace, it’s quite special,” she said. “The U.S. market is a growth opportunity because it’s big, and people love home. It’s an opportunity because every city is a little bit different.
“As a British home brand, we have a different perspective and that outlook and perspective is what British living is about. It works in every one of these regional markets,” Stelling continued. “When I think about Oka as a brand, what’s fabulous about it is that it’s not what people would think about ‘the British of old.’ It’s very comfortable; it’s about living well but not being pretentious. It’s about having people in your home and enjoying what you have. That’s where people are right now. Luxury for people is about experiences and enjoying your life with friends and family and that’s what Oka is about.”
Texas became the jumping off point for a couple of reasons. First, with Stelling leading the charge in the U.S., it made sense to put down roots near where she calls home. The industry veteran, who was previously with Arteriors, has worked all over the U.S. and Canada and says the Lone Star State is a design aficionado’s dream.
“What’s so amazing about Texas is you wouldn’t think it’s such a design savvy place. It’s a real mecca of interior design,” she said. “People here live in a similar way to how the Oka brand lives. It’s unpretentious. From a way people appreciate homes and their families, it’s a strong match. That was very appealing.”
With the brand now established in Texas, Oka will soon set up shop in Connecticut to take advantage of the proximity to New York and New England. “It made sense for us to be in a market where it matches our principles and our look and feel and our brand. From a New York, East Coast perspective, Westport was a great next step that fits with the brand,” Stelling said, noting that Oka hopes to open a store or two per year in major U.S. markets.
So what does Oka look for when comparing potential markets?
“We work very analytically. The first thing is making sure we’re in markets that fit with us,” Stelling said. “The good news is we have strong data in terms of sales, but in terms of the future, where are those markets we believe will fit the brand and grow?
“We have an analytical process that looks at who are the consumers in the area, competitive sets, where interior design business is growing. We’re opportunistic based on location. We have an idea of where we might roll next, but if a space that suits our criteria comes available, that might lead where we go.”
Stelling said now is a great time for retail, and she’s excited to see where growth throughout the U.S. leads Oka.
“For us at Oka, it’s an exciting time to be a company that believes in brick and mortar and believes the experience is important and is looking to expand in the U.S. in this way,” she said. “It’s an exciting time, and there’s so much room in the retail marketplace if you have a point of view.”