Startup Spotlight: This e-commerce company keeps it all in the family

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If my family founded a startup, it would be a disaster. We find it challenging to coordinate holidays much less get a company off the ground, and could only rally around a product that related to beagles or wine.

The Harris family does not share our limitations. This mother-father-son trio is putting a new spin on the idea of the “family business” by launching an e-commerce company called The Itsy Bitsy Ritzy Shop.

The IBR shop is an online home-goods and furniture store specializing in small spaces. The 200-item inventory includes dressers, tables, and desks with added storage capabilities, as well as slender lamps and chairs suitable for a dorm room or apartment.

It was all designed by Marcia Harris, a professional interior designer who saw a lack of quality products available  for small spaces. Marcia also assembled four themed collections that put together furniture, fabrics, accessories, and paint into a coordinated whole. Buyers can buy directly on the site and have orders delivered to their door.

The direct-to-consumer model is increasingly popular with online retailers that don’t want to operate through chain stores or set up a brick-and-mortar outpost. Marcia’s husband, Dean, is a veteran of the e-commerce world and saw an opportunity to combine his wife’s design expertise with his business experience. 

“I was the Chief Marketing Officer for multiple Internet startups, and I saw the percentage of sales migrating to the web,” he said. “Big box retailers are closing down and people are getting more used to buying online. We thought the furniture industry could stand this disruption. By building to order and eliminating additional layers of middlemen, we can deliver a high quality product at a lower cost.”

All the furniture is manufactured in a facility near the Harris’ Connecticut home. The family took space in the former Singer Sewing Machine factory, which Dean said underscores their emphasis on using locally made materials to revitalize a struggling local economy.

This is not the first time Dean and Marcia have gone into business together. The couple ran an advertising agency together for over 20 years and passed on this legacy to their son Zach, who has spent most of his career in online video advertising. Zach joined his parents to work on the Itsy Bitsy Ritzy Shop at the beginning of this year. He manages the web development and digital production and advises on digital strategy, social media, and operations.

“Officially, in some capacity, I have been working for my parents for my whole life,” Zach said. “It felt like a natural progression of this relationship. The most rewarding aspect of working with my folks is watching them learn and seeing how much energy they have and continue to invest in the project. Fifteen years ago my mother was the biggest Luddite. Now she is proficient in web apps across the board.”

The Itsy Bitsy Ritzy Shop launched earlier this month and is open for business.

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