Friday, August 31, 2012

Amanda Zuckerman: Wash. U. Student/Dorm Decorating Maven

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 8:20 AM

Dormify founder and Wash. U. senior Amanda Zuckerman in the bedroom of her off-campus apartment, decorated with Dormify's Fall Into Fall bedding collection.
  • Dormify founder and Wash. U. senior Amanda Zuckerman in the bedroom of her off-campus apartment, decorated with Dormify's Fall Into Fall bedding collection.

Amanda Zuckerman is a young woman with discerning tastes. "I'm very into fashion," she says. "And if you care about fashion, you're going to care about how your dorm room looks. It's another form of self-expression."

Three years ago, though, when she and her mom, Karen, made the epic shopping trip to purchase fittings for her very first dorm room at Washington University, she was bitterly disappointed.

"Everything was so youthful," she complains. "It's stuff I could have had back in elementary school."

As they made the rounds of stores near their home in Potomac, Maryland, trying to assemble, piecemeal, a dorm room that would best display Zuckerman's personal style, an idea occurred to them: Why not start a business that sold cool, sophisticated dorm room furnishings all in one place and shipped them straight to school?

Now is one of the leading online retailers for stylish extra-long twin sheets, comforters, decorative pillows, wall hangings, desk accessories and, most importantly for dorm rooms, not known for their spaciousness, storage boxes and organizers. A team of 250 style advisers at colleges across the country are on-hand to tell shoppers exactly what to do with it all.

Since it's back to school season, Dormify -- and Zuckerman, now a senior double-majoring in graphic design and marketing -- have been subject to a barrage of publicity in the past few weeks, including a mention in an article in the New York Times and a segment on Fox and Friends on Fox News, which inspired Zuckerman to create a design scheme targeted at guys.

("They asked to see a boy's room set," Zuckerman recalls. "We didn't have one. Most guys we've talked to don't care; they say their moms will buy all their stuff for them. But Fox really wanted a boy thing, so we put together a duvet made out of sweatshirt material, some bold-patterned sheets and a pillow that said 'Call Your Mom' and called it the Stud Collection." To Zuckerman's surprise, it's turned out to be a pretty good seller.)

Zuckerman credits her company's success to several factors: First, the fact that Karen Zuckerman is the president of HZDG, a Rockville, Maryland, based advertising firm, and so was able to donate designers and office space to the fledgling start-up. ("Since we didn't have much money," Zuckerman says, "it worked out really well.") Second, a group of enthusiastic investors who have contributed $1 million so far. And third, Zuckerman's own skill with social media, which has generated 10,000 Facebook fans and 2,000 Twitter followers, all of whom are kept apprised of new products and decorating trends and new additions to Dormify's highly-trafficked blog.

The style adviser program helped, too. At first it was comprised of Zuckerman's style-minded friends, but through the social network, she says, "it spread info like wildfire. Even with one person doing one Tweet or liking one thing. Very quickly it became friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. It was really cool."

The blog was, in fact, the beginning of the company. It went live in late 2009, at the end of the first semester of Zuckerman's freshman year and it offered style and decorating tips (for example, to rearrange your furniture before you start moving stuff in). The e-commerce site didn't launch until the spring of 2011. Since then, Zuckerman says, the company has grown ten-fold. It's also started to turn a small profit, but currently the Zuckermans are more concerned with growth.

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