What happens when designers commingle interior design + retail?


Trouvaille Home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

What came first – the retail/trade showroom or the interior design business? And does it matter, so long as you have both?

Sister publication Designers Today recently posed these and other related questions to a key group of industry players around the country – from New York’s historic Hudson to the Southwest to West Coast-chic San Diego – and discovered that striking a harmonious marriage of both businesses can often uncover the secret to success in today’s home décor universe.

“Our retail store and design firm share synergistic energy that informs and improves each,” notes Michael Cox, owner of Hudson, N.Y.-based foley&cox – which originally launched in 2002 as an residential interior design firm, then expanded five years later to include “a shopping destination for antiques collectors and enthusiasts.”

Cox described the store as “a retail extension of the design business and a place to offer unique pieces found at auction and discovered on travels both here and abroad…Incorporating our custom furniture collection or an antique sourced in Europe into our design projects keeps them entirely bespoke and custom to each client.”

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Trouvaille Home was barely three months into its retail business in October 2014 when its customers “drove us into design” by January 2015, explains owner Anne Rainey Rokahr.

“Now, it’s the majority of our business,” she adds.

So how is business doing? “Never been better, yet never been more difficult because of supply and labor issues,” Rokahr says. “Every category has been hit. It just depends on the day.”

Having the showroom/shop has been helpful in stocking “a huge back-stock of items for our design clients,” she continues. “They don’t have to wait nearly as long for the completed room. We always have lamps, tables, art, accessories, fabric [and] chairs in stock.”

Experimenting with different services is part of the learning curve. Ariene Bethea, owner of Charlotte-based Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio, used to rent items for photo shoots.

“I nixed that idea years ago,” she says. Instead, she has turned her focus to vintage pieces, which she notes have “always been the driver – pairs of chairs, original art, lighting and coffee table books.”

With supply chain delays and high demand from her clients making it tough to maintain in-stocks, she has found alternatives to adapt the assortment without compromising her store’s signature “soulful feel,” she says.

“Pieces move quickly, so it’s always a challenge to keep up,” Bethea went on. “Good vintage pieces are getting harder and more expensive to find. A lot of places I used to shop at have closed permanently due to COVID. To supplement, I’ve added handmade artisan pieces to my shop offerings.”

Victoria at Home in Alexandria, Va.

A can-do attitude is also important to uphold through the process of juggling two separate-yet-connected business segments. Treci Smith cites her biggest challenge today as “second-guessing myself when it comes to keeping up with what’s trending, even though I know that vintage never really goes out of style.”

Smith owns and operates three businesses, all based in San Diego: Kurtz Street Vintage Market Place, Seahive Station and Treci Smith Designs – the latter, her interior design business.

She is also in the process of adding an online segment to the retail side. But not a trade program. Her businesses will remain “strictly grab and go.”

Fresh on the retail scene is Favreau Design, which launched its interior design business in 2006 in Boston, then relocated during the pandemic to Hudson, N.Y., and expanded its operations to include its first retail shop in 2021.

“Our customers range from weekend day trippers [to] new home buyers to professional designers [to] wedding parties,” explains Steven Favreau, owner.

This month he is launching an online component to his retail business.

Known for offering “an exceptional curation of surprising pieces from across the decades,” current best sellers right now include “unique and spectacular chandeliers from Murano,” he said.

Now, he is thinking about adding tableware and wallpaper to his assortment.

To get the retail part of the equation right, experience is key, says Victoria Sanchez, owner of Victoria at Home in Santa Fe, N.M. She has been designing under her own brand since 2000. In 2013, she opened her first store in the historic district of Alexandria, Va.

Sanchez said she has successfully established her current showroom as a “go-to” resource in her region and beyond – with clients “from Cape Cod to Palm Beach.” She recently expanded her footprint to 3,000 total square feet by adding 1,000 square feet to enhance her assortment with “Kravet, Fabricut and thousands of other fabrics in addition to floor coverings, wallcoverings, etc.” She has also recently added antiques – Guatemalan pieces in particular – to her mix.

“I believe I stand out because I have decided to stay with what I know, and that is high-quality furnishings and making folks feel comfortable knowing that they can hire a designer regardless of what they are working on,” she explained. “I think design should be accessible to everyone. I have all the furnishings, lighting, flooring and tools needed in one location. [My clients] want a designer who can help them from start to finish with their homes and don’t want a cliched Southwestern look.”

For those who think it would be “fun to open a little retail shop,” Sanchez offers this advice: “After I giggle on the inside, I ask them if they have ever worked in a retail store and if not, I suggest they do so. I also tell them that whatever they believe their initial budget may be for opening inventory, they should double it!!! But the most important thing about working in retail is the people you will serve and if you don’t really like people then a shop is not for you!”

Cecile Corral is a journalist and entrepreneur who launched her eponymous public relations and marketing firm, CecilePR, in 2020 after cutting her teeth for 20+ years in the home fashions industry as a leading writer and editor.

This article first appeared in the April 2022 issue of Designers Today.


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