Paine’s Patio Thrives on the Cape
August 1, 2008-- Casual Living,
As a young man, Douglas Shearer promised himself he would never have anything to do with the furniture industry. He figured five generations of Shearers and Paines working in the industry before him were enough. Then he got his first job. It wasn’t in the family business, but it was selling furniture.
“I fell in love with it,” Shearer said.
That was 20 years ago. Shearer went on to work at a second furniture store and then an outdoor furniture store, where he stayed for 11 years. By 2003, he decided he wanted to run his own store. He and his wife, Kristin, opened Paine’s Patio in Pocasset, Mass., and brought the family name back into the home furnishings business.
The original family furniture business was established in 1835 when Leonard Shearer opened a small cabinet shop in Boston that would become Shearer & Paine Furniture and, later, Paine Furniture. The company was a New England icon until it closed in the late 1990s.
With the launch of Paine’s Patio, the family gene took hold. In just five years, Paine’s Patio has undergone two renovations, been nominated twice for an Apollo Award and won Casual Living’s 2008 Merchandising Award for Best Outdoor Display along with several local awards.
“We have far exceeded where we thought we would be in five years,” Shearer said.
Shearer credits their success in part to their location on Cape Cod. Populated by multi-million dollar homes with large decks, the area’s residents enjoy their views of the water and want to be comfortable doing so.
In some respects, the Shearers’ good location is a matter of luck. The couple originally planned on building a showroom in a neighboring town. When a conservation issue arose, they decided to move to the present location temporarily until the matter could be resolved. But by the time the issue was straightened out, the traffic and momentum they’d built in a year sold them on Pocasset.
Shearer still can’t imagine a better location, especially in today’s market.
“The economy has not affected us at all on the high end, where business is actually up,” Shearer said. “Our mid- and starting-price point growth has been relatively slow, but we are up for the year overall.”
Service above price
Paine’s Patio includes two showrooms adding up to about 9,000 square feet, plus a 4,000-sq.-ft. outdoor deck. In addition to a full line of outdoor furniture, the store also devotes about 2,000 square feet year-round to indoor upholstery and dining furniture, all with a definite cottage feel for life on the Cape.
Most accessories are sold through Nautical & Nice, a gift showroom within Paine’s Patio that is owned and operated by Shearer’s father, Dan Shearer.
As with most specialty dealers, there is no average sale. Sales can range from a $30,000 teak seating group to an $800 sling dining set. Price isn’t an issue with the high-end customers, but Shearer keeps a mix of price points to draw in new customers and to offer the high-end customers an economic add-on.
“In some cases, we’ll sell our highest-end wicker with our lowest-end sling,” he said.
The mix at Paine’s Patio ranges from wicker, teak, extruded aluminum including sling, and enviro-wood, to wrought iron and cast aluminum. Enviro-wood, primarily from Seaside Casual, is the fastest-growing category.
“It has gone from about 5% of the business to 20% and is still growing,” Shearer said. “I account that to the fact it is virtually maintenance free. With such a short season here, people want to be enjoying the furniture, not dealing with problems or cleaning it.”
Another trend Shearer sees is less brand consciousness among consumers. Although his customers at his previous job came in looking for a particular material and brand, his current customers ask what the store has available to fit their needs.
“So it is very important that we have a wide product mix and enough on the floor to be able to show them their options,” he said. “Most don’t have the product knowledge about what will hold up in our environment, so it requires a quick education.”
Shearer believes it is more important to give them what they need than what they think they want.
“We are first and foremost 100% customer oriented,” he said. “If a customer comes through the door, we almost always will close the sale. It might take a few visits, but when they walk out of the store we aren’t worried that we will lose the sale to someone else.”
His confidence comes from his knowledgeable staff as well as his relationships with manufacturers.
|Paine's Patio Showroom Display|
“More important than what is on our floor is what we can do with it, how we can service it, and how we can take care of the customer,” he said.
With fewer than 10 employees, the Shearers do a little bit of everything to keep their business going. Only a few people, including Douglas and Dan, had previous furniture retail experience, something Douglas appreciated because it gave him a clean slate to work with.
“No one had preconceived ideas about products or vendors, so it made it easy to get our concepts across to them,” he said. “We have an extremely loyal staff that is extremely motivated. I couldn’t be luckier.”
Although he’s just as likely to be found in the warehouse or on the salesfloor as in the office, Shearer’s favorite part of his job is merchandising. He also likes buying, although he often ends up placing orders on products he hasn’t seen first-hand. Fifty percent of their sales occur in May, June and July, so the Shearers have yet to get to a premarket. They appreciate the chance to participate in dealer meetings hosted by Laneventure and Telescope, two of their top suppliers, and see what’s on the drawing board.
Shearer’s game plan for this season was to put less into the lower and mid price points and focus on the higher end. Seeing how it has paid off, he intends on sticking to the plan for 2009.
“We will continue to make sure that we have something to offer people at the lower price points, but it won’t be my focus to make sure that I have something from each manufacturer at each price point along the way,” he said.
Looking ahead, Shearer said he is optimistic about the future of Paine’s Patio as well as the future of the industry as a whole, although he expects a rocky road in the short term.
On the manufacturing side, he expects to see some consolidation but is more concerned about manufacturers who overextend themselves trying to be everything to everyone rather than focusing on their strengths.
He also said he is worried some of today’s dealers won’t make it, although he is confident Paine’s Patio is on the right track.
“As long as we can spread ourselves out with our manufacturers and not put all of our eggs in one basket, I see us surviving,” Shearer said. “I still think the industry is extremely strong and I’m positive overall. We are having our best year ever even with the gloomy forecast, so I have nothing to complain about.”
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