Ideas spring from Taylor Creek
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, October 1, 2008
Inspiring home decorating ideas, making shopping easy and reducing buyer anxieties are philosophies that flow through Taylor Creek, an independent retail specialist selling casual furniture, accessories, grills, garden accents, custom floral arrangements and more in Green Bay, Wis.
“Our goal is to spoil our customers,” said Michael Kapp, who owns and operates the store with his mother and sister. The family keeps raising the bar on expectations in a blue-collar environment commonly associated with powerful professional football. “We’re trying as hard as we can, as buyers and owners, to bring to the customer the best of everything they need,” he said.
The 26-year-old store underwent three major additions through the years to serve customers who travel 50 or more miles from the west and south and as far north as upper Michigan. One shopper who lives in Chicago said she loves to shop at Taylor Creek with her daughter at least twice a year.
The store’s retail roots reach back to Kapp’s grandfather, who sold patio furniture, toys, gifts and groceries. With such lengthy retail experience, the Kapps know what to ask customers to help them make the most of the area’s short outdoor furniture season and what to sell in its other seasons. They even offer a loyalty program to reward customers who keep coming back.
The Kapps create cohesiveness inside the store through fully accessorized vignettes separated by vendor and category. During the season, approximately 8,000 square feet of the store is devoted to casual furniture, wicker, rattan, replacement pillows, hammocks and market umbrellas.
“Once they get into a manufacturer, that’s usually where they’re sticking,” Kapp said of his customers. “They know what they like. Now let’s figure out what they want.”
To help with that decision-making process, the store offers an assortment of outdoor room vignette settings. For example, Lloyd/Flanders’ transitional furnishings were grouped inside a Fire Stone gazebo while on another aisle nearby, a Bungalow by E-Z Up featured furnishings by Laneventure. Other displays presented groupings of outdoor furniture by Tropitone, Winston, New River, Hanamint or Seaside Casual. Such displays are important for merchandising and supplying ideas. “Whether we sell them or not, it just makes a huge difference on the floor,” Kapp said of the gazebos on display. “Most customers who walk through the door in search of outdoor furniture say, 'We need a patio set and that’s a table, four chairs and an umbrella.’ Or if they have a bigger family, they need a table and six chairs.”
Before customers get their hearts set on a specific frame, color or collection, Kapp’s staff asks questions to qualify how they expect to use their living spaces.
Kapp recalled asking a customer who was shopping for an outdoor dining set whether he planned to sit outside often to eat. When the customer answered “Yes, we have a pool and we have a lot of parties and food,” Kapp asked whether they were actually sitting down at a dining table for an extended time or just needed somewhere to store the food while serving it. When he was asked more specific questions, the customer realized what he really wanted was chaise lounges, action chairs and groupings.
Comfort, cushion and fabrics are three key factors when customers are making up their minds and choosing casual furniture to suit their objectives. “In the chat settings, and everything else, they want to sit in that chair and be comfortable,” Kapp said. “They fall in love with the frame and the color. They might fall in love with the look, but if they sit down and it’s hard cushioning or not a good support system, they’ll stand up and move on.”
Indoor wicker lines by Lane, Lloyd/Flanders, Classic and NorthCape are strong sellers. “Twenty years ago it was sold in department stores, but we’ve done a tremendous job selling it for sunrooms and living rooms where people want that airy feeling,” Kapp said.
Swivel gliders, spring chairs and other motion pieces are popular choices at Taylor Creek. Sling still makes up a big part of sales, but the Kapps are seeing growth in deep seating wicker and cast groups.
“Where we’re seeing the growth in deep seating in our store is definitely in wicker,” whether for indoor or outdoor use, Kapp said. “Lloyd/Flanders is very transitional from indoor to outdoor. A lot of people are not even paying attention to whether this is an actual vinyl product. They’re just looking at it as a soft-enough feel.
Lloyd/Flanders’ Grand Traverse and Lakeside collections are among its best-selling lines, along with woven lines from Laneventure and NorthCape International, formerly known as Chicago Wicker.
Sales of cast aluminum furniture from Winston, Brown Jordan, Meadowcraft and Tropitone have been steady. Hanamint’s deep seating cast aluminum chat groups also sell well. “There’s a lot of it out there from Tropitone and Winston but, for us, there’s almost a disconnect between deep seating and traditional extruded aluminum,” Kapp said. That mindset may reflect its surrounding area more than this stylish store.
“We’ve been doing very well with wicker and with Adirondack style furniture, including cypress from Lane, Brazilian cherry from New River and recycled plastic from Seaside Casual,” Kapp said. “Those two out of the traditional mix have probably been our two biggest growth categories over the past two years. It’s a bit more casual either on patios, in gazebos or in sunrooms. It’s a little bit more of the nontraditional of what we’re competing against across the street at a Home Depot, a Lowes, a ShopKo or a Wal-Mart. This is different from what those guys are going to have.”
Because an Allied dealer located across the street buys products through their pool-a-rama group, overlapping casual furniture distribution lines isn’t a big problem for Taylor Creek. “We just stay away from each other,” Kapp said. “I don’t want him to have the exact same thing sitting on his floor. We don’t want to get into a big pricing war. I’m counting on my reps to work for me to help me have the best selection that I can have on the floor and optimize my sales.”
Another advantage for the specialty retailer is its ability to correlate complementary fabrics, trims and umbrellas. “Pulling two or three fabrics together is the other thing that makes us so much more unique,” Kapp said. “That’s what the higher-end customer is doing at home. They’re having their designer come in or just working on it. Not everything is matchy-matchy.”
Designers appreciate the coordinated options as manufacturers have improved their variety of such fabric choices over the past two or three years.
The store’s tabletop options, candles and other accents for home and patio also continue to expand. While the Kapps’ patio furniture buying trips center on Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, they seek the latest accessories and holiday decor at the Atlanta and Dallas gift shows.
“We’re always going and looking for something new, but it’s to bring together the whole one-stop shopping experience for the customers,” Kapp said. “We have a lot of fun with accessories. You’re not going to sell them if they’re not there. It’s something that sets specialty retailers apart. Whatever type of decorating style you’re doing, we try to have it for you. With of without interior designers, customers can come in, look at this and pull it together for themselves at home — whether it’s the lamps, the occasional tables or the accessories.”
A staff of six custom floral designers is another effort that differentiates Taylor Creek from its mass merchant or home improvement chain store competitors. Giftware, themed books, home fragrances, hanging baskets, planters, birdfeeders, garden stakes, grills, fountains and other decorative accessories combine to spark ideas as customers stop and shop.
“It is a feel-good store,” Kapp said. “There’s nothing in here that anybody needs, but people like to come in and walk around.”
Changes in merchandising take place every two weeks, giving return shoppers a new mix of colors and textures. After the patio season ends, outdoor furniture displays shift to Christmas themes. New this year is a video tutorial to educate consumers about how to set up their trees and keep their lights burning.
That’s one of three Web sites the store is building. Another online video will teach customers how to maintain and repair their outdoor furniture, such as replacing slings or touching up paint.
Another informational site on why Taylor Creek sells specific casual furniture manufacturers’ lines is also being developed. “So when the husband’s going to get dragged in here on Saturday morning and he wants to play golf, he can look at that Web site at 10 o’clock on Friday night and go though and see what we have,” Kapp said. That’s an innovative idea from a retailer who wants to entertain customers who love to shop and make the shopping process easier for reluctant investors.
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