Reaching out to designers
Courtney Mueller -- Casual Living, September 15, 2005
Fire Stone Home Products
Some casual specialty retailers are realizing the importance of reaching out beyond their stores to create additional business. One such way retailers like Georgia Backyard and The Greenhouse Mall are doing so is by forming relationships with interior designers in their respective communities.
The Greenhouse Mall, Austin, Texas, hired an on-staff designer this year who is in charge of the layout of the showrooms, sales calls, merchandising and any work the retailer does for the local Parade of Homes and other community programs.
"She's made a big difference in the look of the floor plan," owner Karen Galindo said.
In addition to having a designer in-house, The Greenhouse Mall has actively pursued interior designers as customers. With a design program in place, The Greenhouse Mall offers discounts to designers, helps the designers with freight and warranty liability, offers turnkey service, touch-ups and more.
Georgia Backyard President Dino Luckino, pictured with designer Raymond Waites, has hosted presentation nights at his stores to bring in local designers.
Maureen Recchia serves as Georgia Backyard's merchandising designer, and the multistore retailer also has interior designers on-staff in every store. Like The Greenhouse Mall, designers who shop at Georgia Backyard or the American Backyard receive discounts. They also are invited throughout the year to participate in a series of presentations. One night they brought in author Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun), who also designed some furniture pieces for Laneventure.
"We feel like that's business we wouldn't get otherwise," Galindo said. "It's like any other category in your store. You need a department; you need people to be well-trained. You need the product offering."
Designers themselves are generating additional business as the outdoor living trend continues to thrive, but, according to Galindo and Dino Luckino, president of Georgia Backyard, they aren't as familiar with outdoor products as they are interior, so it truly is a partnership. Retailers who decide to approach designers need a variety of high-end product on hand, and lots of it.
"Outdoors is a whole different process for designers and we can become an expert for them," Galindo said. "This is not a sling customer, this is not a mesh customer. It's a high-end fabric, deep-seating customer. You need variety — throw pillows, umbrellas, lamps, lines from manufacturers like Windham Castings, O.W. Lee, TUUCI, Laneventure and Brown Jordan International. Designers have huge orders."
"The outdoors is a new thing for designers," Luckino said. "Retailers who work with designers must have a maximum amount of product on the floor. Georgia Backyard is 25,000 to 30,000 square feet and fully vignetted. Obviously, you have to show the latest and greatest."
Working with an interior designer in-house has been a tremendous help for Karen Galindo at The Greenhouse Mall. The designer is in charge of the showrooms' layout and merchandising.
Additionally, retailers need to be careful not to step on the toes of designers they are working with — Galindo keeps a file of designers and their clients. In case a client returns to the store as a customer and makes a purchase, Galindo makes sure the designer gets commission off of that sale.
"We don't want to seem as if we are stealing the customer," Galindo said.
Luckino added, "It's important to help with the reality versus what the designer and client want to do. You have to be cautious and sensitive."
For example, if a client wants a deep seating group and an outdoor kitchen, it's smart to be aware of the total outdoor environment — i.e., not placing the collection so close to the grill that when the client uses it, smoke billows over the lounge area.
Another aspect to consider is what Galindo calls "the snob appeal."
"Don't have Bubba working with the designer," Galindo said. "We feel like we have to be a reflection of our customer — wear black or splashy colors. Don't do jeans and a T-shirt. Designers like to be respected."
Luckino has enjoyed his partnership with designers. Usually one to focus on the technical side of the business, he said the relationships have allowed him to be a part of the "arts" business of casual.
"It's a new frontier," Luckino said. "They really get the chance to be designers again."
Tiny Girl, Big Dream