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Tyndall's Casual Furniture: Successful formula for fashion highlights store

Tyndall's Casual Furniture is a testimony of evolution. Founded in 1979 by the Tyndall family in Sussex County, the retailer began as a hand-builder of PVC pipe furniture in a Laurel, Del., barn and flourished.

 Vignettes at Tyndall

 Vignettes at Tyndall's are carefully organized with just the right amount of accessories that touch on the outdoor living concept.

Today, the store has two locations, one each in Dover and Laurel, Del., and since 2001 has been under new ownership by Vonda Calhoun and Roger Whitney. The two have learned over the past five years what works in their stores and what doesn't. Whitney doesn't shy away from talking about mistakes they have made — from picking the wrong style of furniture to not knowing the market as well as they could have — but doesn't err when it's time to improve. In fact, Whitney said, the biggest day-to-day challenge he and Calhoun face is "keeping up with the little things."

It seems, walking into the Dover location of Tyndall's, the big things are taken care of. Within the 35,000-sq.-ft. store, casual furniture is impressively merchandised, separated by vendor and material, and exhibited in vignettes in front of a painted or draped wall. Accessories abound, including a variety of outdoor lighting.

Not too crowded and not too sparse, Whitney and Calhoun seem to have found a successful formula when it comes to decorating the showroom — average sales total $1.5 to $2 million, up 15% from last year, Whitney said.

"Our store is unique because of the way we display and price our merchandise," Whitney said. "And we are known for our personalized treatment of our customers."

And they want to make sure the customers continue to shop at Tyndall's.

Tyndall's target customers are men and women (though the men tend to come in with the women on weekends) from 35 years of age up to retirees. Because Dover is located close to the beach, the store generates a lot of business from second homes.

Whitney also said they have the benefit of being in a small state such as Delaware because they frequently have customers come in from New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Whitney said they are still educating customers beyond the table-and-four-chairs concept, and he added customers are tougher and more mistrusting than they used to be.

TyndallAnnual parking lot sales bring in repetitive and new customers. Newspaper, direct mail, magazine and radio advertising keeps Tyndall's in the shopper's mind, and frequent spring and summer sales highlight different manufacturers' products, educating the consumer about what the casual industry has to offer — from the high-end to the lower price points and imports.

Vendors carried at Tyndall's include Lloyd/Flanders, Winston, Carter Grandle, O.W. Lee, Telescope, Laneventure, Homecrest, Ebel, Meadowcraft, Suncoast and Treasure Garden. Whitney and Calhoun also recently added Cape May Wicker, Hanamint and Poly-Wood to the line-up, mostly in response to the Big Box market.

"We have everyone here and we're surrounded by them in a small area," Calhoun said. "We want there to be something here for everyone. We want to have everything from Chevrolet to Mercedes."

Most popular purchases at Tyndall's include wrought iron and synthetic wicker furniture, as well as Poly-Wood's resin furniture.

Between seven and 15 employees work at Tyndall's. Benefits include paid vacation, sick leave and health and life insurance. Whitney said employees are found by word of mouth, advertising and even through recruiting customers.

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