Leland's grows along with city
Jeff Linville -- Casual Living, February 1, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS -- Founded in 1986 as a unique boutique, selling fireplace doors and accessories along with glassware and crystal, Leland's has transformed into a successful, customer-focused specialty casual operation with sales between $1.8 and $2 million annually.
At Leland's, furniture is mixed to avoid a sea of metal, wood, sling and cushions.
Wall decor, candles, barbecue tools and more are just some of the accessories Leland's offers, all rounding out the high-end casual furniture lines to complete an outdoor living area.
Current owners Barbara McMillen and Thom Davis bought this one-of-a-kind store 11 years ago and took it from bankruptcy to a household name, selling high-end patio furniture and fireplace accessories.
"We decided from the very beginning that we could not be all things to all people and do it well, so we decided to build our reputation on quality and service," McMillen said. "This also builds your greatest advertising tool — word of mouth and repeat customers. We focused on casual furniture that would appeal to a high-end clientele, developing the trademarked slogan — 'Remember Leland's when you're ready for something that lasts'."
Casual furniture accounts for about 85% of the business, with furniture groups from companies like Brown Jordan, Pride Family Brands, Cast Classics, Homecrest, Kingsley-Bate and Galtech, on the showroom floor.
Best-selling products include cast aluminum, teak and darker finishes. "I could bring in every (color) under the sun, and brown and black will sell," McMillen said. "It just drives me absolutely nuts."
McMillen and Davis have a hands-on approach — Davis, with a background in banking, manages the books and accounting, and McMillen, with a background in commercial art, does the buying. McMillen's mother, Kitty, has been a partner in the store from the beginning and is "affectionately regarded by all the customers."
The staff of 11 full- and part-time employees is small and close knit. Everyone is on salary and bonuses are given, employees receive health benefits, paid vacations and sick leave, and to promote family, Leland's is closed on Sundays and holidays.
As a local, non-commissioned operation, customers are always greeted by one of the owners or dedicated employees. "We don't just sell furniture, we get to know our customers and establish ongoing relationships, and they know we operate in their best interests," McMillen said. "Finding good employees is next to impossible and we would rather do it ourselves rather than hire 'bodies'."
Three years ago, Leland's lease was up and the owners decided to move because they had outgrown the space. Knowing it was time to expand, they hired patio manager Dave Heslar, a veteran to the industry, moved across the street and tripled the size of their store, now 10,000 square feet. Located on the prestigious north side of Indianapolis, near stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany's, the move allowed McMillen, Davis and Heslar to create their dream store.
Indianapolis and the surrounding communities have shown rapid and increased growth in the housing and building market during the past 10 years, and, according to McMillen, there are no indications this will end anytime in the near future.
"More and more people are focusing their attention to the outdoor living space and looking for furniture that will serve them for a long time, rather than a quick fix," she said. "Our move allowed us to totally redesign the inner structure of the store using the house frame motifs along the walls and displaying our furniture vignettes around the store, incorporating six fireplaces with gas logs and extensive window space."
Windows also were added in the back of the store that look out onto a lake. Furniture is mixed together to avoid a sea of metal, wood, sling and cushions. "We are constantly rearranging the store, adding new things and keeping it fresh," McMillen said.
Not to say the move went without any problems or challenges. When they first moved into the new location, the empty floor space looked huge without any furniture so McMillen and Davis decided to carry indoor furniture during the winter months. "We soon found out that the season for indoor furniture coincides with outdoor furniture, so we slowly sold our indoor inventory at greatly reduced prices and vowed never again," she said.
Now during the winter months, heavier-looking deep seating groups and indoor/outdoor wicker and rattan are shown, and summery products like umbrellas and sling products are moved off the floor.
Having tried different approaches to advertising during the years, McMillen found the best market of communication is direct mail postcards mailed several times a year to current customers, who they keep a computerized history of, including what was purchased.
Sales are held twice a year — a preseason sale and a second sale at the end of the season of product that didn't move or won't be current the following season. "Being in a climate that has a definite seasonal approach, we try to get special orders early in the year and we carry furniture in-stock for those people who do not plan ahead and can't wait 6 to 8 weeks for things to come in," she said. "Our 10,000-sq.-ft. warehouse is always overwhelming in February/March when the new furniture comes in, and it seems to be bulging at the seams, and then you sigh with relief as you watch it slowly disappear through the summer months."
Leland's experienced a really good season, McMillen said. "Our goal was to empty our warehouse, and now you can hear an echo," she said.