Growing in Leaps and Boundaries
Today's Patio expands out of state and strikes a claim in California
Jamie Sorcher -- Casual Living, 3/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
The west has always had a certain allure for folks in search of their dreams. It beckoned Henry Scheinerman, who moved out to Arizona in the 1970s to start his retail venture, Today's Patio.
The first store opened its doors in 1979, back when a gallon of gas was 86 cents, a new house was about $58,000 and The Village People had pop tunes on the radio.
Through expansions, closures, more openings and now the Internet boom, Today's Patio continues to evolve with its same entrepreneurial spirit.
The company was recently named Casual Living's 2013 Retailer of the Year, an honor that was recognized at the second conference the magazine hosted last month in Tucson, Ariz.
For this desert darling, though, it hasn't all been rainbows and riches. The company has weathered the economic hurdles that many chains have had to along with industry changes and, of course, the "thousand-pound gorilla in the room - the Internet," according to Chad Scheinerman, CEO.
Earlier this year, the company had a soft opening for its 18,000-sq.-ft . San Diego store - its first in California - which marks the embrace of a new territory for the company that has put down its roots thus far in only Arizona.
"We were looking to expand into more locations to grow the business," Scheinerman said. "We looked at the map, did lots of research and talked to real estate people. We came to realize that there was nowhere else to go in Arizona that supported the demographics that we needed to survive."
Opening the company's Tucson store in 2010 proved a solid precursor to the California opportunity and gave Today's Patio some momentum. "It's not difficult to open a store," Scheinerman said. "What's difficult is the behind-the-scenes stuff . It's the logistics of how the furniture will get from Point A to Point B, who will run the stores and making sure the right people are in the right places at the right time."
Tucson is also near to what Scheinerman calls home base, which is the Scottsdale store where his office is located. "It's two hours away so it was far enough from home, but not far enough where if I had to get out there, I could do it in just a couple of hours. Once that store was successful, we looked at different markets - one being Las Vegas and the other San Diego."
While the lure of Las Vegas included some great properties and competitive prices, after two years of looking, Scheinerman passed.
"It's a transient market," he said. "It's something I would still do, but only if the right opportunity came about. We couldn't find the right spot so we just weeded it out. In that process, with the attrition going on in the Southern California market and with Carl's Patio West closing, came an opportunity for us to take a stronger look out there."
The appeal for either Las Vegas or San Diego was proximity - either one is just a 45-minute flight for Scheinerman. But San Diego had something else going for it. "From a shipping standpoint, a lot of our factories are in California so we're even closer in a way for some of the things we need to do," he said. "For instance, we're able to direct ship product directly to the store rather than ship it first to Arizona and then back and forth."
"They are very methodical and strategic in maintaining and growing their business," said Terri Lee Rogers, president of OW Lee. "They benchmark their success against themselves and are not necessarily concerned with what is going on with their competition within their market, but analyze trends in business overall."
It also became apparent to Scheinerman that along with store expansion elsewhere, gaining market share would also come from the Internet.
"I was working in the business when I was in high school so I grew up in all of this," he said. "When I was in college, when someone would email us off of our company website - and we would get quite a few emails - I was in my dorm room answering them."
While Scheinerman claims he isn't the most tech-savvy person in the world, he is intrigued by the challenges and opportunities the online world presents.
"I am passionate about the Internet," he said. "I enjoy retail and the buying process. The Internet is now part of that and it's either something people want to embrace or they don't. All I can say is that for those who don't want to embrace it and recognize what it is and work with it, they're not going to be around forever. It is the way of the future. Just look at where the growth is in retail sales - it's online. It's not in the stores."
For those who do shop online with Today's Patio, there is a dedicated sales department to make the process enjoyable. "We're selling it as if we are face-to-face with the customer in one of our stores," Scheinerman said. "We're walking through color choices and reviewing fabric samples and giving them the full experience. Do we have a lot of people that just buy off of our shopping cart? Absolutely. There are a lot of folks that do it because they don't have a store nearby. They go online, they call and they order. But I'm not looking for $25,000 tickets on the Internet."
Technology, Scheinerman added, only continues to improve the process for shopping online. "It's amazing what you can do now," he said. "Look at what Pride [Family Brands] is doing where you can take the fabric and put it on a piece of furniture. It's a game changer."
While sitting behind a computer reviewing real estate and looking at logistics could keep Scheinerman in his office for hours on end, he likes to be out on the floor gauging the action.
"I spend a lot of time - probably more than I should - on the floor," he said. "It keeps me in touch with reality with the salespeople and the customers. We have an incredible group of people that work with us and they are very dedicated. We always ensure that our managers in each location - and these are working managers - are not just sitting in their offices directing traffic. We expect our managers to be the best salesperson on the floor."
"Chad does a great job of balancing his relationship with his co-workers and his relationship with his customers," said Matt Weiss, senior VP of sales and marketing for Woodard Furniture. "They are able to offer a superior customer experience. From the minute a customer walks into their stores, they are greeted with a vision of what their life can be like. Then they are greeted by great salespeople that help them to realize that they can have a lifestyle that they deserve."
"They have very likable management," said Steve Lowsky, president of Pride Family Brands. "And they have low turnover with their sales team. It's a high integrity operation."
CRUISING UP THE COAST
For now, the company is focused on making its first California location a success, but Scheinerman is also enticed by what is next.
"Keep in mind that we expanded then closed stores, and then didn't start growing again until 2004 with our Arrowhead store," he said. "The deal was that we would open another store. I had an offer in commercial real estate in Tucson after I graduated from college, but this was an opportunity to run a business with a very strong foundation. I wasn't starting from scratch. Still, I never thought we would open five, six, seven stores. I thought we would have two or three."
With the new store open just a few months, Scheinerman is hopeful that it marks new territory for the company. "We have to look at the big picture - from a distribution standpoint and advertising," he said. "But obviously the more stores you open and if the market can support it, then all of a sudden your advertising costs get divided up and it helps with the overhead in a new market.
"We're going to pay very close attention and see how the store does," he said. "We want to see if this is a market that we can survive in. If it is and we're successful, then we won't go crazy by any means - tactically we would want to move our way up the coast. How many stores? I wouldn't want to put a number on it. It could be two or as many as 10."
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