• Cecile Corral

It's a family - and friends - affair at Brass Bed stores in Colorado

Denver - Rosella Louis was a young entrepreneur in 1978, just 22 years old, when she opened her first store, The Brass Bed of Denver.

She set out to sell decorative and high-end solid brass and iron beds, most of them handcrafted in Virginia. But it was not long until a new approach to her business dawned on her.

As her niece - and store manager - Laura Colangelo explained to HTT: "[Louis] was selling vey beautiful brass beds. But in order to sell the beds she had to dress them in linens to make them look good. So she went to local stores, including JCPenney, to buy nice sheets."

To her surprise, very often shoppers at Brass Bed of Denver turned out to be interested more in her linen looks than in her bed frames.

"That is when she realized she was missing something," Colangelo said.

So Louis got to work on diversifying her merchandise mix. As Colangelo explained, "She so started visiting shows and looking for top-notch suppliers, and that is how she started selling linens."

Today, the business - which this year is celebrating its 35th anniversary - spans two stores, the original Denver site and a new Boulder location that opened one year ago. Both still include a limited offering of bed frames in brass and iron as well as other constructions like upholstered.

But the bulk of the merchandise and sales consists of linens for the bed, bath, table and kitchen, as well as several other items in tabletop and giftware.

"Where we are located, in Denver and Boulder, we are considered a destination store," Colangelo said.

Brass Bed, she said, sources its linens assortment "from only from the best mills. We work with many high-end European mills that can produce the best quality for our store."

Bedding suppliers and brands include Anichini, Ann Gish, Bella Notte, Fino Lino, John Robshaw, Sferra, SDH Fine European Lines, Yves Delorme, and others.

Abyss provides much of the bath lines.

The decorative pillows mix includes Kevin O'Brien silk-screened pillows among others.

Table linens brands include Deborah Rhodes, La Jacquard Francais, Sferra, and Yves Delorme.

Brass Bed's utility bedding is comprised of the store's own USA-made private label program.

Price points range from $200 to $2,500 for sheet sets, about $1,000 to $10,000 for a full bedding ensemble, $45 to $90 for bath towels, and $700 for a luxury utility pillow product.

Brass bed differentiates itself from its competition in several ways, including product offering and customer service, Colangelo noted.
In product, the store looks to go outside the box to cater to its customers with special items like artist-created items. These include "artwork for bed," she explained, such as dec pillows and throws that feature fine art of local artists. One example is Denver painter and multi-media artist Madeleine O'Connell.

"We've printed her work on fabric to give our customers a piece of art for their beds," Colangelo said.

Organic goods are also a point of distinction for Brass Bed, which has in recent years answered customers' demands for more environmentally friendly, natural fiber, responsibly-manufacturered products.

"We now have had to introduce a lot of organic sheets and towels because people here are more and more conscious of what they are buying. They are looking for chemical-free, organically made linens that use natural vegetable dyes, for example," Colangelo said. "They come in here and they are willing to take the time to educate themselves on the products they are buying before they buy them. So we've had to educate ourselves about these products so that we can explain it to them."

SDH, for one, "is very good about this. They are among the purest, organic, using all natural vegetable dyes."

Coyuchi is another source Brass Bed works with for its eco-conscious offerings. Additionally, the store has its own private label organic hand-loomed towel, "which is just wonderful, so soft, and so plush. It really is absolutely wonderful."

She continued: "I don't think the recession really affected us. Rather, it affected the way out customers shop and how quickly they buy something. It's not that they are spending less money. In fact, they are spending more in many cases. But they are taking their time before making the purchase. They are waiting to learn more about products, trying to educate themselves more. They want to make sure they know exactly what they want, and then they want to get exactly what they want."

On the customer service front, Brass Bed has fine-tuned its business to cater to high-income clienteles in both the king-size bed market in Denver and its more queen-size bed oriented shoppers in Boulder.

Open seven days a week, the stores also do complimentary in-home consultations with its own in-house designer staff and in-house seamstress for custom orders. "We allow a checkout policy where a customer can try out a product for a week at their home before making a final decision. We really try to work with our customers as best we can to meet their needs," said Colangelo.

She added: "We can do monogramming, custom sewing, upholstery. You name it."

What makes all this possible is the staff.

"We're just a nice family business," she summed. "Rosella is my aunt and we work here with many family members and many longtime friends. We each focus on a different area of the store, and we all work well together, so it makes for a very nice place to be."

Cecile CorralCecile Corral | Senior Product Editor, Home & Textiles Today

Cecile B. Corral has been a product editor with Home Textiles Today since late 2000. She covers the area and accent rug, kitchen textiles, table linens, beach towels, decorative bath and decorative pillow categories, as well as some retail subjects.

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