Room & Board Caters Their Store to Manhattan

Minneapolis-based Retailer a Longtime Catalog Player in New York

Carole Sloan, February 21, 2005

New York — The newly opened Room & Board in the trendy SoHo section of Manhattan is merchandised “to adapt to the New York market,” said John Gabbert, founder and president.

The Minneapolis-based home furnishings specialty retailer has long experience with New Yorkers' needs and preferences, he related, because of the extensive business it derives here from its catalog and online programs. The New York market, he pointed out, represents the biggest non-store market for the catalog, which contributes 25 percent of the company's total revenue.

Home textiles are given more presentation space here than in some of the eight others with bedding shown on beds throughout the store as well as in a separate department showing all styles and colors together.

Bedding, rugs and decorative pillows are picked to “work with the furniture,” Gabbert explained. As for bedding, “Our mission as a company is to make it easy for a customer to complete her home.”

The bedding assortment comes from Area and Dwell. The signage, both in the vignettes throughout the store and in the bedding department, is clear and makes no mention of thread count. “We're not into the thread count game; we're selling quality,” Gabbert emphasized.

The company took its experience in the New York market and its requirements into consideration throughout the three level store. As an example, “We went for smaller scale” in merchandise presentations for sofas, but larger sizes also are featured and are available in each style.

Kids furnishings are housed in a smaller space than in its Chicago store, “but we expect this to be a strong category here,” Gabbert said.

Accessories — including throws and decorative pillows — are presented more dramatically here, both in separate outposts as well as in the vignettes throughout the store. While the assortment appears larger than in several of the other units, “We didn't really buy differently; it's more in the presentation. The store here follows the company's design credo: classic, simple designs, with Room & Board focusing on 20th and 21st century style and Retrospect centering on 17th to 19th century designs,” Gabbert explained. The store here, he said, has a little more Retrospect with more of a “New York antique shop feeling.”

As for the design process, “We build from what is working, and closely monitor customer requests concerning things like size.” But outside influences are also important. “We follow fashion trends and also watch other home furnishings directions.” Gabbert added, “Good design really lasts,” noting that “a whole lot of our product is 10 years old or more.”

At the end of April, the company will open a 48,000-square-foot store in San Francisco — its first there — at Seventh and Townsend Streets. Both the store here and the one in San Francisco are in restored buildings, a former Knoll showroom and former warehouse, respectively.

The company had estimated sales of $112 million in 2003, and saw sales increase about 20 percent for 2004, Gabbert said. For 2005, sales are projected to grow by 30 percent with the addition of the two new units to the eight existing stores. “We are trying not to grow too fast,” Gabbert emphasized.

The New York market produced about $4 million just from the catalog and online programs. The catalog is produced annually, and prices are firm from January through November in what the company calls “guaranteed lowest prices every day.”

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