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A Slight Change of Plans

WESTPORT, CONN. - When Carlin Van Noppen first planted the seeds for her home furnishings specialty retail shop here almost a decade ago, she had a different idea in mind.
     Van Noppen originally hoped to sell high-end furniture, lighting, accessories and apothecary pieces.
"I tried, but some of the brands I wanted to carry in furniture were already taken in my area by other stores," she told HTT.
     Thanks to her long love of linens and interior design along with the discovery of an untapped opportunity, Van Noppen took her business into a more fruitful direction.
     "I started talking to some linens companies, and they all told me they were hoping someone would open a linens shop in my area," Van Noppen explained, "so after that, I thought I could become that shop. If everyone else around here was already carrying furniture and lights and no one was carrying linens, then linens seemed like a better idea for my store."
     Soon thereafter, in 2004, Fig Linens was established.
    The store's first home was in a cozy 800-square-foot antique-like space in town that was exposed to a healthy volume of traffic.
     "I found it and liked it," she said. "But it was a little impulsive and a little bit crazy. I just didn't realize how much work it was going to be, but at the same time it was lucky for me that I didn't know."
     Van Noppen was raising her two then-young children - now teenagers - on her own, and was working in graphic and interior design when she opted to get into business for herself.
     "I wanted to be around more for my kids, I wanted to be available in the mornings and in the evenings, and not have to travel into the city for work, and a shop would allow me to do all that," she said.
     Pacing herself, Van Noppen got her assortment started with a handful of brands, including Sferra, Yves Delorme, Scandia Down, and Matouk - the latter having "a great rep in our area. She was just amazing."
     But Van Noppen wasn't concentrating on basics, although they would be included in the mix. Rather, Fig was going to be fashion oriented.
     "We are all about color and fashion," she said. "My store is bright with lots of color. It's very splashy. We do have white, but I definitely want us to be more exciting."
     Fig Linens quickly became a destination shop for upscale linens in the region.
     "We received a great reception from shoppers and everything went well for a while, until my lease was up about two years later, in 2006," Van Noppen said.
     At that point, she went in search of a new location, checking available spaces and going door to door to occupied shops in locations she liked. That tactic proved wise, as her new site - a children's boutique clothing shop - was not on the market but opted to let her have the space.
     At 1,400 square feet, the new space "definitely bumped up in size quite a bit."
     And with that began a new and heartier harvest for Fig.
     "It was then that we were really able to start carrying a lot more goods," she said. "It was shocking at first to come in and have so much more room, and I worried about how I was going to fill up all the space."
     Van Noppen took out a loan and "tried to find a way to do it."
With room now for four display beds on the selling floor, Fig began layering in new linens brands, including John Robshaw and its full line, as well as the complete programs of Matouk and Sferra, then Italian luxury line Pratesi, among several others.
     The category offering also expanded to include a deeper offering of accessory pieces like throws and decorative pillows, table linens and other items.
    "We started with a lot of special orders, but now we have stock all over the place," Van Noppen said.
The best part of the move: "It was nice that my kids could be here with me after school and on weekends. I set up little desks where they could do their homework."
     Fast-forward to present day, and Fig Linens is "squeezing like sardines" with its plethora of fi ne home textiles and auxiliary items, like fragrances and robes.
     Van Noppen credits Fig's proximity to Restoration Hardware with also prompting a product expansion.
     "We are a few feet away from them, so we've tried to capture shoppers who want to buy high end bedding or towels,"
     To sweeten the pot, Fig has added some smaller brands to its assortment recently, such as Ferran-New York, kumi kookoon, and Anali.
      "We've tried to bring in more and more variety as we've grown and grown," she said.
      Other brand additions to the portfolio include Brahm Blanket, Abyss & Habidecor for bath ensembles and rugs, and "tons and tons of dec pillow lines" from a variety of designers and suppliers.
     The merchandise mix comprises roughly 70% bedding linens, 20% bath linens, and 10% table linens, and of that about 50% fashion and 50% whites/basic linens.
     "My customers can buy white all day," Van Noppen said. "But they still want to see the fashion. It reassures them they are shopping at the right place for their luxury linens. They are attracted to color and pattern and like to see it, even if they don't always buy it."
     Fig Linens also offers several services for its customers, including in-home consultations, monogramming, and others.
     For the holiday season, Fig Linens is bringing back cashmere collections.
     "We had a ton of cashmere come in because this season we usually sell a lot of it as gifts," Van Noppen said. The line includes primarily Alashan throws, as well as cable-knit and basket-weave cashmere styles that retail for about $600.
     The store will also offer a Sferra promotion on some cotton throws.
     In April 2014, Fig will mark its 10th anniversary in business, and Van Noppen will unveil some "special plans" for a celebration.

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