Linens & Lingerie adapts to serve generations of shoppers
Retail Editor 3 -- Home Textiles Today, April 1, 2013
Towson, Md. - In just 1,100 square feet of selling space, longtime luxury linens shop owner Blair Franke manages to efficiently cater to three generations of customers in this upscale suburb of Baltimore.
"We have a lot crammed in a small space," said Franke, who began working at the store 15 years ago.
Her mother, Elizabeth Franke, founded Linens & Lingerie as a neighborhood linens shop in 1983, not long after her husband passed away. As Franke put it, "My mother did not want to be one of those lunch ladies," so she seized the opportunity to open her store when another linens shop in the area was going out of business.
The rest is history.
"We have a high-end client and we've had a strong customer base for our whole 30 years, and they keep coming back, and now their children have grown up and come back to us to shop for themselves and their own children."
That isn't by chance. It is part of Franke's grander plan - one she sketched soon after joining the company, and continues to work on today.
"When I came on board, my friends told me they liked the store but thought it was too expensive," explained Franke, who earlier in her career was a graphic designer, then switched to selling print to graphic designers in advertising agencies.
"So I got to work with my mother to try to carry other items, like a gift line and soaps, and expanding the baby department so that we could get more people in here on regular basis. The idea was for them to come in to see the gifts or the baby line, and then from there we'd show them our linens and work from that angle."
The plan has worked, especially more recently as the U.S. economy steadily improved, she said.
"A year ago I started working with my marketing rep to help us reach a younger clientele, so for that we are pushing more baby items, more accessories, and more gifts," Franke continued. "We also are doing more social media, and use it to promote our events at the store, or talk about trends in thread count, or to show our newest products at the store and some new things we might have found at the latest gift shows, for example."
About 60% of Linens & Lingerie's business is on the linens side, comprised of high-end bedding components - sheeting, shams, duvets, and other soft accessories - as well as bath towel ensembles, accessories and robes, and table linens.
The other 40% includes lingerie, particularly pieces that match with the bedding, as well as nursery linens, baby and young children's clothing, and small gift items.
Despite room for just a single display bed, Linens & Lingerie's home textiles supplier list is long and varied - "we probably work with 20 different ones," Franke said.
Among them are Matouk, Hamburg House, Stamattina, Home Treasures, N.C. Souther, Schlossberg Switzerland, and Peacock Alley.
In table linens, brands include Garnier Thiebaut, Beauvais, La Maisonnette, and more.
As Linens & Lingerie's customer base expands, so does its merchandise mix and services. Franke said custom monogramming and embroidery continue to be important, but print sheeting is more recently a growing niche.
Easy-care bedding is also big lately as "more and more younger customers prefer it" - but when luxury is part of the offering. To meet that need, Linens & Lingerie relies on Hamburg House and Matouk - "both of them both carry very nice easy-care sheets."
Prices also speak to all generations. For a Peacock Alley or a Matouk 300-count bedding ensemble, the price tag falls around $250, in some cases even with embroidery work.
On the other extreme are 600- to 1,000-count custom embroidered bedding ensembles that retail for about $2,500.
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