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Home furnishings retailer I.O. Metro plans to open more stores

 I.O. Metro’s new catalog, available in print and online, has a cover shot featuring the retailer’s Lalit 15-drawer chest in iron and vintage mango planks for $899.95.I.O. Metro’s new catalog, available in print and online, has a cover shot featuring the retailer’s Lalit 15-drawer chest in iron and vintage mango planks for $899.95.

LOWELL, Ark. — I.O. Metro plans to open 10 or more stores over the next three years, starting with a new store coming to the Dallas market in February.

The 18-store retailer noted the plans in announcing the launch of its first product catalog, a 40-page glossy issue it began mailing to consumers last month.

The 9,000-square-foot Dallas store will be on McKinney Avenue in the Knox-Henderson area, just behind an Apple Store, said I.O. Metro founder and CEO Jay Howard. Other tenants in the area include Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, Z Gallerie, Design Within Reach, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Mecox and Weir's.

Howard wouldn't disclose details on other future store locations, but said the company is placing heavy emphasis on Florida and Texas, while secondary target states include North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, Louisiana and Illinois.

He declined to disclose sales or sales projections for the planned new stores or the company.

I.O. Metro's plans, while aggressive, are not quite as bold as they were after last year's acquisition by private equity firm Consumer Growth Partners and other investors. Back then, the Lowell, Ark.-based retailer had 21 stores in Midwest and Southern states and was planning to open six to eight stores a year beginning at the end of 2011.

"With the addition of experienced capital behind us, we concluded as a group that the better strategy was to let some of our stores mature to properly evaluate which markets/stores were most successful for our concept," Howard said in an email. He said the company concluded that "marquee locations" with excellent and similar lifestyle-oriented tenants are now its target.

What's more, the right real estate deals were "more difficult to capture" than first anticipated, he said.

"As a result we have shifted from a store numbers-driven growth plan to an opportunistic approach," Howard said. The company has it sights set on more than 20 markets, but will wait for the right locations, he said.

Meanwhile, it has closed two stores, where it didn't see strong long-term growth potential - in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Bentonville, Ark., (where it operate an outlet store). The upcoming Dallas store is in essence a relocation of I.O. Metro's Galleria location there, which has closed.

Howard said the company expects to add two stores in 2013, including the Dallas location, four in 2014 and six the following year. It also may close as many as five existing stores over the next three years where leases are expiring, replacing them with "high traffic, marquee locations," he said.

He added that the timing of the openings could shift with real estate availability.

"In essence, we are graduating from an entrepreneurial growth strategy, during which we were defining our offering, model, etc., into a second-phase growth company with a clearly defined path based on results," he said.

The retailer said the newly launched product catalog (a digital version is online at http://www.iometro.com/catalogs/fall2012) along with I.O. Metro's ecommerce presence, which began about a year ago, are steps along that same strategic growth path.

I.O. Metro said it was opening itself up to a new audience online, so it was important the website and catalog capture as much of its in-store experience and essence as possible.

"We spent many months planning and determining how best to showcase our products in the catalog so that customers can really see how our furniture fits into their daily lives," Howard said.

I.O. Metro also has restructured its logistics, with deliveries now going from the warehouse to the customer, vs. the previous warehouse-to-store-to customer model. The change "allows for speedier deliveries and fewer chances for damages to occur," the company said.

The retailer said it now delivers nationwide and has started a corporate customer service department (previously handled by each store) that allows for speedier resolution of issues and better communication.

"In staying true to our roots, I.O. Metro continues to believe that good design should be accessible to all," Howard said. "In a way, this catalog is merely an extension of that service."

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