Schoenfeld's sample platter sells

Store concept: No inventory, quick delivery

Tom Edmonds, July 8, 2002

For Schoenfeld Interiors, the stunning 17,000-square-foot showroom is a sample platter, not the main course.

A design-driven business, this suburban Seattle store wants shoppers to see what it can do, but it doesn't attempt to shoehorn each customer into one or another vignette.

"We set up the store in a range of looks and a range of prices so that when a client comes in, they understand the scope of what we do," said Bob Schoenfeld, a fifth-generation retailer who opened this store 10 years ago. "We want to make them feel incredible and realize that we're the company to come out to their home and design it for them."

Thus, the showroom is an image statement, not a comprehensive catalog, as Schoenfeld eschews good-better-best. "We won't overlap a look," he said. "If I have one company's European group, I won't bring in someone else's look-alike. Instead, I'll create a group in another style. I think that's why I regularly hear comments that we have a great selection."

Schoenfeld has been working in furniture stores 26 years but is only 44 years old. Before he opened his own store, he worked for every type of retailer, from selling used rental furniture to his father's Drexel Heritage stores. Schoenfeld Interiors represents his idea of what consumers want.

"When they come in here, they don't have to walk around confused," he said. "We make it real enjoyable and real successful for them. They get a beautiful room, and they're real charged up about it, and they tell their friends, who come in and do it again."

The vignettes, which lean toward the contemporary and the transitional without ignoring the traditional, are nailed down but not because they are necessarily top sellers. Every element of the showroom is planned, and Schoenfeld wants to keep each vignette together until he's ready to replace it with a new one.

A stickler for detail in his displays, he doesn't want to spend a lot of time restocking and rearranging, preferring to keep each vignette in place as it was planned: "I know when a light bulb is out in the far corner when I walk in the front door."

As you like it

Virtually everything delivered by Schoenfeld Interiors is ordered special for a customer. "My concept is no inventory, perfect floor displays," Schoenfeld said. "When I was getting this thing started, I decided I didn't want to buy furniture futures, and I didn't want to have to manage flow of goods. This has totally eliminated that."

Of course, Schoenfeld operates under the same customer imperatives as any furniture retailer, and he has to make deliveries fast enough to keep his customers happy. That's why he looks for vendors who can accommodate custom orders delivered quickly.

"Every time we look for a vendor, we look for flexibility," Schoenfeld said, citing American Leather. "They fit what we do: No inventory and quick delivery."

The store's eight designers use a local metal manufacturer frequently for custom pieces, and Schoenfeld recently developed a private-label upholstery program, primarily for customers who need specific lengths and sizes.

"We're geared to putting things together exactly as the customer needs it and wants it," Schoenfeld said. "Our thing is design work, and we've got five computers constantly running, planning projects. If we're not doing that, we're not successful."

To staff his store, Schoenfeld did not look for experienced furniture people. He hired people into the business out of the two design schools in the Seattle area. "We trained them in how to work with retail customers, how to turn them into a house call," he said.

While the store certainly does make item sales to the customer who wants just that one piece, those house calls are the bread and butter. Designers go out to the home, do the interview, come back do the design work, make the presentation and, if all goes well, close the sale.

This is a process that takes time, but properly executed, it leads to major sales, with typical design projects running from $5,000 to $25,000. And the close rate is high, too. "When we get a house call, 95% of the time, we get the sale," Schoenfeld said.

A big part of that, he added, is the confidence customers have that they will receive furnishings that are both attractive and unique from the Schoenfeld designers. "All around us are these common looks," Schoenfeld said. "When they come to us, they are getting something they wouldn't find at most of the larger stores."


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