Texas store scores with contemporary
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, October 13, 2012
MCALLEN, Texas - South Texas retailer Niu Urban Living has made a splash with a new store that eventually will double its footprint for high end contemporary home furnishings.
The company, owned by Jesus and Rosario Gonzalez, sells to consumers north and south of the Mexican border.
The Gonzalezes opened the three-level, 40,000-square-foot building in early September, filling out about 25,000 square feet on the first two levels and part of the third floor with an expanded lineup of what the retailer describes as "classic, modern and globally influenced" furniture and accents, mostly from existing suppliers.
It replaced two smaller Casa Antigua and Niu stores, though one of the former locations will reopen this month as a clearance center.
Niu features primarily high-end contemporary and transitional designs from sources including American Leather, Calligaris, Christopher Guy, Gamma International, Costantini Pietro, Palliser and Selva. Leather sectionals start at about $1,900 for an imported private label line the retailer calls Livenzza (bonded leather) to about $13,000 for a Gamma sectional.
Dining room tables go from about $500 for Star International or Livenzza up to $10,000 for a Costantini or Selva table.
The Gonzalezes invested about $3.8 million in the new store project, building from scratch for a look best suited to their style.
|Glass walls give off light at Niu Urban Living’s new 40,000-
square-foot store in McAllen, Texas, which specializes in highend
modern and “globally influenced” home furnishings.
|Niu Urban Living owners Rosario and Jesus Gonzalez sit
in their spacious three-level store in McAllen, Texas. An
assortment of high-end furniture in the background reflects a
blend of globally inspired looks from sources such as Pakistan
and Brazil, to cleaner lined contemporary styles.
|Niu Urban Living shows Selva’s Solitaire bed ($7,500) with
alligator embossed leather. It’s displayed with custom-made
draperies and top-of-bed offered through the store’s new
|A Costantini Pietro Soho table in zebra wood ($8,300) is displayed
with a wallpaper mural from Excess. Through its Mor department,
Niu offers a variety of upscale wall treatments for residential and
commercial projects, including motorized shades and custom
They are looking for sales to reach $7 million by the end of next year, including sales from a small Barstools Express store and the Casa Antigua Clearance Zenter, which will move from nearby Pharr, Texas, into the couple's original retail space. That would be an increase of about 75% over the retailer's previous best year in 2010.
And the Gonzalez family is doing this in a midsized Texas city with a population of about 130,000 people. To get to this point, Niu has built a following not only in McAllen but surrounding Texas cities, such as Mission, Edinburg and Pharr.
Perhaps more importantly, the contemporary Niu is popular among well-to-do Mexican nationals, who primarily come from Monterrey, Mexico - some 160 miles away, and Jesus' hometown.
"McAllen has been their shopping district of choice," he said. "It's a little higher end than Laredo," another nearby city along the border.
Niu's Mexican business has been hurt this past year, Gonzalez said, as drug cartel-related violence has intensified in northern Mexico, particularly along the highway from Monterrey to Reynosa, just across the border from McAllen.
He cited this as the main reason for the company's roughly 17% decrease in sales last year over the previous year, as Monterrey-area residents chose either to stay home or take direct flights into other Texas markets, such as Houston and San Antonio.
Up through 2010, about 70% of Niu's sales would go to customers somewhere in northern Mexico, Gonzalez said. Now, he estimates it's about 10% to 15%.
"But I think it's just temporary," he said of the dropoff, adding that there's a Spanish saying that roughly translates as, "There's no catastrophe that lasts 100 years." Changes are coming to Mexico's government, Gonzalez said, and he's hoping this will lead to peace and returning traffic and business from Monterrey.
In the new location, Niu has consolidated two previous smaller stores: Casa Antigua, an offshoot of the Gonzalez's former wholesale business, which sold wrought iron and other rustic furniture and accents; and the first 8,000-square-foot Niu store that opened in McAllen's arts district in 2006.
Years before this, the couple operated Casa Antigua as a wholesale business, selling wrought iron accents and other rustic furniture to the trade and exhibiting in High Point's Market Square. To support the company's growth, they bought a warehouse in McAllen in a deal that required that they also buy an accompanying retail strip.
That led them to open a small Casa Antigua retail store in 1998 - using the same name as the wholesale business because they already had the business cards, Jesus Gonzalez recalled.
They didn't see retail as the way they would make their living, but instead, as "additional income and a way to make the real estate produce," he said. Eventually they added other non-Casa Antigua merchandise from neighboring Market Square exhibitors, building a small but solid retail side business.
In 2003, the rise of Chinese imports "put us out of the wholesale business, which became the best thing that happened to us," Gonzalez now says. The couple expanded the retail space to 8,000 square feet in 2004 by converting the former wholesale warehouse to display.
Casa Antigua's rustic looks were very popular with the local community but not so much with Mexican nationals, Gonzalez said, "because that was what we grew up with." So in 2006, the couple decided to test contemporary, opening another 8,000-square-foot showroom in what would later become McAllen's arts district.
They called it "Niu" because when it's read in Spanish, "it sounds like ‘new,' the opposite of ‘antique' and that's what we wanted," he said.
Sales took off, and so did the average ticket, growing to about $4,000 to $5,000 from about $600 at the Casa Antigua store, he estimated.
With the move this year, Niu consolidated Casa Antigua - which also had been updated to appeal to a broader base of consumers with more modern looks - and the former Niu into one location just blocks away on North 10th Street. The three-level building has an industrial feel similar to High Point's 220 Elm, Gonzalez said, just the way the couple wanted it. The interior walls are white and the concrete floor is bare.
"We didn't want to take anything away from the furniture," he said, adding that people who have visited the new store are amazed at Niu's transformation.
Eventually Niu will expand to about 33,000 square feet of display on all three levels, and Gonzalez said he plans to add a small bistro on the third level, taking advantage of the store's skylights to attract a broad range of consumers, even when the rest of the store may be closed.
While Niu has stuck to a lineup of mostly existing suppliers, it has added some new features that make the store more a whole-home shopping experience, such as a Mor gallery for upscale wall treatments, including automated window treatments and draperies, and a 3,000-square-foot Reniu sleep and comfort gallery, featuring Ekornes Stressless recliners, Tempur-Pedic mattress and the Italian mattress line Magniflex.
Rosario Gonzalez said she and her husband are creative in their approach and are proud of Niu's eclectic displays, which steer clear of the matching group look.
"It was a bigger challenge (in the larger new store)," she said, "but it turned out pretty nice."
In addition, the retailer worked to integrate both the warm transitional look of the former Casa Antigua with the more contemporary Niu, and also created a roughly 5,000-square-foot area on the second level dedicated to lower-priced goods, where consumers can browse without being intimidated by some of the store's bigger ticket items, she said.
Store traffic has been triple the average for a usually slow September at its former stores, Jesus Gonzalez said, adding that consumers have expressed excitement about the many changes.
One of the first things to catch their eye, besides the towering glass exterior, is the large red sculpture in front of the store - lower case, but bold letters spelling out "Niu." Jesus Gonzalez said the retailer is the first business in town to have a sculpture serve as its main sign and it owes this to store janitor Roel Recio.
According to a local report, Recio attended South Texas College in McAllen hoping to pursue and art career, but had to drop out to support his family.
One day at the old Niu, he began doodling what would culminate in the sculpture. He kept his sketched design hidden for awhile, but eventually got up the nerve to secretly pin it to a lounge bulletin board, where Jesus Gonzalez saw it and instantly loved it.
Recio is still working for Niu as the janitor and furniture arranger, but Gonzalez suggested it may not be for long.
"We're going to help him go back to school," he said.