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Hearth & Home January 2015

It’s difficult (impossible?) to miss the Brown Jordan building at the entrance to the Miami Design District.

Into the Lap of Luxury

By Tom Lassiter

Brown Jordan is taking its brand and company store to the Miami Design District, while expanding into the Outdoor Room from “A to Z.”

Miami’s new Design District is home to exclusive destination stores devoted to some of the world’s best-known luxury brands, including Cartier, Hermés and Louis Vuitton.

The most famous name in the casual furniture industry will join them later this spring. That’s when Brown Jordan moves into a chic new store situated at the entrance to the Design District.

The two-story store, which features a rooftop Outdoor Room and event space, represents a major shift in Brown Jordan’s strategic brand positioning and sales strategy in specific markets. The store will have a multi-channel focus, serving consumers, designers, plus the hospitality market.

Fashion-conscious Miami and South Florida, says CEO Gene Moriarty, is the first location for a company-owned Brown Jordan store based on this new concept. Long-range plans call for additional stores in a limited number of select markets, primarily in the Sun Belt.

Ample parking and high visibility from traffic are key elements of Brown Jordan’s new ­­Miami location.

“We’re talking six to eight stores over the next three to five years,” Moriarty said. “Our desire is not to replace our dealer base. It’s to work in conjunction with our dealer base and to open markets where we think there are opportunities, where we don’t have the dealer base we had at one time.”

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Brown Jordan lost representation in certain markets as specialty retailers contracted and closed stores, or went out of business altogether. Important key dealers that generated significant business in 2007 and 2008 simply are no longer present in critical metro markets.

“We figured we needed a solution,” Moriarty said.

Designer showrooms, another important channel, in some locations have experienced significant declines, he said.

“No matter what we have done, the foot traffic has dramatically decreased,” he said, “and the vacancies in a number of designer showroom buildings have escalated. That was a trend we wanted to reverse.”

However, business at showrooms in some other cities remains strong. Brown Jordan’s strategy is to close showrooms only in declining locations as leases come up for renewal.

The closure of a Miami store by a leading Brown Jordan retailer, coupled with declining showroom sales at the Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA), in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Dania, hit Brown Jordan on both fronts, Moriarty said. And there was no way for DCOTA, 25 miles from Miami, to maximize its sales to residents of that hip, thriving city.

The Miami Design District, a $1 billion project by developer Craig Robins, created the opportunity Moriarty sought. Moriarty’s goal is to raise brand awareness and sell more Brown Jordan product in specific under-served metropolitan markets.

Photo: ©2015 AG photography. Jim Hardy in the Costa Mesa store.

A third goal, articulated by Brown Jordan division president Jim Hardy, is to use this and other company stores as merchandising laboratories and demonstration sites. Hardy envisions sharing learned techniques with Brown Jordan dealers, helping them to increase sales and profits.

For the Miami store, Moriarty chose a vacant lot shaped like a wedge of pie and situated between two thoroughfares serving the heart of the Design District. The lot backs up to an elevated Interstate highway. Passengers in vehicles traveling I-195 will be able to look down at the Brown Jordan store’s rooftop, complete with a pergola, furniture and outdoor kitchen.

Moriarty’s strategic vision for the 6,200 sq. ft. Miami store, executed by Hardy, represents a hybrid merchandising approach. Hardy came to Brown Jordan in 2014 from Ralph Lauren, where he was an executive focused on branding and product merchandising at flagship stores in New York and London.

The Miami store concept steps away from the spare aesthetic of showrooms, a presentation favored by designers who focus on the furniture’s pure architectural lines; they have the ability to envision the colors, fabrics and accessories necessary to complete a project.

Because the Miami store will serve consumers as well as designers, it will display products in a more residential environment to help shoppers envision how Brown Jordan furniture might look in their homes.

This is a very preliminary architectural rendering of the interior space; the decor will bring in colors from the subtropical palette.

A designer showroom typically limits architectural colors and textures. The Miami Design Center store will reflect its South Florida culture, Hardy said. The décor will include colors from the subtropical palette, coral stone, and reclaimed Florida pine.

“We want these stores to be the best and brightest approaches to our brand,” Hardy said.

Hardy noted that the Miami store will have an increased emphasis on fabrics. “We’re working very closely with Sunbrella. You’ll see more depth and less breadth in fabrics. Previously,” he said, “we’ve just not focused on that as much as we might have.”

The Miami store will merchandise other products in addition to Brown Jordan furniture, Moriarty said. Accessory items, such as tabletop products, fire pits, heat lamps, planters and water features will help to create a more homelike setting and offer shoppers goods for “immediate gratification.”

“We’re really focused on completing the Outdoor Room from A to Z,” he said. “If you go into Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, you see all kinds of things on the tables, so you can envision it as part of your home.”

The homelike ambiance of the Miami store will be enhanced by at least one fireplace or wall-mounted fire feature, Moriarty said. However, there currently are no plans to sell flame products other than fire pits. Brown Jordan’s current fire products are based on EcoSmart Fire technology, fueled by bioethanol (denatured alcohol).

For most families, a furniture purchase is an infrequent event; Brown Jordan wants repeat business. “Ultimately, we want to bring that person back to the store,” Moriarty explained. “So there will be some experimentation with other categories to help us do that.”

Eventually, Moriarty expects the company will learn how to refine its approach to merchandising through the Miami store. “As we get more experienced, that’s going to be part of our mission: less furniture, less clutter, much more aspirational in terms of what it looks like.”

Even though the rooftop of the Miami store will be fully outfitted as an Outdoor Room, Moriarty says it will not be used as a retail area. He envisions the roof as a display for Interstate highway travelers, as a demonstration area for visiting Brown Jordan dealers, and as an income-generating event space.

The Miami store will serve the contract market and the international design trade, Moriarty said. Ongoing condominium and hotel construction in South Florida generates a huge demand for casual furniture, and designers and consumers from the Caribbean basin and Latin America flock to Miami to shop. DCOTA showrooms, 25 miles away, are accessible but not convenient.

Having a store more convenient to the international design trade and shoppers will help maximize those sales prospects, he said.

Photo: ©2015 AG photography.
The Costa Mesa store is in a “somewhat Bohemian” shopping center.

The Costa Mesa Experience

Brown Jordan opened its first company store in 2013 in Costa Mesa, south of Long Beach in California’s Orange County. The store replaced a Laguna Beach designer showroom that the company closed in 2012 following a decline in foot traffic and sales, according to Moriarty.

Steve Elton, Brown Jordan’s senior vice president of Sales & Branding, created the look of the Costa Mesa store. He personally set each piece of furniture in the store’s approximately 6,000 sq. ft. Like the company’s showroom at the Merchandise Mart, the Costa Mesa store has the unmistakable flow and feel of a Brown Jordan environment.

“We don’t over-merchandise it,” Elton said. “We let the furniture breathe.”

An architect designed the store’s interior, which sits on a corner location in a shopping center described by Elton as avant-garde and somewhat Bohemian. Other stores include HD Buttercup, a trendy home goods store, and Design Within Reach.

Brown Jordan needed a way to highlight chairs in the store, but wanted to avoid a chair wall, a presentation that Elton felt has become somewhat passé.

The architect’s solution: boxed, structural columns with lighted niches for individual chairs. “It was cool and we like it,” Elton said.

Photo: ©2015 AG photography.
Large light fixtures, constructed at the Brown Jordan factory, are strong design elements.

Brown Jordan’s factory constructed the store’s large, mushroom-shaped light fixtures. Elton said they were inspired by a design suggested by the architect but which did not fit the budget.

The Costa Mesa store has strongly outperformed its projected goals, Moriarty said. The store beat its three-year sales target in the first 18 months. Sales per square foot are 13 percent ahead of projections.

“We see California being a $9 million opportunity,” Moriarty said. That figure, he explained, is the value of sales volume in that market not recovered since the losses of the Great Recession.

Brown Jordan’s Costa Mesa showroom, and a second planned to open in summer 2015 on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, are designed to recapture and eventually grow those lost revenues.

Advertising for Brown Jordan’s Costa Mesa store and the exposure it gives the brand have benefitted existing Southern California dealers, the executives said.

“We believe very strongly,” Moriarty said, that company advertising “only creates more brand awareness that will ultimately help our dealer base.”

The limited number of company stores, he said, should not be seen by dealers “as a threat, because clearly that’s not our intent.

“I think we have to be very transparent and up front with our dealers on what we’re doing, and what we’re doing for them,” he said.

Moriarty admitted that transparency was lacking and dealer relations suffered during the company’s experiment with creating a Brown Jordan presence in Home Depot stores. That resulted in some dealers parting from the company, he said. However, “From a revenue perspective, we did not see any loss year over year.”

Initial communications with the dealer base about plans for company stores also fell short, he said. “Change is always unsettling, and we did not do a good job of being transparent with our customers on what our plans were.”

Moriarty said, “On a going-forward basis, we will be much more transparent in terms of telling the dealer base what our strategy is and working hand-in-hand with them. Jim (Hardy) is going to play a very positive role with our dealers.”

Hardy reinforced Moriarty’s support for Brown Jordan’s retailers.

Photo: ©2015 AG photography.
Note the boxed columns in which chairs are highlighted (at both far left and far right).

The company stores, he said, are “not by any stretch of the imagination a plan by Brown Jordan to gobble up all the retail business in the United States. Quite the contrary. It is to demonstrate the heritage and authenticity of the brand in its fullest scope, so we can be a shining example so that others can grow their business with our brand.”

Hardy said that was his experience in cities with Ralph Lauren flagship stores. “A flagship store was always a source of inspiration to wholesale customers who would learn something,” he said, “and their business actually increased.”

Future possible locations

With the opening of the Miami and Los Angeles stores, Brown Jordan will have three company-owned retail locations open by year-end. Expansion plans beyond that are not firm, but the company is studying additional Sun Belt markets, plus Northern California and London. Hardy lived in the British capital for 13 years while a Ralph Lauren executive.

“Phoenix is a market that looks promising,” Moriarty said, “and we are evaluating Texas.” He noted that the company’s interest in Texas is motivated by different circumstances than in Florida and California.

“This is going to be completely different from what I said in the beginning,” Moriarty explained. “We have a design showroom in Dallas that is doing very well, and we don’t intend to shut that down. But Dallas is a big market. Houston is a big market, so we are going to evaluate it. There are good dealers in both of those markets, so if we can figure out how to build our dealer base there, that would be our priority.”

Failing that, Brown Jordan may consider setting up a company store in either of those Texas markets.

Northern California, while hardly in the Sun Belt, is another enticing prospect for a company store because of the wealthy demographics of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Photo: ©2015 AG photography.
Color is everywhere – on cushions, pillows, shade products and frames.

Brown Jordan closed its San Francisco showroom in 2012. A Houston showroom was closed in 2013.

Ultimately, Moriarty and Hardy said they want the Brown Jordan company stores to benefit every business associated with the brand.

“Our intent is to build better product, work closer with our dealers, (and) give them more tools to succeed in selling our brands,” Moriarty said. The company-owned stores specifically are for markets “where we think there is a shortage of opportunities to put our product in front of the consumer.”

Hardy said the Brown Jordan stores are to be “a shining star for the retailer, for the consumer, for the media who follow our brand. This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate how we believe Brown Jordan should be presented at its fullest and best.”

Hardy and Moriarty appear to be of one mind on this point.

“If we do this right, we will have locations that could host training and education sessions for our best dealers,” Moriarty said. “If we can provide any training or resources to better position our brand, and sell our brand to consumers, we think that’s a benefit for all of us.”

At Home in the Miami Design District

Bal Harbour Shops, a smallish shopping center packed with company-owned stores offering the most exclusive brands, for decades had a lock on the upscale shopping experience in Miami. Not anymore.

The Miami Design District has lured away some of Bal Harbour’s most famous luxury-brand tenants, offering larger stores and the experience of a cultural district with arts fairs, restaurants, galleries and even furniture stores.

A building constructed to Brown Jordan’s specifications is going up at the entrance to the Design District. CEO Gene Moriarty said the company plans to lease the building for 10 years. Occupancy is scheduled for April.

Branded stores in the Design District include Christian Dior, Bulgari, Tom Ford and Ermenegildo Zegna. Armani/Casa, Design Within Reach, Janus et Cie, Holly Hunt and Versace Home Miami are some others, to name a few.

Hermés once occupied a 4,300 sq. ft. store at Bal Habour, which encompasses a total of 500,000 sq. ft. The new Hermés store in the Design District will have 13,000 sq. ft. spread over three stories, plus a roof garden.

Luxury hotels are part of the Design District. The Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons already are in the area, and more are planned, according to The New York Times.

Why are hotels important? Because Miami attracts scads of international shoppers, especially from South and Central America and the Caribbean basin, plus Russia.

The Times reports that more than 70 percent of Bal Harbour’s shoppers are from overseas. Many shops employ staff fluent in Portuguese because of the many customers from Brazil.

That same customer demographic is expected to flock to the Design District, which is 10 miles south of Bal Harbour.

Design District developer Craig Robins, who helped develop South Beach two decades ago, is an advocate for contemporary art, fashion and design. One of the latest additions to the Design District was December’s announcement of a three-story, 37,000 sq. ft. contemporary art museum. The Institute of Contemporary Art (to be known as ICA Miami) will be built on land donated by the developer and paid for by philanthropists.

Brown Jordan, which from its earliest days has been a leader in casual furnishings and contemporary design, should be right at home in the Miami Design District.

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