Monday, June 16, 2008

Lewis Floor & Home Offers Endless Home Solutions

We have friends in the Chicago area: Lewis Floor & Home in Northbrook, Illinois.

They have just expanded their magnificent carpet and flooring store with a 2,000 square foot kitchen and bath gallery that features custom cabinetry and counter tops, a fantastic addition for their 24,000 square foot floor and home ultimate destination for anyone wanting the most unique and customized home solutions....

Susie Axelrad, vice president merchandising and marketing, graciously welcomed two of the Women of Wear-Dated- Marianne and me [Christine] - last year at this time when we wanted to learn more about Lewis' advertising [see Flooring It Differently - Lewis Carpet One Floor & Home, Chicago].

We were blown away with the store and with Susie's creativity and deep understanding of the experience that this store creates. Given Lewis Floor & Home's exciting expansion, we invited Susie to share her thoughts about the store, the added kitchen and bath selections and how consumers shop for the home.

CB: Susie, would you give us a short history of Lewis Floor & Home?

SA: Lewis Floor & Home was started in 1954, so it is over 50 years old, and into the third family generation with Steve Lewis, who is President and CEO. Earl Lewis began it as a carpet cleaning business. His son, Richard, decided he preferred to sell carpet rather than clean it.

Steve, a CPA and attorney, came into the business around 1984 when the only product sold was carpet. He dreamed to be the marketplace leader. He did everything himself from unloading pad trucks to measuring and selling carpet 7 days a week. As he grew the business, he needed more people, so he hired neighborhood people - primarily women - to help sell. Having women on staff was an asset because women like to buy from women.

Steve listens to customers. In the mid 1990s, he was being asked about tile. Then about wood. He realized that a customer coming in to purchase one type of flooring wanted to purchase all flooring from the same source. So, he decided to expand beyond carpet.

Early on, the store consisted of a 5,000 square feet showroom and equal size warehouse. When I came on board, the showroom had expanded to 10,000 [and the warehouse to 15,000 sq. feet in a separate location]. The store is now 24,000 square feet. We expanded because customers asked. Steve listened and responded.

Our most recent expansion into counter tops and cabinetry is the last piece of the consumer puzzle. We've added 6 kitchen vignettes, of those, 2 are traditional and 4 are modern. Another 6 bathroom vignettes, 2 entries and a laundry room/mud room finish out the new Kitchen and Bath Gallery and also showcase a variety of the latest modern trends in kitchen and bath design.

I'm excited about the interest in modern, after such a long period of traditional design dominating the marketplace. Essentially for the last 20 years, we've seen a focus on old world looks. It's time for a change.

CB: Who are your customers?

SA: Our customers primarily come from the Chicago area, with quite a few from Wisconsin, Indiana... And many have second homes in Arizona, California, Florida and Colorado. So we frequently sell them product and ship it to those locations.

Our core customer is a homeowner interested in residential replacement or remodeling.

We also work with a select group of custom home builders.

The main street commercial business relates to our residential business in that it serves neighborhood businesses.

The designer business weaves itself through all of the business segments.

From our association with Carpet One, we also get referrals for insurance replacements.

Lewis Floor & Home has strong ties to this neighborhood and the Lewis name has a solid reputation. We also have a strong association with carpet and have worked to expand that as we have expanded our product selections. It's an ongoing process because the consumer takes part in the flooring buying cycle every 7 to 10 years. And, breaking the carpet association means that customers will visit more frequently as they undertake other home related projects. We've been doing that through advertising, promotions, and remodeling the store to tell people in different ways about the different segments we're involved in.

Purposely, when you walk into the store, you will see tile in front, and carpet behind.

CB: Your store exudes fashion. How do you convey that sense across so many categories?

SA: I take great pride in conveying that sense of fashion. When I came into the business, carpet had nothing to do with fashion. It was entirely a price oriented business. But as an element of home furnishings, it should be considered design and an important part of the overall design process in the home.

People now want high design. Target has showed the world that design can be for everyone. And, it is! We carry every price point because it all depends on where product goes in the house. The solution must fit what's needed in each room of house. And design is a part of that solution.

As far as the store goes, we lay it out the same way apparel boutiques do. It must feel like fashion and apparel! That means that our salespeople can better help customers enjoy the experience. We train them so they have great product knowledge and we also attract designers to work with Lewis.

We still have a majority of women selling, and many more designers want to work with us because of the kitchen/bath showroom. They say we have created a mini design center!

The store has to be an extension of who the consumer is. It has to look good. Otherwise, why bother coming in?

The expansion allowed us to create many vignettes to help illustrate different design concepts and trends - based on extensive research I conducted! We expect those to remain relevant for about three years and plan on adding additional vignettes around the coffee bar area.

CB: Consumers may learn about you from the Carpetology Blog, looking for flooring - and more specifically - carpet. Would you talk about the latest trends in carpet that appeal to your customers?

SA: We have seen a lot more interest in wool and have created a wool specific room with great designs. We've also created a green section.

What's hot in carpet? Definitely animal prints, stripes and traditional patterns [e.g., large, small trellis, brocade/damask patterns].

As far as colors go, contemporary colors line up with the CB2 palette, with lime/orange on the high end. There's also interest in geometric patterns for media rooms to make the experience more like going to the movies. Red is popular. On the traditional side, we're seeing greens and combinations of browns/chocolate with colors. Then, there are black/white designer statements, as you see in apparel.

CB: How do customers hear about you?

SA: Word-of-mouth. From our magazine ads. We've redone our website and plan to add content, particularly educational content. By the way, the website not only attracts consumers, but it also helps us in our recruiting.

CB: How should customers prepare for a first visit to your store?

SA: Pick up every design magazine they can get their hands on, and then rip out any pictures that appeal to them! Those ideas then become concepts that we can help customers create. From the ideas, we look for trends that they relate to and want. There is so much out there; go ahead and find that look/feel that you want, and then we can make it for them.

CB: Any other thoughts?

SA: I see tremendous pent-up demand. I recently saw a statistic that, with the downturn in new homes and existing homes, viewership in H&G has increased 15% in last 12 months. That tells me that there is big pent up demand! There's a watch out, though. It means that our store has to be relevant to the customer. [Note: See "Housing Slump Helps the Draw of Fixer-Upper TV" by Brian Stelter from the 6/12/2008 issue of The New York Times.]

On the carpet side, many of the fresh new looks and styles make carpet more exciting and create a reason for consumers to replace what they have.

CB: Susie, thanks very much! I wish you great success.

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