Design Taxi: Room and Board Design Taxi: Room and Board

Room & Board's humble beginnings as a housewares and accessories store grew to national presence by offering affordable and well-built furniture to new home buyers. Starting out in Denver, they slowly branched out to Minnesota, Chicago, California and now most recently, in New York's furniture mecca, Soho.

Founder John Gabbert opened Room & Board in 1980 in Denver, targeting renters and first-time home buyers. He quickly learned that Americans in the past several years have come to appreciate good design in furniture at affordable prices. With the proliferation of television design shows and do-it-yourself programs, more and more Americans want their nest to reflect a designer look but without the designer price tag.

Mr. Gabbert hails from a background that is steeped in furniture appreciation. His father also owned another furniture business called Gabberts Furniture in Minnesota and imparted to him their love of furniture. Building customer relations was one of the most important things he learned.

Room & Board sets itself apart from the competition by having an interactive relationship with its customers. They stay in tune with customers' needs by eliciting their opinions and then incorporating their needs to new products. For instance, many city dwelling shoppers asked for smaller sofas to fit into their apartments, so Room & Board provided a 59" length sofa, smaller than the standard 72" or 84" sizes.

When customers raved about certain furniture pieces that the store carries, like their Milan leather chair, Room & Board went on to create additional furniture pieces with the same look - in a bed version with a leather headboard. Room & Board has strong long-term relationships with its furniture manufacturers - going back ten or more years. Through these close-knit relations, the store can easily turn customers' desires into reality.

In addition, if a customer has difficulty deciding on the upholstery of a sofa, they can easily obtain fabric swatches to mull over - either by ordering through the Internet or just calling up the store. Another special customer attraction is the delivery feature - if the customer wants to pick up their piece of furniture from one of Room & Board's warehouses, they can without being charged for extra delivery, like at most furniture stores.

Each store provides design associates to help shoppers pull together their rooms. The associates are specially trained to ask about the customer's needs and their home's special features in order to create a harmonious match between the furniture chosen and its setting. "Our goal is to sell customers something they love," said Jill Linville, marketing manager at Room & Board.

Room & Board opened their first East coast branch on Wooster Street in New York on December 30, 2004, on the site of the old Knoll showroom. Despite its new presence in the East coast, savvy New Yorkers have already been shopping at Room & Board thorough their Shop From Home catalog and Web site. Their new store exudes all the famed New York atmosphere: loft style, spacious warehouse size, and four floors chock full of contemporary furniture and accessories.

Walking through the store, we found a mix of contemporary and updated traditional furniture. Their offerings include the traditional cherry, maple and walnut woods mixed with modern materials of steel, glass, concrete and granite. Fabrics include cotton and chenille, leather, micro-fiber, and the growing popular ultrasuede. From these materials, buyers can mix and match to obtain a wide variety of selection. Children aren't overlooked at Room & Board either. Sturdy child-sized bunk beds and dressers designed to grow with the child are available.

Buoyed by strong sales and a growth of 23 percent in the past year, Room & Board opened a new branch in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood in 2005. When Design Taxi went to the invitation-only opening celebration of the New York store, we found not only curious guests but also some serious shoppers. One couple came all the way from Philadelphia to attend the opening and, of course, to shop for their new home. Next stop, Pennsylvania?

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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