The key to a successful luxury presentation is context. Take Brown Squirrel in Knoxville, TN, a full-line furniture store that literally sits across the parking lot from the corporate campus of HGTV.
Launched by the Matthews family as Brown Squirrel Furniture Warehouse in 1971, the store underwent its first major renovation led by Connie Post and her Affordable Design team a little more than eight years ago. “Back then, Brown Squirrel was set up like the old-fashioned Levitz warehouse stores,” Post remembers, “where customers entered the main showroom through the warehouse.”
The first “upgrade” in presentation took the store from $6 million to $11 million in volume, stretching price points upward into custom upholstered furniture from England and solid wood, Made-in-America goods from Vaughan-Bassett. Another major renovation led by Post a couple of years later continued the upward trajectory, taking the business to $18 million the first year it was completed.
“When we think about luxury, we tend to think major metropolitan settings and brands like Tiffany and Louis Vuitton,” Post says. “But success in retail means understanding what luxury means to consumers in different places. A high-end home in Knoxville doesn’t look like the spare, ultra-contemporary settings we see in New York or LA,” she says. “Here’s it’s less about chrome and low-slung silhouettes and more about the modern farmhouse vibe.”
According to Post, the first time Brown Squirrel traded up, “they moved from selling $3,000 bedroom and dining room suites to tickets in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. That is a big jump,” she says. “Eventually, with the addition of Smith Brothers in upholstery, a leather gallery and Universal in casegoods, tickets in the neighborhood of $12,000 became the norm at the better end of the business.
“This was a very personal project for me, because my son and grandchildren live in Knoxville, and I have a home there, so I was designing the store with intimate knowledge of the community,” the designer reports. “The interesting thing about retail design is that you can’t stretch beyond what the consumer will understand. I could have gone in there and created luxury at all sorts of levels, but there comes a point when some consumers at the higher end are simply going to skip the store experience entirely and hire an interior designer just because they can, and you have to understand where that line really is in the better end of the market. Brown Squirrel has created a reputation in the community as a compelling shopping experience for people who like to shop and want to do it themselves with a trustworthy salesperson and the store’s design staff.
“And they were very smart because they allowed us to create a completely different selling environment that somewhat segregated their upper-end customers and better-end goods. We know that the BMW or Cadillac customer wants to be treated differently, in an environment that looks different and caters to them,” Post relates. “They like having leather chairs and a cappuccino machine when they take their cars into the service department, and they know they don’t get that treatment when they go into a Ford dealership or when they buy a Chevrolet.”
As such, Post created a new entrance that opens directly into more luxurious merchandise, with a coffee bar and a gift boutique. “In the end, Brown Squirrel today is really three stores in one,” Post says, “and the main store is being readied for another major renovation once again in 2021.”