Every year, the Home Furnishings Assn. recognizes outstanding merchants across the country with its annual Retailer of the Year Awards. Named an Emerging Star little more than 12 months ago, Cynthia Heathcoe, owner of Contemporary Living based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, was not content to rest on her laurels.
Last month, in a bid to raise her store’s visibility and appeal both to new customers and the design community, she made a surprising move — closing up shop in her current location and heading a few miles south for the town of Lake Park, FL. As the line between design studios and furniture stores continues to blur, Heathcoe ensures that she and her business do not get left behind.
New Lease, New Outlook
For those unfamiliar with the particulars of real estate in the Palm Beaches, the small town of Lake Park was once a thriving waterfront community that had fallen on hard times over the years. But Heathcoe — a former homeless single mother who these days devotes much of her free time to helping others turn their lives around — understands the value of potential. And she had her eye on the area the Palm Beach Post has called “the hippest place you don’t know about,” for some time.
According to the entrepreneur, the once gritty Lake Park area has been steadily transforming into a vibrant arts district with an industrial chic flavor centered around the historic Kelsey Theater and a business called the Brewhouse Gallery, which blends a local art gallery with craft beer.
“Lake Park is not far from where I was located, but it’s really got a completely different vibe and energy that I believe is going to help my business grow,” Heathcoe says. For one thing, the area attracts more than its fair share of the one thing furniture retailers need most: foot traffic. Indeed, Heathcoe was determined to time her new store opening with the theater’s recent anniversary celebration. “We literally had 2,000 people coming through the plaza that day to listen to live bands, explore local art, partake of the food trucks, and yes, discover new shops. I had more people in my store that day than I would in a month in my previous location.”
Of course, she made sure Contemporary Living fit right into the scene, partnering with a local artist to handpaint all the walls in the showroom, which are hung with the works of more local artists. Price tags range from $500 to $5,000. “None of the art here is mass-produced,” she says. “You can’t shop any of it online.”
The new space makes an ideal stage for filming her nascent YouTube series, which in turn, supports her weekly radio show focused on “making your life happen.”
The space is also situated about an hour north of the Design Center of the Americas, and 20 minutes south of the trade showroom Designers Buying Group, making it an ideal central location for designers in the region to find the resources they need.
“There really hasn’t been a place for them to go that’s a one-stop shop in the contemporary arena, so my new business model expands beyond the retail store to incorporate a designer referral program and a resource center, almost like a buying group for local designers. It’s a very aggressive program, essentially a percentage over cost based on volume, which makes it very beneficial for them and for me.”
More usable square footage in the new location also means Heathcoe has broadened her selection beyond the custom offerings her customers were used to, to attract new customers who may want to purchase furnishings the way they’re shown on the floor.
“This allows for a selection of lower price points and the ability to offer quick delivery. I still offer all the different finishes, fabrics, leathers and sizes of custom, but now customers can get things in weeks, not months, if that’s what they desire.”