Retail Profile: Urban Country, Bethesda, Md.
Susan Dickenson -- Gifts & Dec, June 26, 2012
URBAN COUNTRY MIGHT JUST BE THE PERFECT home store. It has everything: A well-edited selection of quality furniture, home décor and gifts across a variety of categories and price points, a design-savvy owner with years of retail experience, a prime location on a pedestrian-friendly streetscape in an affluent metropolitan suburb, a well-respected reputation among its vendors, a loyal following of customers, a significant presence in the local design community, a strong charitable history, healthy sales volume, beautiful showroom, and grown daughters that now help the owner (their mom) run the business.
Urban Country owner/founder Rachelle Roth describes the store as a blend of furniture, home accents, fashion accessories, giftables, bedding, bath accessories, bridal registry and more.
The 6,000-sq.-ft. store is the only home furnishings retailer on Bethesda Row, an upscale shopping, entertainment and dining destination in the affluent Washington, D.C., suburb of Bethesda, Md. Approximately 144,000 people live within a three-mile radius of "The Row," and the average household income is $195,000.
Owner and founder Rachelle Roth describes the store as a blend of furniture, home accents, fashion accessories, giftables, bedding, bath accessories, bridal registry and more. A quick look at the store's Facebook timeline reveals not only a myriad of categories and product - ranging from MacKenzie-Childs rain boots and Elizabeth W fragrances to Trina Turk pillows and Vanguard wing chairs - but plenty of activity as well. Over the past year there have been fundraising events, promotional events for Dash & Albert, Pine Cone Hill and Brown Jordan with representatives of the brands in attendance, a presence at the Junior League of Washington's annual Christmas shops, and a 20-year anniversary event with special guest Barclay Butera.
Many of the store's 200 furniture, lighting, accessory, bedding and rug vendors are listed on its website. So, too, are succinct but thorough descriptions, pricing and terms for its interior design services. Urban Country also does staging for the real estate market and is a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
Urban Country was founded in 1991 by Roth and her husband Jeffrey, who grew up as childhood friends in New York. Rachelle started out in fashion, attending shows and forecasting trends for some of Seventh Avenue's most respected names. It was there, she says, that she developed her own color sense, along with a love for fine fabrics. Jeffrey was in retail, spending some of his early years as vice president of operations for Federated Department Stores. A career move brought the couple to Washington, D.C. While raising their young family there, Roth attended design school and started an interior design business. In 1991, they went into business together, founding Urban Country as a mid- to high-end home furnishings boutique for countryside and urban spaces.
An aggressive brain cancer took Jeffrey's life in 1999, but Roth kept the business going, remaining true to its original concept. In 2008, she moved the store to its current location in Bethesda Row from a smaller space about a half mile away.
Today, she is joined in running the business by Jillian and Sascha Roth, two of her and Jeffrey's three daughters. They hand-select all of their merchandise "in person," at market, buying what they love, be it furniture, bedding, bath, accessories, jewelry, baby or haute couture-inspired pet beds and accessories. Each year, the Roths and the Urban Country family honor Jeffrey's memory by raising money for brain cancer research and participating in the DC 5K Race for Hope, the largest brain cancer fundraiser in the country. Their team, "Jeffrey's Goofy Gang," is named for his favorite cartoon celebrity.
How has business been over the past year? Business in 2011 was good. We ended the year up over 2010.
Has the recession changed how you operate? We are definitely buying differently than we did when the economy was booming. Instead of buying at least six or 12 of something, we buy fewer pieces. We have brought in some attractively priced furniture and home accent lines, but we also continue to buy the luxury lines and one-of-a-kind "wow" pieces. The assortment and high-low price mix is what makes us unique. We have something for everyone, whether they're furnishing a first apartment, a home in one of D.C.'s wealthy suburbs, or a vacation home in another part of the country. Being a single-store operation gives us the ability to constantly reinvent ourselves and our looks. We can easily get rid of merchandise that's not selling and replace it with something that will.
Describe your store: We showcase four lifestyles: Urban Loft - a harmony of classic and contemporary; Chic Rustique - refined glam that's luxe, livable and inviting; Naturally Casual - sunwashed, weathered, breathable style; and New Global - rustic eclecticism meets refined Old World. The vignettes within each lifestyle are merchandised with everything from furniture and accessories to baby gifts, bath products and fashion accessories. We pride ourselves on carefully choosing new, innovative, well-designed items with a true focus on products that are domestically made and sustainable.
Describe your average customer: Mostly women, upper-middle class, age 30 to 55. Many of our customers first come in to find a unique gift, then become buyers of our furniture and accessories.
How do you reach your customer? We still have the most success with direct mail - newsletters, postcards. Our website includes product images, vendor links and images of design projects we have done. We are doing more special events, and we partner with key vendors twice a year for major promotions. There is a huge military community here, and the new Walter Reed Medical Center is just four blocks from our store, so we are rolling out a new military discount program. Our fundraising efforts support Canines for Veterans and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
What's "hot" in home accents for your customers? Lighting, throws, bedding, small accent tables, art, decorative accessories and candles - always candles.
About what percentage of your merchandise are home accents? 30% home accents, 20% accent furniture, 50% furniture and other merchandise
What categories of home accents do you carry? Accent furniture, lamps, wall décor, decorative pillows, throws, permanent botanicals, garden accessories, tabletop, fragrance, decorative accessories, area rugs. We recently brought in original artwork from a few local artists and a couple of very talented rising stars.
Who are some of your key home accents vendors? MacKenzie-Childs, Four Hands, Lampworks, Zodax, Mr. Brown, Sticks, Bliss Studio, Pine Cone Hill, Peacock Alley, SDH, Bedford Cottage, ASI, Juliska, Vietri, Michael Aram, Barbara Cosgrove, Currey & Company, John-Richard, Design Legacy, Charleston Forge, Barreveld, Worlds Away, Dash & Albert, Company C, Surya, Chandra, Dwell Studio, Arteriors, Robert Abbey, Jamie Young, Museum Facsimiles, Wendover Art Group
Tradeshows/markets you shop: New York, High Point, Atlanta, Philadelphia craft show.
Estimated annual sales: $4.1 million (2011)
Number of employees: 14, includes a nine-member sales team
What are your plans for the remainder of the year? We will continue to move forward with fresh new collections to keep our brand ahead of the curve. Like fashion, we will continue to offer the latest collections from lead designers and manufacturers to keep our customers returning to the store.
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