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					WWW.HOMEACCENTSTODAY.COM                                                                                                           VOLUME 16   NUMBER 7




              The    Information                   Source for the Home                                     Accent             Industry
                                                        July 2001




       Sketchbook: Victoria’s Attic to Byzantine Bazaar
             Decorative Glass: Clear and colorful
                           This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.
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      Retail Beat
       Blacklion’s design center offers new
       business model for small retailers
       By Nancy Butler                                                                                       lease their space on a two-year basis. Each




     B
                                                                                                             tenant creates a highly personalized deco-
                   ob and Nita Emory, owners                                                                 rative vignette to showcase his wares and
                   of     Charlotte,      N.C.-based                                                         offer shoppers a wide variety of in-home
                   Blacklion, have come up with a                                                            decorating ideas.
                   big-box retailing model that                                                                 But you won’t find any of those 330
                   breaks the mold. Unlike the                                                               retail owners or their employees in resi-
       archetypal big-box store, Blacklion doesn’t                                                           dence. They’ve set it up and walked away,
       thrive by putting small, independent retail-                                                          leaving the sales, the marketing and the
       ers out of business. It does just the opposite.                                                       management in Blacklion’s hands.
           Blacklion is actually many stores, each
       independently owned, operating under                                                                  Eliminating the hassles
       one roof. And while that may have a                                                                       For many local retailers and designers,
       familiar ring to it — a small mall or a flea                                                          participating in Blacklion has changed the
       market, perhaps? — the concept, soon to                                                               way they do business, and for the better.
       go national, is altogether different.                                                                 For most, it’s taken the worst of the has-
           The five-year-old flagship design cen-                                                            sles out of retailing. For some, it’s made
       ter, now one of five and counting, is                                                                 staying in business possible.
       housed in a former Kmart in Charlotte’s                                                                   “The typical retail store owner is so
       affluent Pineville area. The shopping carts                                                           busy opening the mail, unloading the UPS
       are still there, but that’s where any resem-                                                          truck, tagging the merchandise, unstop-
       blance to the building’s former identity                                                              ping the toilet ... and then a customer
       ends.                                                                                                 walks in the door and has the audacity to
           Inside the 68,000-sq.ft., clear-span                                                              want to buy something,” Bob said.
       structure are 330 vignetted boutiques pre-                                                            “We’ve taken all of the un-fun stuff out of
       sented in a layout reminiscent of an                                                                  it for the retailers. And we’re able to do
       upscale, designer-oriented antique mall.                                                              lots of things most retailers don’t have the
       Buyers on the show circuit might compare                                                              time or money to do.”
       it to a large representatives’ showroom in                                                                Blacklion tenants no longer have to
       the Atlanta Gift Mart or the “permanent                                                               employ their own sales people or run their
       temporary” showrooms in High Point’s                                                                  own advertising. Each pays an 8% com-
       Suites at Market Square.                                                                              mission on sales to fund sales activity and
           But unlike a show venue, this isn’t 330                                                           contributes to a marketing fund based on
       different lines, it’s 330 different retailers —                                                       the amount of leased space. The market-
       almost all of them local — each with its                                                              ing fund ensures the Blacklion name is
       own handpicked assortment. Because each                                                               a constant presence in The Charlotte
       retailer is doing business with different ven-                                                        Observer, local magazines and on bill-
       dors, the number of SKUs that pass                                                                    boards.
       through Blacklion’s doors is huge — far                                                                   For retailers who opt to keep their own
       more than any single retail operation                                                                 stores open elsewhere in the area, as more
       would carry on its own. The individual                                                                than a handful do, the space at Blacklion
                                                                                                             itself becomes a great form of advertising.
                                                                                                             In talking to prospective tenants, Bob often
                                                                                                             points out, “The rent is cheaper than one ad
                                                                                                             in the local paper, and it’s a three-dimen-
                                                          The Dry Sink, a tenant from the begin-             sional ad that actually sells merchandise.”
                                                          ning, has four spaces at the main store                Blacklion’s merchandise diversity and
                                                          and three at Concord Mills. Left, Nita             scope give it, and its tenants, a huge com-
                                                          and Bob Emory, owners of Blacklion.                petitive advantage. “Retailers have limited
                                                                                                             funds to buy, and some merchandise just
                                                          retailers, not Blacklion, carry the inventory.     sits there,” Bob said. “We’re able to offer
                                                             On any given day, there are upwards of          incredible selection, variety and creativity.
                                                          3,000 home decor and gift items on dis-            But we couldn’t do it if we had to carry all
                                                          play, with next to no duplication. The             that inventory.”
                                                          merchandise runs the gamut of home                     The Emorys and their management
                                                          accents and garden decor, gifts and per-           team often serve as advisors and mentors to
                                                          sonal care products, children’s items and          retail veterans and newcomers alike. If a
                                                          holiday decor, interspersed with antiques          display, an assortment or a pricing decision
                                                          and original artwork.                              isn’t working, they’ll act as counselors,
                                                             Blacklion retailers, including a cadre of       drawing on 20 years as sales representatives
                                                          local interior designers, are tenants that                               continued on page 20


       18    Home Accents Today       August 2001        This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.
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       ‘We’ve taken all the un-fun stuff out’




                                                                                                               A Matter of Taste has 15 eclectically decorated spaces in
                                                                                                               the main store, all of which are transformed into a Christmas
                                                                                                               Wonderland as the holiday season approaches.




       This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.                              August 2001 Home Accents Today       19
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       Retail Beat
       as well as their Blacklion experience.          had 40 tenants signed up.” The Emorys
          Blacklion employs 35 salespeople for         were looking at selling everything to pay
       in-store customer service so the individual     the bills and pull the plug.
       retailers and designers can get out of the          “We were comfortable for life with our
       sales management business. In some cases,       showroom business — we didn’t need
       this has actually put an entrepreneur in the    this,” Nita said. “Now, we were about to
       retail business. “We call Blacklion an          lose everything.”
       entrepreneurial incubator,” Bob said. “It           But Bob was sure the concept was
       gets people into retail that would never        sound. Although she was not originally
       have been able to do it otherwise.”             enthusiastic, Nita recognized the depth of
                                                       his commitment and agreed to go for
       The store that almost wasn’t                    broke. They took out a home equity loan
           The story behind Blacklion is itself a      on a paid-off house, extending themselves
       study in entrepreneurial persistence.           to the hilt. They tell a Keystone-Cops-style
       Without it, this successful and growing         tale of the day the loan almost didn’t close.
       operation would never have opened the           But it did. And the store opened with 70
       first store.                                    tenants in June 1996.
           Veterans in the wholesale trade, Bob            “We opened in the black and have been
       and Nita Emory operated a representa-           in the black ever since,” Bob said. “We
       tives showroom in Atlanta from 1980             paid off the house again and never bor-
       until January of this year. Among the           rowed another cent.”
       companies they worked with are Radko,               The second Charlotte store opened at
       Buyer’s Choice and Virginia Metal-              Lake Norman in the summer of 1998,
       crafters. Bob also had retailing experience     fully leased with 50 tenants, the third in
       with Blackwelder’s Furniture.                   the new Concord Mills shopping mall in
           While in Atlanta, Bob had seen an           1999 with 125 tenants. The Charlotte
       upscale antique mall that intrigued him. For    stores now span 100,000 square feet.
       years, he’d been visiting retailers and won-        Last year, the developers of Concord
       dering, “Why don’t they do this or try          Mills persuaded the Emorys to join
       that?” And he kept driving by the empty         them in the Opry Mills mall in
       Kmart building in Charlotte, his hometown.      Nashville, where they signed up 129
       It all clicked in 1995. He negotiated the       tenants for a 22,000-sq.-ft. store. Bob
       lease, gutted the interior, put in carpeting,   says they’ve been somewhat leery of big
       painted the ceilings black. Everything was      mall venues, but they’ve done well.
       going beautifully. Then he went to the bank.    “You can’t beat the traffic — 10- to 14-
           Bob never questioned the banks’ will-       million visitors a year,” he says.
       ingness to back him. He’d been a sound              The fifth and latest Blacklion recently
       investment in the past. “But they all           opened in the Boston area with 50,000
       laughed at me,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get     square feet and 230 tenants. The Emorys          Trumpet Vine’s romantic look is showcased in two spaces in the main store and one
       a loan, couldn’t pay the contractors and I                            continued on page 24       at Lake Norman.




            Shopping at
                                                                            Veteran Blacklion shoppers also know — and                   with an in-store cafe. Also independently owned, the
                                                                         advise their friends — that if you see something you            deli serves up gourmet sandwiches, salads, soup and
                                                                         like, you’d better grab it, because there’s a good              desserts in an old-fashioned atmosphere complete


            Blacklion
                                                                         chance it won’t be there next week.                             with antique counters and bistro tables.
                                                                            Group shopping excursions to Blacklion are a                     There’s also an independently owned garden center
                                                                         major form of entertainment around the Charlotte                with a lush assortment of plants catering to the
                                                                         area. “Instead of going to Carowinds, they’ll come              upscale green thumb. The center is partly housed in
            From the female shopper’s standpoint, Blacklion is           here for the weekend,” Bob said. “And it’s not just             an attached greenhouse and partly outdoors, with a
            sheer heaven. The store’s merchandise and look are           women. Guys think of this as an adventure, too.                 soaring stone gazebo as its eye-catching centerpiece.
            changing constantly. There are many visions, all styles      Everybody loves a find.”                                            When shoppers are ready to check out, they roll their
            and endless choice.                                             But an excursion to Blacklion isn’t like a trip to a         carts up to a large four-sided counter manned by up to
               “Wow” is the usual first-time shopper’s reaction,         North Carolina discounter or an outlet mall. “We’re             six cashiers. All of the smaller items are individually
            Nita Emory said. The startled expression is so pro-          not a markdown store. We counsel our tenants to                 wrapped in paper to prevent damage — a nice touch.
            nounced that the concierge stationed near the front          price fairly, and we don’t negotiate prices with the            You have 24 hours to take items home on approval, and
            door has little trouble spotting it. She will offer a sim-   customers,” Bob said. There are items at Blacklion              on your credit card. After that, all sales are final.
            ple welcome, along with a “Blacklion Want Card”              from $1 to $14,000, including some large furniture                  At checkout, customers are typically asked if they’d
            and pencil, and let the newcomer catch her breath.           pieces, which command “higher margins than any-                 like to make a contribution to a charity, fund, team or
            The entrance area is intentionally spacious and open.        where else,” Bob said, because here they tend to be             event that Blacklion supports, reflecting a commitment
            “The decompression zone,” as Bob Emory calls it,             “spontaneous buys ... perfect for a certain spot.”              to local activism that the Emorys feel strongly about.
            “gives them a chance to take it all in.”                        Shoppers are not pursued down the aisles by sales-           It’s good for the community and good for business.
               Returning customers, who are legion, head right           people, yet there’s always one nearby if you need help.             In addition to supporting local programs,
            for the shopping carts and the fully carpeted aisles         On request, they’ll take any item to the “hold table”           Blacklion has a spacious seminar room at the back of
            that offer a panorama of products they can snatch            while you keep looking around. You’ll find it up front          the store that’s available for community-based meet-
            right out of the display. No placing orders here. It’s       near the checkout counter and the Blacklion Deli.               ings at no cost. Local women’s groups and real estate
            instant gratification at Blacklion, and whatever you            With so much to see, shoppers typically need a               agents gather there on a regular basis. It’s no coinci-
            may think about shopping carts, they make those              break. But to make sure they resume shopping after              dence they end up referring their friends, family,
            urges much easier to indulge.                                lunch or a snack, Blacklion keeps them on premises              clients and new home buyers to Blacklion. o



       20     Home Accents Today      August 2001                                                      This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.
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      Retail Beat


           The power
           of black &
              white
        Blacklion’s name — inspired by a
        town in Ireland — and its distinctive
        logo were selected because the name
        is the same as the image. “It burns
        into your brain,” says Nita Emory,
        who’s in charge of creative and
        advertising.
            One of the retailer’s most power-
        ful campaigns was as simple as its
        logo. It consisted of a series of bill-
        board ads with just a few words in
        white on black. An example:
        “Upscale, not uppity.”
            “The billboard company thought
        we were crazy,” Nita said. “They
        told us we wouldn’t get any
        response. Well we got so many
        calls.” And so did the billboard
        company, from local businesses
        wanting to do the same thing.
            The black lion has a high profile
        around Charlotte. He’s featured
        bigger than life above the doors at
        Blacklion stores, on shopping bags
        and prominently in all advertising.
        The store has fun with the lion —
        “Come prowl the aisles” is a famil-
        iar tag line — and has done some
        surprisingly high-impact image ads
        with their mascot. Sometimes he’s
        wearing a festive splash of color —
        a red bow at Christmas, a green one
        on St. Patrick’s Day.
            “People talk about the lion all
        over town,” said Nita, who’s sure
        his simple silhouette will win the
        same       recognition      wherever
        Blacklion goes as part of its nation-
        al expansion. o
                                                     Country French is a favorite at Craven Interiors, with three spaces in the main Blacklion store.

      22   Home Accents Today       August 2001                                                 This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.
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       Retail Beat
       return to Atlanta this November with a
                                                                                           BLACKLION PROFILE
       26,000-sq.-ft. Blacklion opening in the
       new Discovery Mills mall. What’s next?          n Owners: Bob and Nita Emory
       The sky’s the limit, they say.
                                                       n Founded: 1996
                                                                                                     SALES BY
       The National Brand Plan                                                                       CATEGORY
           If Bob and Nita Emory’s growth plans
                                                       n Headquarters: Charlotte, N.C.                                              10%                     20%
       become a reality — and there’s every rea-
                                                                                                                                  Furniture                 Gifts
       son to believe they will — retailers and
       would-be retailers in cities around the         n Number of stores: Five, with
       country will have the opportunity to try           sixth opening in Atlanta in
                                                                                                                           10%
       the Blacklion concept for themselves.              November
                                                                                                                         Holiday
           In preparation for moving out of the
                                                                                                                          items
       entrepreneurial phase and into national         n Locations: Charlotte (Pineville,
       marketing, the Emorys assembled a                  Lake Norman and Concord
       national management team. Steve Cook,                                                                               10%
                                                          Mills), Nashville (Opry Mills)                                  Art &
       a Blacklion veteran, is vice president of          and Boston (Westborough).                                                                                40%
       leasing. Bob’s brother Walter Emory is                                                                            antiques                                 Home
       vice president of development and facili-                                                                                                                  accents
       ties. Jim Fulks recently came on board as       n Selling space: 68,000 square feet
       chief operating officer. A controller will         in the Charlotte flagship store;
       be the next hire.                                  7,200 at Lake Norman; 22,000
           “We’re all hands-on oriented and want          at Concord Mills; 50,000 in
       to stay that way. We don’t want to lose            Boston; 23,200 in Nashville.               5% Interior
       that entrepreneurial spirit,” Fulks said.          Atlanta will be 26,200.                    design
       “Part of Blacklion always has to be local.
       It’s a balancing act — picking the right        n Niche: Upscale gifts and home
       people and empowering them, but keeping            decor in a “shopping entertain-               3% Garden decor
                                                                                                                                           2% Juvenile items
       the spirit.”                                       ment” environment
           The typical big company management’s
       problem, he said, is “losing sight of where     n Typical customer: 21- to 70-             n Retail price range on home                           St. Patrick’s Day dollar-bill
       you started, who you are.” And losing              year-old females in middle to               accents: $1 to $14,000                             giveaway); two sale events
       touch with what’s happening in the trench-         upper income brackets                                                                          per year, winter and summer,
       es. “At HomePlace, somebody lost touch,”                                                                                                          with optional tenant partici-
       he said. “The focus was on opening loca-                                                   n Number of home accent
                                                       n Staff: 145 in all locations                  sources: Thousands                                 pation
       tions, not on satisfying the customer. We’re
       not going to make that mistake.”
           The team’s plan is to open three to six     n Sales growth: Doubled every              n Category constituting largest                    n Design services: About 10% of
       stores next year. Cities under consideration       year from 1996 to 2000; 2001                share of home accent sales:                        tenants are interior designers
       include Denver, Chicago, Baltimore, Dallas         projected to be even with 2000              Lamps
       and Houston. Upscale resort cities are also        due to a slow economy; project-                                                            n Visual strategy: Individually
       candidates. Multiple stores in each city are       ing 20% to 25% annual growth                                                                   decorated spaces themed by the
                                                                                                  n Major sources: Christopher
       a goal. “That’s the best way to capitalize on      based solely on new store open-                                                                tenants themselves
                                                                                                      Radko, Cooper Classics in
       the full marketing potential,” Bob said.           ings starting in 2002
                                                                                                      Wood, Dept. 56, Pulaski,
       “The stores feed off of each other.”                                                           Barcalounger, Vera Bradley,                    n Keys to a successful home
           The plan also includes developing a         n Sales per square foot: $200 to               Marge Carson, Tracy Porter,                        accent program: Creative
       core of retailers who will go with them to         $300 if based on gross square               Chelsea House, Virginia                            atmosphere and displays;
       every new location, as some are already            footage (includes aisles, common            Metalcrafters, Sadek, Stylecraft,                  variety of product with new
       doing. But national tenants will never out-        areas, storage); $400 to $500 if            Howard Miller, Wilton                              items arriving daily; access
       number the local and regional ones. “It’s          based on net square footage                 Armetale, Aromatique, CBK,                         to huge inventory; imaginative
       important to maintain that local charac-                                                       Florita Nova, NDI, Raz, Vietri,                    advertising; knowledgeable
       ter,” Bob said. “In most malls, you don’t                                                      Henkels, Pacific Rim, Yankee                       staff; exceptional word of
       have a clue where you are. They all look        n Frequency of ordering: Daily –
                                                          over 300 separate retailer ten-             Candle, Crabtree & Evelyn,                         mouth
       the same. We’re not The Gap. We’re                                                             Boyds Bears, Caspari, Bob
       poised to offer something fresh.”                  ants, all doing their own buying
                                                                                                      Timberlake, Thomas Kinkade                     n Secret weapon: High-energy,
           It’s no surprise that home accent ven-
       dors are among Blacklion’s biggest fans.        n Average age of accent mark-                                                                     multi-tasking staff
       Squeezed for margins by volume outlets             downs: Varies by tenant                 n Trade shows attended: Atlanta,
       and faced with retail attrition, they’re                                                       New York                                       n Growth plans: National expan-
       rooting for the company’s success on a          n Major home accent categories                                                                    sion underway with three to six
       national scale. It’s also possible some ven-       carried: Lamps, wall art, mir-          n Advertising: Daily newspaper,                        new stores opening in 2002
       dors will themselves become tenants.               rors, accent furniture, pillows,            cable TV, local magazines,
           “There’s huge vertical marketing               permanent botanicals,                       brochures, billboards                          n Honors: “Best of Charlotte” in
       potential here for manufacturers to get a          pottery/ceramics, wall                                                                         several categories; 22nd fastest
       full mark and control over the retail pre-         brackets/decorative plates, chil-       n Special events: Monthly                              growing company in Charlotte
       sentation,” says Bob, who adds that this           dren’s furniture and accessories,           events with seasonal theme                         in Business Journal’s “Fast 50”
       idea is being explored with caution.               garden planters and statuary                (in-store Easter Egg hunt,                         privately held companies
       Blacklion’s team is unanimous in its com-
       mitment to putting independent retailers,
       especially local ones, first. o
       24    Home Accents Today      August 2001                                              This story was published in Home Accents Today and is reprinted with permission from the publication.

				
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