WWW.HOMEACCENTSTODAY.COM VOLUME 16 NUMBER 7
The Information Source for the Home Accent Industry
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.
RetailBeat18-24i8.qxd 8/13/01 2:55 PM Page 18
Blacklion’s design center offers new
business model for small retailers
By Nancy Butler lease their space on a two-year basis. Each
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.
RetailBeat18-24i8.qxd 8/13/01 2:59 PM Page 19
‘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
RetailBeat18-24i8.qxd 8/13/01 3:01 PM Page 20
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.
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
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.
RetailBeat18-24i8.qxd 8/13/01 3:22 PM Page 22
of black &
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
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.
RetailBeat18-24i8.qxd 8/13/01 3:02 PM Page 24
return to Atlanta this November with a
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
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-
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
the Blacklion concept for themselves. November
In preparation for moving out of the
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.