LAURIE'S HOME FURNISHINGS CONTINUES GROWTH STRATEGY, TARGETS AREA RUGS UNDER NEW OWNER
Allison Dale reviews area rug samples at Laurie's Home Furnishings in Houston, which she owns and operates since the death of her friend and mentor, store founder Laurie Bauermeister.
TOMBALL, Texas -- Since Allison Dale took the reins at Houston-area boutique Laurie's Home Furnishings earlier this year, she continues to follow the strategy laid out by the company's founder, and now looks to grow its area rug business.
For industry players familiar with Laurie's original owner, Dale has some big shoes to fill in the home furnishings industry. As of early 2019, she took over the ownership and management of the store from its founder and longtime owner, Laurie Bauermeister.
Bauermeister passed away in February after a decade-long battle with cancer, and bequeathed the store to Dale in her will. Dale explains that after becoming a customer of Laurie's Home Furnishings in 2007, she and Bauermeister became close friends. "She and I were dear friends," said Dale, who found herself being taken under Bauermeister's wing as an informal apprentice of sorts. "I started going to markets and buying with her."
Above and below, Laurie's Home Furnishings in the Houston area is a 60,000-square-foot total home showroom featuring furniture, accents, art, lighting and area rugs.
"Her trust in my taste grew over the years," Dale continued. After Bauermeister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, she spent the subsequent 10 years battling the disease while continuing to successfully run Laurie's, with Dale at her side. "She exposed all the elements of her business to me, and eventually conversations started taking place about what she wanted to happen to the store."
Dale is no stranger to entrepreneurism. She and her husband own one of the largest fence companies in Texas, and also own a thriving cattle company. The cattle business was one of the many things Dale and Bauermeister had in common: Bauermeister was an animal sciences major at Washington State University.
Laurie Bauermeister, who died in Feb. 2019, grew her mom and pop craft store to one of the largest home furnishings retailers in Houston.
Opened in 2002, Laurie's Home Furnishings got its start as a mom-and-pop craft store, but quickly grew to become one of the largest freestanding brick-and-mortar boutique home furnishings retailers in Houston.
"It's remarkable to look back at all she accomplished," said Dale. "She was a female in an industry that was pretty male-dominated. She became known as one of the best buyers in the industry."
The facility has been expanded over the years, but today, Laurie's is a 60,000-square-foot showroom, and carries furniture, decorative accessories, art, lighting, and area rugs. "It's a full-spectrum furniture store," Dale explained.
Room displays are fully accessorized throughout Laurie's Home Furnishings, and always anchored by an area rug to complete the look.
She describes the store as cozy and homey, with eye-catching displays in every direction. Dale prides herself on how the sales team is constantly moving around the furniture and displays as frequently as four times a week. "We have visitors who come every week because our showroom changes so much," she said.
AREA RUG CENTRAL
And area rugs are central to the store's offerings. "We're trying to incorporate area rugs into every sale we make," said Dale. "If we sell a dining room table, we're going to sell the rug to go under it." Not only do area rugs anchor virtually every vignette, but they are also displayed on hanging racks and in stacks, and 2x3 samples are available to peruse in the design showroom.
Area rug samples are found throughout the store, whether on shelves, hanging on racks or integrated into furniture settings.
The company carries only a small selection of brands, but one of its biggest vendors is Feizy. Because the company's distribution center is out of Dallas, Laurie's can offer one- or two-day delivery on in-stock items. "That's a really good selling feature when you're trying to compete with online," noted Dale.
Limiting the number of vendors is a strategic move for Laurie's. The store probably only carries about 45 different vendors for all of its product categories, estimates Dale. "We don't have a vast majority of lines, but we have a vast majority of the products within each line. This is to create brand recognition within the store; our customer becomes familiar with that line." Products and lines are mixed throughout the store to create an eclectic environment. "We're trying to prove to someone we're not a matchy-matchy showroom."
Transitional design themes are popular with Laurie's Home Furnishings customers.
Most of the area rugs Laurie's sells are machine-made synthetics. "An elite clientele wants the handmade rugs, but we sell more to the masses," she said. In terms of price point, the sweet spot is around $600 for a 5x8, although other sizes can be special-ordered: "If a vendor does it, we'll do it," she says.
Dale said that historically, Laurie's has been a fairly traditional store in terms of its style offerings. But she has noticed the market changing towards more contemporary looks, as well as leaning towards Midcentury Modern thanks to influencer stores like Restoration Hardware. So the retailer, too, has shifted its selection to more transitional options.
There are no interior designers on staff, but the sales team is well-trained and part of the industry long enough to knowledgeably advise customers. A large network of interior designers shops the store with their clients as well.
Laurie Bauermeister covers a market with her protégée Allison Dale, to whom she bequeathed her store, Laurie's Home Furnishings.
Dale said that since inheriting the store earlier this year, the transition has flowed well. "The relationships that have become established with me and the vendors have added a personal element," she said, noting that she'd gotten to know many industry people during the many markets she attended at Bauermeister's side. "You do start to know these people really well; Laurie's funeral was definitely attended by many reps."
Since taking on the mantle, Dale hasn't changed much in the store. But she did update some of the logistics to be more efficient and streamlined: inventory is now electronic, the receiving process has been changed, and other systems have been improved. "We've just used technology to our advantage," she said.
Allison Dale greets customers at Laurie's Home Furnishings at the store, which places heavy emphasis on area rugs.
And Dale believes that Laurie's Home Furnishings has an opportunity to become even more dominant in the area rug world. She sees area rugs as being integral to any room. "It is such a garnish to a room, just as much as lighting or art," she said. "You can reset the entire tone of a room, if you have all neutral furnishings, just by replacing the rug with one that really pops."
Looking ahead, her goal is simply steady, continued growth, always with the memory and advice of her longtime friend and the store's founder echoing in her head. "She's constantly guiding me," said Dale. "She had so much to give, and she knew she was going to give it beyond her presence on earth."
Laurie's Home Furnishings creates a fall display with lots of accessories.