New furniture stores on the mend

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 21, 2012 - 12:45 PM

The home furnishings market in the Twin Cities is showing signs of strength, especially for stores that are able to carve a niche.

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The Andrew Martin home furnishings store in Edina.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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As the Twin Cities housing market mounts a comeback, it's bringing home furnishings along for the ride.

The number of residential building permits through September is 30 percent higher than in 2011, according to the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC). At the same time a spate of new home furnishings stores have opened or will soon, including Parmida in St. Louis Park's West End and Arhaus, Andrew Martin, and a new Pottery Barn prototype in Edina's Galleria.

The rebound in home furnishings started in Uptown when CB2 made its Twin Cities debut last year and designer Jonathan Adler opened a new store there in May.

"That was a big coup for the Twin Cities," said Tina Wilcox, CEO and creative director at Black, a retail branding agency in Minneapolis. "A lot of new retail is opening in the Twin Cities home market."

The Twin Cities has seen a year-over-year gain of about 8 percent in the furniture market, which is well above retail as a whole, said Dave Brennan, University of St. Thomas professor and co-director of the school's Institute for Retailing Excellence.

One of the strongest areas of growth is in Edina, which leads the metro area in remodeling and teardowns. The number of permits for teardowns year to date in Edina, 64, is more than double the number for all of 2011, according to the BATC.

The area benefits from a cluster of home furnishings retailers, including Room & Board, Macy's Home Store, West Elm, the Container Store and a newly reopened Cost Plus World Market in Bloomington. It's also home to the Galleria with its power draws Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware and Gabberts, an original anchor.

The newest addition, PBTeen, will open as a pop-up store in November. Under the Williams-Sonoma umbrella, Pottery Barn is one of the only home retailers to focus exclusively on teen and tween furnishings for their bedrooms, study and lounge spaces.

For the Galleria, home furnishings is one of the most important parts of the retail mix, making up about a third of the Galleria's 400,000 square feet, said Jill Noack, general manager. "Those stores guarantee that a customer will visit more than once," she said. "Home remodeling projects usually require two or three visits. They eat, shop and come back. Home furnishings is a major commitment for us."

Uneven recovery

While new stores are popping up, some local experts say things are improving for many but not for all. A lot of the new retailers are corporate sponsored stores with deeper pockets, not small, locally owned retailers, said Lori Anderson, owner of EuroNest in St. Louis Park, which she recently closed.

Anderson thinks the market for the higher-quality, more expensive furniture that she sold is no longer on trend. "People want a certain look, even if it's not of long-lasting quality," she said.

John Stedman, owner of Roam contemporary furniture in Uptown, saw the trend for lower-priced goods coming and in 2010 closed his high-end Ligne Roset store next to International Market Square in Minneapolis.

He moved his moderately priced sister store Roam to Uptown in search of more traffic. Business has picked at the new location, and he's even brought in some higher-end furniture. "I'm cautiously optimistic, but we still have a long way to go to get back to 2007 levels," he said.

Even extensive resources with multiple locations don't guarantee customers. Big-box retail stores are still struggling, said Pat Fleetham, former owner of a furniture outlet in Bloomington. Such successful stores as Arhaus and Andrew Martin have carved out a niche that no one else has. "They're increasing the markup and marketing themselves well," he said.

That's worked at ID-Inside Design in Minneapolis, which has had its biggest year ever this year. Owner Greg Walsh attributes some of the store's success to people feeling more comfortable about spending but also to brands that are found only at his store, including Missoni Home. Uniqueness helps you survive in this market, Walsh said.

"If you're good at a niche, you've got a built-in captive market," he said. "That's why we're seeing so many signature stores opening here instead of an expansion of traditional big-box stores."

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com.

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