From the beginning, the founders of Blu Dot wanted to make modern furniture at a reasonable price. “Design what you can actually afford,” said Chief Executive John Christakos when he and co-founder Maurice Blanks were starting the company in 1997.
Saturday, Blu Dot takes another step to satisfy design-geeky shoppers: Its first outlet store opens in Minneapolis.
The 10,000-square-foot store, to be open only on weekends, replaces its annual warehouse sales that were popular with shoppers.
With the company nearing sales of $150 million this year and growing 30 percent annually, its backlog of online customer returns, samples, prototypes and discontinued styles exceeded what it could unload in a once-a-year sale, Christakos said.
“We’ll still have some rocking deals, but the merchandise is higher quality and in better condition than at the warehouse sales,” he said.
Nearly 20 years since its start, the Minneapolis-based furniture company is still designing furniture at price points far less than its European counterparts. The style is modern with a dose of color and playfulness.
Christakos, 50, describes the company as “friendly modernists, clean and straightforward.”
Britta Hendrickson of Minneapolis, who’s been a fan of the brand for several years, is hoping to find one of the iconic Real Good Chairs in copper. “I’ve fallen in love with their design,” said Hendrickson, 28. She also shops locally for modern and midcentury designs at Roam Interiors, Covet Consign and Design, Forage Modern Workshop and Room & Board. “I will definitely be in line for the outlet on Saturday. I get an adrenaline rush from it,” she said.
In a preview of the outlet Thursday, discounts ranged from 20 to 50 percent, not quite as steep as seen at the warehouse sale events. Every category is represented: sofas, chairs, tables, pillows, coat racks, lighting and storage.
Popular pieces such as Stilt and Rook lamps, Modu-licious dressers and flat-packed Real Good Chairs in various colors were marked down 20 percent. Sectionals and pieces with atypical color choices offered more significant savings.
Bruce Champeau, president and chief operating officer at Room & Board, describes Blu Dot as “a great value for a modern aesthetic.” With national retailers such as Room & Board, Slumberland, Hom and Select Comfort based in Minnesota, Twin Cities consumers have great choices in retail stores and outlets, Champeau said. “Considering the size of the Minneapolis market, it’s amazing that we have the concentration of furniture retail that we do. It’s incredibly competitive,” he added.
That competition is one reason Blu Dot has not opened a full-line retail store in its hometown, although much of the line is carried at Roam Interiors in Uptown. New York City is its best market, and Blu Dot also has stores in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Sydney, Australia, and Monterrey, Mexico. The company employs 100 workers, with 65 in the Twin Cities.
Christakos envisions adding up to 10 more full-line stores in the U.S. and international markets. In addition to its own stores, Blu Dot has its line in 25 Dot Spot stores around the country, including Roam.
Target continues to be a significant customer, and Blu Dot sells some private-label products for Crate & Barrel. The company previously sold products in Home Depot and Room & Board.
The outlet is a bit of a hybrid. The front showcases some full-priced new Blu Dot pieces not in the current catalog, including a $9,000 gun metal leather sofa. That may scare off some bargain hunters; Christakos admits the price made him wince at first. “But that sofa would cost $15,000 to $18,000 from an Italian line,” he said.
Depending on the response to the outlet, Blu Dot might open a separate, first-quality store in this market. “It’s a low-risk way to try them out,” Christakos said.
In the past, the company practiced a form of guerrilla marketing with a “swap meet” where customers could trade their valuables for Blu Dot furniture. The social marketing campaign garnered national attention. A life-size motorcycle made from Popsicle sticks still sits in the window of the main office one door down from the outlet. Christakos thinks the artist got a sectional in exchange for his motorcycle, which the co-founder describes as one of the best trades they made during the event.
More off-the-wall marketing tactics are in the works. For now, Christakos points to the company’s first catalog mailer, which went out to 500,000 households recently, and the new outlet itself.
“Those who don’t know our brand can check out the outlet,” he said. “We’re not Prada and we’re not Old Navy. Maybe we’re like the J. Crew of furniture design.”