The Importance of Vendor Visits

Paris Cognac

A couple weeks ago we had Kelly from our vendor American Leather visit the showroom. As much as I think I know about our assortment, there is always something new to learn! She had great information to share about some of the new products they are making for us this year, such as the Paris Chair shown above. There was also a great refresher about the different types of leather they use and about leathers in general.

When I think back on my experiences as a new Design Associate, I was excited and nervous. Training was great, but at times it felt like there was no way I could ever remember it all! Now, I just accept that I’m never going to know everything. But I keep adding layers of knowledge and deepening my understanding of our company and our products.

I still won’t remember every single thing Kelly told us last week. But, like I tell new Design Associates during New Hire Orientation, “Just absorb what you can, and know what your resources are if you need more information.” Gaining additional perspective directly from our manufacturers is just one of the many ways Room & Board helps those of us in the retail showrooms to build our confidence.

A RAVE Event

On Thursday, April 9 we hosted the annual RAVE Awards for outstanding architectural achievement. It was an event put on by Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Even though we had rain and slushy snow, the turnout was good with 100 people attending. There is always a wonderfully festive energy about these events.

I will quote directly from the Mpls.St. Paul Magazine website to describe what the RAVE Awards are: “The RAVE Awards [Residential Architects Vision and Excellence] were created by Mpls.St. Paul Home and Design Magazine in 2004 to recognize and honor achievement in local residential architecture. Every year a carefully selected jury of editors, professors and architects use carefully selected criteria to choose the best work from dozens of submissions to highlight the most outstanding projects in new construction and remodeling. The winning architects are announced at an awards ceremony and the projects are featured in the July issue of Mpls. St.Paul Home and Design Magazine. Year after year we present the best work to the Design Committee, while highlighting the importance and benefits of working with an architect. Whether the winning projects are small or large, urban or rural, classic or contemporary, the RAVE Awards are committed to showcasing architectural excellence in the Twin Cities.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Partnership with College of Art and Design

We have had a very special relationship with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for 12 years. We have offered a scholarship for the design of particular pieces of furniture to students in the Design School. I have been witness to many wonderful ideas through the years and the year we were looking for a media storage piece we actually produced and sold it in our company.

This year we have asked students to come up with a multi-functional end table. The potential is strong that we would sell the table in our stores throughout the country. There were so many very good entries that we were told that 9 were contenders though only 5 could be part of the final competition. The prototypes and boards describing the design and function are currently in the store. Our customers can vote for their favorite entry and, once tallied, that will count as 1 vote plus the people who are on the board. The overall winner will receive a $3000 scholarship.

If you live in the Twin Cities come check out the entries and cast your vote. We will be doing the award ceremony and celebration on April 15th at the Edina Store.



In retail we often feel like we’re a little out of synch with everyone else. In order to be ready for seasonal product or major introductions we need to start early to learn about the incoming product, its attributes and its placement on the showroom. We therefore feel a bit ahead or behind of what everyone else is experiencing. In the winter we’re thinking about spring/summer and in summer/fall we’re already thinking about the new year.

It’s felt that way a lot recently. We started learning about outdoor product and figuring out where it’s going to be shown in our showroom as early as January. It’s been a particularly cold and snowy winter for many of our locations and it always seems a bit strange to be looking at pictures of beautiful patio scenes while you’re wearing three layers of clothing.

As I write this it’s the first day of spring. And as I look out the window the snow is falling. Not quite the warm sunny day I was hoping for to herald in the new season. But we make the best of it. We began receiving our new outdoor furniture several weeks ago and have been placing pieces on our fourth floor deck as well as the small garden area beside the store at street level. It’s been a normal sight to look out the window and see a lovely outdoor grouping covered in frost and snow.

We recently scheduled a morning meeting to talk about some of our new outdoor furniture and on this particular morning it was snowing – quite a lot. Not to be undone by weather, our team made the most of the situation and took some photos of us “enjoying” the new outdoor collections as seen by the photo above. Who says that gracious entertaining can only be done in the warmer months?

So while it may feel a little odd for us at times, the hope is that we’ll be all ready and prepared when our customers start looking at our outdoor collection and asking questions. And hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy some of our outdoor setting in a little more seasonably warm weather……while planning for new 2016 introductions in January.

Even Small Changes Can Be Impactful

York - Before

One of the room settings near the front of our showroom in Seattle is built around the York Sofa in Dawson Cement. This was a particularly popular sofa for us in 2014–likely based upon its location near the front of the store and the way our Visual Associate had the room styled. For 2015, we moved this sofa to a different place (still right by the front doors), and paired it with a different rug and fabric chairs instead of leather. While the end result looked nice, feedback from our Design Associates, along with flat sales numbers, led us to believe that this room could use some adjustment to help capture more interest from our customers. As you can see above, it is a lovely setting, but very monochromatic.

York - After

Here is a photo of the room right after our transfer yesterday. Our Visual Associate (Julianne) posed for the picture as I was documenting the new look. The two changes we made to the room were to put our new Riga Rug under the sofa, and switch the Amos Chairs back to the stocked leather cover instead of fabric. The difference was dramatic, even more-so in person than from a picture. Suddenly, the room setting feels brighter and the upholstery pieces really pop. I think it looks more inviting and, as the Retail Merchant for our store, I can’t wait to see over the next couple of months how our sales may increase.

After all of the hard work we did at floor change in the showroom, it is nice to be in a calmer space right now where we can look at everything and fine tune the occasional setting that may not have landed perfectly. In this instance, York resonated so well with our customers previously, that we could tell we weren’t showing it in it’s best light. A couple little adjustments, and the room feels right again!

5 Things I Learned from Visiting Atlanta

  1. Going away is like going home, sorta.

When I travel to a different market, I always know that there are going to be things that feel very familiar to the environment in which I normally work. The showroom and aesthetics are going to be pretty similar to my normal store location. The product will be pretty much the same and, for the most part, the reference materials will be in about the same place so that I can help customers with ease. There are also a lot of things that are different. For instance, we usually try to find unique buildings to use as showrooms throughout the nation. The DC showroom started out as a car dealership in the early 20th century and the Atlanta showroom was originally a meat processing plant. Atlanta even has the original smoke room as part of their showroom space. Needless to say, with such unique floorplans I rely heavily on the kindness and memory of Design Associates that work there to point out the location of product for me.

  1. We hire good people.

I naturally think the staff that I work with in DC is the best, but I always enjoy visiting other markets. Not just because I get to travel, but because I get to put faces with names and develop working relationships with people in other stores. I’m always struck by the consistently fun, interesting and professional people that I encounter. The Atlanta staff is no exception. This is my third time in as many years to visit the Atlanta market and I feel like I’m not just developing working relationships, but friendships. It’s always fun to catch up and see what everyone has been doing as well as get to know those that have been hired since my last visit. It’s amazing the things you can learn from just hanging out on the showroom floor and talking…..which brings me to my next point…

  1. The biggest things can often come from the smallest conversations.

When I travel, I often have an agenda of meetings or conversations that I plan to have to take advantage of having a colleague standing in front of me. But sometimes the biggest moments come from, again, just hanging out and talking. I work a lot with custom windows and in DC we are always working to see how we can engage the customer more with the product. Without going into too much detail, in Atlanta I happened to be watching an associate working with a customer in the Design Center by custom windows. He was working with solar shades and did something so simple but effective and helpful for the customer that I knew I had to take it back to my store. It really was my “ah ha” moment of the trip.

  1. Every store has its own vibe.

While every store is an extension of the brand and has a similar look and feel, each is also a reflection of its own community. In DC we incorporate clothing from nearby Howard University in our Room & Board Kids department display. We also highlight local producers of food items in our Everyday Dining area. Atlanta does the same. For instance, they highlight local preserves made by Preserving Place, a great store in the shopping complex that makes their preserves on site. Atlanta also features cookbooks throughout the showroom of regional interest. The city has a plethora of great chefs and there were more than a few recipes I noted while checking out the display. I think it makes for a more intimate shopping experience and focuses on our goal to really be part of the community in which we’re located.

  1. The food is amazing!

Really, did you think I could write about visiting Atlanta and not talk about the food? It doesn’t take too long of working at Room & Board to find that most associates are foodies. Big foodies. And most will gladly talk to you about the food they like. It can be anything from an original Cheetos recipe to recommendations for the best restaurant in the city. Either way, I’m not going to be disappointed. Ok, truthfully, I haven’t tried the Cheetos recipe yet….but the next time I’m down, I might!

Work and Home

Fox Apartment

Just a quick example of how Room & Board has affected my life outside of work… This past weekend we were having a few friends over for dinner. Of course, that meant tidying up our apartment beforehand! Since everything looked nice and clean, I snapped a picture of our living and dining room and posted it to Facebook.

A couple of coworkers commented on it, and I then realized that there were a lot of items in this picture that were purchased from Room & Board since I’ve been working here. For example: the dining table and chairs, the rug, the accent chair, a couple of the picture frames. In those rooms, but not easily seen, are our media cabinet, side tables, cocktail table, and floor lamp.

When I think back to what our apartment looked a few years ago, it was much emptier and not nearly as cozy. Not only has Room & Board been a great place to work, it has also made our apartment a home!