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  • Susan Dickenson

Retail Profile: High Falls Mercantile, High Falls, N.Y.

IN THE SPRING OF 2004, SHOP OWNER Larry Ruhl opened High Falls Mercantile in New York's Hudson Valley,HFM1 sensing a need in Ulster County for "a home furnishings store that offered everything you needed to decorate your home and that included interior design services." The shop does so with an inviting, intelligent lifestyle presentation that marries new designer pieces with unusual and eclectic "items with a history."

High Falls Mercantile is located on Main Street, in the historic hamlet of High Falls. A popular weekend destination for city dwellers, High Falls' shops and restaurants, most of them independently owned, are located next to the old locks of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, which ceased operation in the late 1800s.

"We think that the patina of a great old piece is the perfect complement to well-crafted design and materials provided by some of the best producers around today," Ruhl said.HFM3

He is also a fan of social media and, in December 2011, blogged about the value it - Twitter, in particular - had brought to his business through connections with new friends and reconnections with old. "Friendships, business relationships and free advice were almost immediately at my disposal."

Last year, Ruhl's musings on Twitter led to a customer relationship with lighting manufacturer Currey & Company, which led to the naming of three lighting fixtures for Ruhl and his store: the High Falls Lantern, Ruhl Pendant and Ruhl Rectangular Chandelier.

Currey's PR maven, Bethanne Matari, who names all of the Currey products, explained: "I am always on the lookout for good names. I have named chandeliers after magazine

High Falls chandelier and Ruhl pendantHigh Falls Lantern and Ruhl pendants
editors and lamps after design bloggers. Larry's style and look in his store is very farm and industrial chic. At the (fall High Point) market, we had a lot of new products with this look so I named a few after him.

"Larry became our customer completely through Twitter," Matari added. "He and I communicated through Twitter, and he signed up and placed an order. We do have mutual designer friends, but I have never met him and I have not been to his store."

About 40% of High Falls Mercantile's inventory is made up of home accents, and the shop is approximately 2,200 square feet.

Describe your average customer: None of our customers are average! We cater to a cross section of full-time Ulster County residents as well as a large community of weekend homeowners from New York City.

What makes you different from the competition? We believe that our impeccable service, including shop-at-home services, allows us to stand out from our competitors.HFM3

What categories of home accents do you carry? Lighting, tabletop, rugs, sisals, artwork, decorative accessories, table linens, decorative pillows, organic apothecary products, upholstered furniture, vintage silverware.

Key vendors: Libeco, Currey & Company, Vanguard, Merida, Dash and Albert, Lafco, Traditions Linen. We carry the full line of Santa Maria Novella from Florence, and our own line (HFM) of American-made furniture including mirrors and tables made from reclaimed barn wood, copper and zinc.HFM4

Describe your merchandising: We merchandise in complete room settings. Dining, living and bedroom vignettes are always on the floor along with our Apothecary department.
What's hot in home accents for your market? Wool throws, decorative pillows, and Santa Maria Novella potpourri, especially this time of year.

How do you reach your customer? We engage in multiple philanthropic endeavors throughout the year: Our annual food drive from October until Thanksgiving, Design on a Dime for Housing Works, installations of windows in NYC for Housing Works, and ongoing support for local charities and not-for-profits. We also do e-blasts twice a month, engage heavily in social media and do special events in the shop.

Best in-store event you've ever hosted: Our opening party. We hosted more than 700 guests throughout the day.

How's business? We are seeing growth in our interior design services and online retail. In-store sales remain strong and consistent. We project growth in our online business over the next 12 months.
Did you do anything different to weather the recession? We became a Vintage and Market Finds vendor with One Kings Lane, have increased our online offerings through our own website, and cut out print advertising.

How do you use social media to promote your business? We are active on Twitter (@larryruhl), Facebook (High Falls Mercantile), Tumblr (High Falls Mercantile), Google+ (Larry Ruhl), and Pinterest (Larry Ruhl) and consistently post on our own blog.

Are you experimenting with any new technologies? We started using an Ipad for presentations to our interior design clients. We all use our Iphones for constant contact to all social media.

Trade shows/markets you shop: New York International Gift Show, High Point Market and the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market.


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