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Susan Dickenson

Retail Profile: Red Barn Mercantile

Alexandria, Va.

Red Barn Interior
Red Barn Mercantile's hand-scraped hardwood floors, neutral walls, antique furniture and rustic worktables add character and elegance while allowing the merchandise to speak for itself.

Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria, Va., describes her storefront as a "quirky mid-century building" nestled among Old Town's colonial row houses. It's actually a perfect stage for the elegant-eclectic mix of old, vintage and fun that begins at the brick sidewalk and flows into a shop filled with good antiques, quality accents, tailored upholstery and vintage-inspired accessories.

The result is a carefully edited collection that communicates a suburban-chic, old-money aesthetic of "jeans and T-shirt, where the jeans are premium denim and the T-shirts are couture."

Mixing the old with the new is a great way to personalize a living space, Rutherford said, and judging from its popularity with her customers, it's a decorating style she'll be catering to for some time. "People no longer want a cookie-cutter look. They'll hang contemporary pendant lamps from Thomas O'Brien over a centuries-old farm table surrounded by metal Navy chairs from Emeco. Then they'll set the table with Thomas Paul's wonderful melamine plates atop Match Italian pewter chargers and metal twig candelabras from Vagabond Vintage."

"We believe in quality and livability," Rutherford added. "Our mix of merchandise — from conversation-starting antique accents to vintage-inspired children's toys is welcoming to everyone. A bowl of dog biscuits even greets Old Town's four-legged residents."

Opened in 2007, Red Barn Mercantile offers mid-priced lines in 2,300 square feet of selling space. In 2008, home accents accounted for 42% of total sales, accent furniture 13%, furniture 35% and other merchandise, 10%. Home Accents Today added the store to its Retail Stars list in May 2009.

Items for sale

Describe your store: As soon as you enter Red Barn Mercantile, you're welcomed by the mild scents of bath soaps and leather, candles and wood. Laughter blends with the old standards as shoppers smooth the fabrics, gaze at the glassware and flip through books with their children. We have an open floor plan that utilizes our antique cabinetry, rustic work tables and handmade shelves for display space. Our beautiful hand-scraped wide board hardwood floors contrast our neutral-toned walls. It's a simple palette that allows the furniture and accents to speak for themselves.

How's business? We're pleased to be seeing an 8% increase year over year, and are excited and confident going into the fourth quarter. I think we will have a much better Christmas than last year. During the lean times, we took the opportunity to aggressively market the store with advertising, e-newsletters, e-mail and direct mail and a full local press push. This spring, we saw a big improvement over the previous year and I attribute that to the marketing we did while others were cutting back.

What makes you different? Our carefully selected collection of furnishings. We pick and choose pieces that are timeless and modern. And with a constant flow of antique furniture and accessories to complement the more modern pieces, our customers can put their own personal spin on their space. We help add the "character" to their home.

Describe your customers: They prefer quality over quantity, have sophisticated yet quirky taste, and like to use their private spaces to clearly reflect their personality.

How do you reach your customers? E-mail, direct mail, Facebook, Twitter, blog. We have seasonal open houses and themed sales, the most recent being our Quick & Dirty sales, which are announced a week in advance and last for just one night. We rely on word-of-mouth marketing and social networks to spread the word. We're also a member of The Old Town Boutique District, 27 merchants that combine their marketing efforts to reach a wider audience. The group has four shopping weekends a year that include special events, mailings to our combined lists, e-mails and press outreach.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? I truly enjoy working with my customers. Building relationships with them is very important to me. The buying and merchandising is also enjoyable — who wouldn't love buying beautiful things?! And, I love the creative aspect of marketing and selling the store. It's so much fun to be creative every day, while still channeling my inner business geek.

Annual sales: Less than $1 million

Home accents categories: Accent furniture, lamps, wall decor, decorative pillows, throws, area rugs, tabletop and decorative accessories.

Tradeshows/markets you shop: High Point Market, New York gift fair and flea markets.

Key vendors:Peddlers Design, Vagabond Vintage, Design Legacy, Skout, Thomas Paul, Two's Company, Dash & Albert, Roost, Visual Comfort, Jamie Young, Architects & Heroes, Laville Frames, Frances Palmer, Cisco Brothers, Elizabeth Allen, Pamela Kline, Aunt Sadies, Fishs Eddy

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