Retail Profile: Hill Street Warehouse, Atlanta
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, June 1, 2011
When 46-year-old sales and rep agency Napp-Deady closed its showroom doors in 2008, owner Carol Deady told Home Accents Today she planned to stay active in the industry. And active she is, three years later, as the proprietress of Hill Street Warehouse, a 53,000-square-foot, Atlanta-based emporium of home accessories, lamps, wall décor, ceramics, rugs, gifts, baskets, furniture, garden containers and outdoor décor.
Bloggers, fans and shoppers say Hill Street Warehouse is one of Atlanta's most diverse home collections and have described it as "expansive," "a shopping paradise," "Pier 1 on steroids, but better quality" and "a shopaholic's drug of choice."
It's not a new vocation for Deady, but rather a return to something she started many years ago. "I grew up in retail, and began my business career in home furnishings in the '70s when my (then) future husband, Jack Deady, hired me as the showroom and office manager at Napp-Deady," she said. Seven years later, Deady got back into the retail business when she bought a 700-sq.-ft. store in Peachtree Center. In 1990, she opened Hill Street Warehouse as a 12,000-sq.-ft. sample store and ran it until 1994 when, with Jack's passing, she became president and CEO of Napp-Deady, Inc.
With the help of her management team, Hill Street Warehouse continued operating and, over the years, grew to include thousands of items for the home and garden. By the time of her return, in 2008, the once rundown neighborhood had taken on a new life as the Westside Design District, described by Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles as a "stylish mecca for all things home."
Within that environment, the stylish Carol Deady began developing the original retail vision she put on hold almost two decades ago, bringing a discriminating eye and years of Napp-Deady experience to the project.
By all appearances, she is in her element. Take, for example, the excitement she shared about some recent finds: "The most exciting new thing I encountered in Europe this past fall was terra cotta, handmade from different colored clays. This terra cotta is not painted, but rather infused with minerals from the earth, creating exquisite colors. The beauty of it is having a strong Italian clay that is frost-resistant, in fashion colors - which can totally change the way we may look at the design of future outdoor landscaping and gardening. In addition, I have found that colored fiberglass designs coming out of Europe and Asia are far and beyond any fiberglass I have ever seen."
Her day-to-day role at Hill Street involves a little bit of everything, typical of her self-described "mercurial" personality. "Adhering to a firm philosophy that ‘display sells,' I work with our team to build exciting and inspiring vignettes throughout the space," she said. "And I'm working on landscaping, re-creating and renovating the gardens that I developed almost from the inception of Hill Street. I love working with customers in helping them to bring their home and gardens to fruition, and I continue to be involved with buying along with my daughter, Suzannah, who is now running the company."
The result is a creative cornucopia of product and displays that's transformed the store from a "hidden treasure" into a shopping destination for a fast-growing, and very loyal, customer base. "Our customers bring their out-of-town visitors to Hill Street as entertainment because it is so outrageous! It is not like any other store I have ever seen, which makes for attracting very interesting and unique customers."
Describe your store: We are basically divided into home furnishings and gardening at Hill Street, but all under one roof. The store is divided into multiple departments, plus we have a year-round Christmas and seasonal department. We buy samples, closeouts, direct imports, merchandise off trucks, regular wholesale merchandise, and have recently been experimenting with some consignment. Anything we buy with a discount is passed on to the customer, and we have a special trade program for customers purchasing for resale.
We have two designers that I work with on display, and our layout is always changing. My years in the industry certainly taught me a great deal about the value of beautiful displays and their effect on generating sales. I work at incorporating that knowledge, translating it into a big warehouse and sharing that with our people. It is an interesting experience to create displays in a warehouse setting as opposed to the perfection that was required in three Napp-Deady showrooms.
Speaking of that, just how different is it - running your Hill Street retail showroom vs. the Napp-Deady business? It's still the same industry, with many of the same dynamics, but the difference in running the two companies is dramatic. The biggest difference is that I can leave at 5 p.m. each day! We never have reason to stay until midnight as we did so many nights before markets. Napp-Deady was a very serious business requiring enormous energy to keep a great many individuals and businesses growing and happy.
While I absolutely loved my years at Napp-Deady, Hill Street is so refreshing and more laidback. Hill Street is a much more independent experience, offering more freedom, flexibility and fun. I love seeing the sun shine everyday, and I enjoy the occasional opportunity to garden while at work. Since it is impossible to keep the dust off of 50,000 square feet of product, and there is no way for every display to be perfect, it is really great to be able to stand back and say, "Oh, well, it's just a warehouse!" I still, however, get to discover and develop product, which is probably my favorite thing about this industry whether it be retail or wholesale. And, of course, since we direct-import, there are more opportunities for me to be in other parts of the world that I enjoy.
How's business? January and February are always challenging for us, but the spring season has been relatively good. With a lot of new imported garden product, our garden shop has contributed to improvement in traffic. We continue to feel optimistic about 2011 as we are aggressively bringing in new product, some that has not been seen before in the industry. We are happy and thankful each day to have survived and thrived in this challenging economy.
Describe your average customer: By design, everybody! We really don't have an average customer. Our trade customers includes architects, interior designers, landscape architects, the film industry, garden designers, and other artists and artisans who work with home and garden. Our pricing is all over the place - we go from $1 to $20,000, making it available to every pocketbook - so our customers are very diverse.
How do you reach your customer? Over the years we've advertised in newspapers, national magazines and on billboards, but now find that direct-to-customer marketing is the most effective and, of course, the most economical way to reach our customer. We mainly focus on direct marketing through email and social media. Our Facebook page is updated daily with new product images and happenings. We publish an e-newsletter, periodically send out coupons and notifications of specials and promotions, and recently developed an electronic catalog for our garden store. Our very best advertising is word-of-mouth from our amazing, loyal customers. The repeat customer at Hill Street is without question one of our biggest assets. I honestly believe the repeat business at Hill Street is as good as it gets in retailing.
Do you see any trends emerging or remaining "hot" in home accents for your area? Outdoor living is very strong. I think with a challenging economy, people spend more time at home, and more time entertaining at home as well as outside. Perhaps it is just my personal gardening interest, but I see that people are willing to buy fine, well-made products - such as our beautiful Italian terra cotta.
Store opened: September 27, 1990
About what percentage of your sales are home accents? Around 40%. The rest is furniture, garden, gifts and seasonal.
Which trade shows/markets do you shop? Since my parents were in retail and bought for multiple stores, I basically grew up knowing and understanding the value of attending trade shows and markets. Over the course of my career with Napp-Deady and in retail, I calculated that I have attended well over 250 major markets, nationally and internationally, not counting mini markets and some regional markets outside of Atlanta. For most of my buying career, I always attended and bought periodically from other major market centers as I found that the West Coast in particular had many additional products that I would not find on the East Coast. As markets and trade shows have dramatically changed in the past several years, I buy and shop locally, and in Europe and Asia.
Who are some of your favorite home accents vendors? Our sample purchases change so frequently, we usually have a new favorite vendor each season!
Address: 1357 Collier Road, NW, Atlanta, Ga.
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