21 November 2009

A retailer to know: Blackstone's of Beacon Hill

Mark Duffield said a wise man told him long ago, "Don't make a sale. Make a friend." So when Duffield and business partner Jennifer Hill bought Blackstone's of Beacon Hill in April 2006, they put that maxim into practice. When I spoke with Duffield and Hill, it was a long time before we ever got around to talking about merchandise, buying, marketing and promotions. Instead, they wanted to talk about their customers-- locals and tourists alike--who hang out and share stories with the owners. Their store is the first stop for one repeat customer traveling from England.
"There are a million 'small-world' stories," Hill said. Recent visitors from Ohio turned out to be neighbors of her parents.
Blackstone's was one of four 2009 recipients of the Pride of New England Awards given by the Boston Gift Show. The award recognizes New England retailers for outstanding customer service, creative merchandising, community involvement and demonstration of New England pride.
Duffield says their core values are "good old customer service" and "the experience." Because Blackstone's is near Massachusetts General Hospital, Duffield and Hill see a lot of shoppers who are undergoing treatment there or are visiting patients. Often, these customers need a friendly ear to listen to their stories or a shoulder to lean on. One shopper told them she was all alone, to which Hill replied, "No you're not. You know us." A candy dish is always stocked so that, Duffield said, they can "sweeten the day" of their visitors.
The owners' caring and empathy extends beyond their store to the Boston community. They contribute to more than 20 organizations and allow their store to be the site of fundraisers. For one Christmas promotion to benefit the United Way, Duffield and Hill asked vendors to donate product, which they laid out, unpriced, on a table. Customers named their own price, then donated the gifts back to the store. The retailers displayed each item under a Christmas tree, along with the names of the buyers. At the end of the promotion, they gave the gifts to a church to redistribute to the needy. Money collected from the sales went to United Way.
The owners are now in the third year of a five-year-long holiday promotion. They are creating two "mystery" ornaments a year, each with a puzzle consisting of word jumbles. The words from the 10 ornaments will spell out a holiday message. The first customer to decipher the message in 2011 will win $2,000 in gold and silver coins, donated by a local bank. In addition, Duffield is writing one chapter a year of a holiday story, which is being illustrated by comic strip artist Don Sherwood. Duffield hopes that the finished, five-chapter story will create new holiday traditions for the participating ornament collectors and their families.
The retailers' sense of community extends beyond Boston. Duffield and artist Lynn Stern met at a trade show, where she was selling her handmade witches hats. During Blackstone's Halloween event, proceeds from the sales of the hats benefit Michael's Garden, a program in Arizona helping disabled adults.
Hill described the store's price point as medium to high end. She and Duffield shop gift shows in Boston and New York. They have attended the New England show in Portland, Maine, and have been to Atlanta.
Personal accessories, including jewelry, purses, scarves, men's neckties, are a top-selling category. Paper products, such as napkins, gift wrap and cards, keep customers coming back.
Hill and Duffield are always on the lookout for exclusive merchandise. They work with one artist who draws ducklings from Boston's Public Gardens (the setting for the children's story "Make Way For Ducklings"). Her illustrations are on pillows, rugs and stationery.
A new "personalization corner" was established at the request of customers. Shoppers can put their name, monogram or words on soaps. Other items can be engraved. A Caspari display sampler promotes cocktail napkins that can be personalized.
E-commerce is a new activity for the store. Hill and Duffield had been at it for just one week when we spoke. While shoppers won't be able to chat with Hill and Duffield as they shop, the internet does allow the retailers to stay in touch with their far-flung fans.

This article originally appeared at Gift and Home Channel.

20 November 2009

Home office furniture

Home office furniture from Loft 102 for the home Gift & Home Today blog
Home office furniture from Loft 102 for the home Gift & Home Today blog
Home office furniture from Loft 102 for the home Gift & Home Today blog
Black Noir is a new collection of home office furniture from Loft 102. The furniture has rounded corners and antique-brass hardware.
Shown (from top to bottom) are credenza and deck, TV console and bookcase. The storage deck on the credenza has a glass shelf for displaying objects. Touch-activated display lighting is over each arched section.
Furniture is available in the Toulouse finish (mid-tone cherry).



Retailers: Contact the manufacturer for prices and minimums.

Shoppers: Ask your favorite independent retailer to order this item for you.

19 November 2009

Home entertainment centers

Sligh Furniture's Laredo lift top television console as seen on the Gift & Home Today blogLaredo television console
Sligh Furniture's Alante lift-top television console. Gift & Home Today blog, home entertainment high point furniture marketAlante television console

Sligh Furniture Co. introduced two new television consoles at the 2009 Autumn High Point Furniture Market. The built-in Smart Eye infrared technology and component access doors permit the furniture to be placed anywhere in a room, like against a wall or at the foot of a bed. Faux front (and faux back) drawers allow access to a DVD player, game system and other components.
The Laredo (top) can accommodate a television measuring 33 inches wide, 5 inches deep and 37 inches tall. The Alante (above) accommodates a set measuring 33 inches wide, 5 inches deep and 23 inches tall. They will be available beginning in April 2010.




Retailers: Contact the manufacturer for prices and minimums.

Shoppers: Ask your favorite independent retailer to order this item for you.

18 November 2009

Decorative accessories

Furniture source Theodore Alexander also makes decorative accessories. These were introduced at the 2009 autumn High Point Furniture Market.
Theodore Alexander makes decorative accessories. These were introduced at the 2009 autumn High Point Furniture Market. Mirror Gift & Home Today

Oval scroll-framed mirror

Theodore Alexander makes decorative accessories. These were introduced at the 2009 autumn High Point Furniture Market. Hood ornament as seen in Gift & Home Today Car mascot decorative accessory

Theodore Alexander makes decorative accessories. These were introduced at the 2009 autumn High Point Furniture Market. Table lamp as seen in Gift & Home Today Classic urn-shaped table lamp


Theodore Alexander makes decorative accessories. These were introduced at the 2009 autumn High Point Furniture Market. Table lamp with a dog as seen in Gift & Home Today
Seated hound table lamp





Retailers: Contact the manufacturer for prices and minimums.
Shoppers: Ask your favorite independent retailer to order this item for you.



17 November 2009

A sofa to cuddle

“My idea was to create a sofa that you could cuddle in the same way as a down-filled pillow. When you cuddle it, it’s soft and takes the form of your hands, arm and head. You immediately let it go and give it a few slaps, it rises and takes its original form again. Soft Ice functions in precisely the same way,” says Jens Juul Eilersen of N. Eilersen A/S in a company press release issued at the 2009 autumn High Point International Furniture Market.

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Shoppers: Ask your favorite independent retailer to order this item for you.

16 November 2009

Platform beds

Furniture maker Central Station Original Interiors custom builds each piece, using hand-selected materials from various parts of the world. The grain, the burl and the knots in the wood all become a part of the overall design.
The company uses reclaimed teak, French oak, African walnut, American black walnut and Belgian bluestone. It showed these two beds at the High Point Furniture Market in October 2009.


Central Station Original Interiors builds custom-made furniture, like the platform beds shown here. High Point Furniture market, giftandhometoday.blogspot.com Gift & Home TodayGift & Home Today



Retailers and designers: Contact the manufacturer for prices and minimums.

Shoppers: Ask your favorite independent retailer or designer to order this item for you.
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