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From Home Furnishing Business

Retail Detail: Different Strokes

By: Powell Slaughter 

Clive and Daniel Lubner didn’t sit on their hands after failing to acquire rights to the Robb & Stucky name after the retailer liquidated in 2011.

Clive Lubner had built the Fort Myers, Fla.-based operation into a $280 million paragon of high-end home furnishings retailing before a credit crunch led it into Chapter 11, then closure. But by October 2011, the Lubners were back in business in nearby Naples, Fla., with a new model, Clive Daniel Home.

Originally, the Lubners hoped to find an enterprise buyer, retain rights to the Robb & Stucky name and continue on.

When that fell through, they took a different tack.

“We continued to speak to potential investors to re-establish the company,” said Daniel Lubner, CEO. “During that time, we rebranded our hospitality business as the Lubner Group. We had several large projects that we continued to work with. That allowed for immediate cash flow and the confidence to bring in our merchandising team. By May 2011, we’d brought in our top five merchandisers (from Robb & Stucky) and made plans for a new store in a location to be decided.”

The Lubners negotiated taking over the lease for the Robb & Stucky Naples store, which Lubner said was the old retailer’s most profitable market.

 

A TOTAL HOME APPROACH

“We went about the new store a little differently,” Lubner said. “We decided the market needed a total home approach to design.”

For Clive Daniel Home, the Lubners focused on their traditional strength in interior design, and supplemented that by bringing in specialists for things such as home automation and landscape architecture in order to offer complete, comprehensive services for everything in and around a home.

“We have demonstration kitchens and smart home systems,” Lubner said. “That allows us to walk our clients through what a new construction or complete renovation should look like.”

Clive Daniel Home also does significant business in the contract and hospitality arena, but the retailer segregates those from its residential segment.

“Residential and hospitality are two completely different specialties,” Lubner said. “Instead of having designers straddle the line between the disciplines, we have dedicated staff for each.

“Our focus and philosophy is to take care of one very important person—my designer. If I proved the complete managerial support and logistics, they can concentrate on the project and not get caught up in the minutiae. If we do that, the client will win every single time.”

 

LEAN AT THE TOP 

Starting anew with a single store, the Lubners decided they wouldn’t load up on management.

“We loaded up on merchants,” Lubner said. “We’ve invested our dollars into making sure that the floor is filled with talent.”

Led by Melinda Antonucci, who is also in charge of product placement on the showroom floor, the merchandising and design team consists of six full-time employees.

 “We also have an exceptional logistics team. Because of all the support we provide, we have designers who are exceptional at creating an entire design scheme,” Lubner said. “We’ve had clients exceed $1 million on a single project, though we also have excellent clients who buy one item at a time.”

In the store, customers get the high-impact, eclectic appeal that Robb & Stucky was known for, plus a big selection of one-of-a-kind items such as vintage furniture and architectural elements. Lubner noted that Clive Daniel Home is among the sites to see in Naples: “When clients have friends visiting in town, they’ll bring them by the showroom.”

 

TRUE BRAND ORIENTATION 

How does Clive Daniel Home express its total home retail vision in marketing and advertising? By walking to a different drummer for one thing, and a true emphasis on brand building.

“That’s my passion. We’re a little unintentionally counter-cultural when it comes to our branding. There’s no conventional wisdom for us,” Lubner said. “We create 100 percent of our advertising internally. We have our own original photography, and we feature our designers in all our ads.”

Clive Daniel’s approach is to create campaigns, not single ads that talk about percent off on a particular item. Those run in print, glossy publications and on television.

Lubner noted that while many manufacturers do a great job with photography, Clive Daniel’s use of its own shots help set the store apart.

“You might see ads for different stores that show the same photography,” he said. “We’d rather have our own original voice.

“Our branding is truly that—very rarely do we have a call to action in our campaigns. It seems to work for us—we have clients coming into the showroom who recognize the designers we feature.”

 

HANDS-ON APPROACH 

Since opening, the business has grown steadily, and so far in 2014 Clive Daniel has been trending 30 percent ahead of last year—June was up 70 percent. Hands-on management has been key to that success. It’s one advantage of starting again with a single store.

“Since the day we opened, Clive and/or I have been in the showroom every single day, working hand in hand with clients and designers,” Daniel said. “We’re fighting it out for every chance of a residential or contract sale. It hasn’t been easy—starting from scratch, manufacturers who’ve chosen not to supply us. It’s been a sea of challenges.”

There’s no shortage of competition in the Naples/Fort Myers market, but the Lubners prefer to concentrate on things within their control.

“We’ve received several accolades mentioning us as the best showroom in the area, but our real focus from day one has been ‘what is the consumer looking for?’” Daniel said. “If we were buying a single piece of furniture or outfitting a whole home, what would we be looking for?”

He also credits Clive Daniel’s service personnel for its success.

“The unsung heroes in our business are our delivery team,” he said. “They were all hand-picked from our previous company. Our drivers are career guys, and they take exceptional pride in making sure the delivery goes smoothly.

“Issue do arise, and when they do, we have who we think is the greatest service individual in the business—Maria Peña. She’s worked with Clive the past 25 years, and she’s a difference maker.”

 

LOOKING AHEAD 

What does furniture retailing look like to Lubner, and what does that future hold for Clive Daniel Home?

“I’m a bit of a furniture outsider, and I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what others are doing,” Lubner said. “Our future is to continue to focus on our brand, and continue to seek out the best manufacturers. It’s all about the three P’s—product, price and people.”

He also likes Clive Daniel’s positioning, especially when it comes to a large showroom such as the retailer’s 85,000-square foot floor.

“The big boxes either need to be really good at selling low price points, or be proficient at selling complete interior design,” Lubner said. “And the latter is where the vast majority of people will fall short.”

 

Life after Robb & Stucky

When Fort Myers, Fla.-based Robb & Stucky closed in 2011, it shook up the furniture industry.

On paper, it looked as if the retailer was doing all the right things—beautiful stores, soup-to-nuts design assistance. Home Furnishings Business asked Daniel Lubner, CEO of his and Clive Lubner’s new incarnation, Clive Daniel Home, to discuss what happened, and what they learned.

Lubner didn’t want to go into too much detail, but essentially, Robb & Stucky fell victim to the same thing that sank a lot of retailers in the wake of the recession—lack of accessibility to credit.

“What did us in was a fatigued banking relationship,” he said

In early 2011, the Lubners had hopes of continuing on with Robb & Stucky.

“We were looking originally to save Robb & Stucky. Had we been able to continue in that final year, we would have been profitable,” Lubner said. “We went into Chapter 11 on Feb. 18, and by March the company was being liquidated. Our focus was to find an enterprise buyer and continue the company. We continued to speak to potential investors to re-establish the company.”

The Lubners had hoped to gain the intellectual property rights for the Robb & Stucky name, however, Samson Holdings CEO Samuel Kuo, acquired those and relaunched the brand.

“We ended up losing the rights, which was upsetting, but we’ve always focused ourselves on marketing, and we figured what’s in a name?” Lubner said. “What did Shakespeare say: ‘A rose by any other name is still a rose.’”

Hence, the new Clive Daniel Home brand. They also learned a valuable lesson.

“This new company is private equity,” Lubner said. “Cash got it started, not the good graces of a bank.”

What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Clive and Daniel Lubner started Clive Daniel Home from scratch, and the challenges involved there—garnering vendors, getting the right people in place—made for a challenge.

These days, though, what keeps CEO Daniel Lubner awake at night is when the mental wheels start turning on strategy and building the business.

“That late night when I’m not sleeping is typically when the next great idea for an advertising campaign might come to mind,” he said. “Thinking about new and innovative business development initiatives, that sort of thing.”

One thing not on his mind late at night? The competition.

“My grandfather, who started a furniture business in South Africa, had a saying: ‘Never worry about your competition, because they don’t buy from you,’” Lubner said. “Of all the things we worry about, the competition is not one of them.”

 



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