Robb & Stucky -- In sync with hip

“They were buying more of what we consider second bedroom furniture,” said Bill Griffin, merchandise manager for the Orlando, Fla., store. “The age group changed, and the market has really changed. Bunks, trundles and captains are still very popular up to about age 8, but a lot of the boys did not feel we had their look. It was too juvenile. They wanted something more grown up.”

Furniture appropriate for young adults is super hot among the teen and tween markets, as well as with their parents, who envision them keeping the same furniture for years to come.

Danae Tirikos, an associate buyer in charge of the youth department, has seen this nouveau sophistication firsthand in her own home. Her 10-year-old son turns his nose up at anything that seems too juvenile. “If it looks too young, he wants nothing to do with it,” Tirikos said.

Girls do not seem to feel the same pressure to drop the affectations of youth, Griffin said. “She may get rid of all the pink flowers, but the bedroom furniture she starts with as a little girl seems to stay with them all the way through the teen-age years.”

The parental units may be playing a role in the choices boys are making, Griffin acknowledged. “Many parents want them to be able to take it with them when they go off to college or get a job.”

Expanded youth departments

Based in Fort Myers, Fla., Robb & Stucky has youth furniture departments in its three superstores in Orlando, Fla.; Plano, Texas; and Scottsdale, Ariz. The company has four other home furnishings showrooms, but they are in markets where the young-family market is not as proportionally large, and Robb & Stucky opted not to install youth departments in those cities.

A Top 100 furniture store with 2009 sales of $220 million, Robb & Stucky has been a star among high-end design stores for more than a decade. The company, driven by the energy and vision of Clive Lubner, started opening superstores – Altamonte Springs north of Orlando was the first – in the mid-2000s. The current prototype, as seen in Plano or Scottsdale, has 115,000 square feet of display.
Since the superstores only started opening seven years ago, youth is actually a fairly new category, but it’s also one that the company has been giving more attention as well as more display space.
For instance, in Scottsdale, the kids department was doubled to about 3,200 square feet in a project that was completed just prior to Labor Day. “Before, it was too small and it was very confined,” said Judy Hunerberg, merchandise manager there. “With all the walls, you really didn’t know we had it unless you were with one of our designers.”

While the product was selling, the company felt it could do better. “We made it very open and very easy to see from several areas of the store,” said Alan Reinken, general manager. “Even though our sales were fine, this department wasn’t presented as we would have liked.”

Line of sight makes for best advertising

And since the company doesn’t advertise the category, relatively few people were seeking it out. Robb & Stucky still does very little to advertise youth, and yet the department is growing at a nice rate. “It’s not that it’s a destination category we’re known for, but since we design and furnish so many homes, kids furniture is a natural part of that for families with children,” said Eric Anderson, advertising manager.

This grown-up style bed takes on a youthful look when accessorized in a Wild West theme.

The best advertising may be the placement of the department. For instance, it’s in the back of the store in Scottsdale, which is normally not advantageous, but in this case it works just fine because the store’s café is nearby.

“Since we rearranged things, we have fabulous sight lines from the café to the youth furniture department,” Hunerberg said. “It’s rare that anyone who visits our store doesn’t wind up in the café. The smell of the cookies draws them like a magnet.”

Especially kids — kids who are stuck nosing around a furniture store while their parents try to decide whether they should add a piece or do the entire room. “We find many times that the kids are bringing the parents into the department,” Hunerberg said. “The kids are intrigued by what they are seeing.”

What they are finding at any of the stores is a comprehensive presentation accessorized from the walls out. The stores show about a dozen of the “traditional” youth bedrooms, meaning the captains beds, lofts or bunks, princess suites and that sort of thing. Each one is in a space with a color-coordinated backdrop, which is often the most stunning aspect of a Robb & Stucky store. In Orlando, a girls vignette currently has grass-green walls with hundreds of poppy flowers pinned to the walls.

“This kind of thing really gets their attention,” said Griffin.

While the walls in Scottsdale have been rearranged to improve both flow and sight lines, the department still requires walls as backgrounds to the furniture. “The magic is how you place the walls and how you see around them,” Hunerberg said, who gives each furniture grouping its own identity through the use of distinct colors and decorations on the walls. “I’ll move six groups around if I have to depending on the space it needs and how important we feel it will be in the market,” she said.
Something for everyone

In addition to the bedrooms that are clearly for kids, Scottsdale has five bedrooms that are less easy to identify as youth, except for the fact that they are in the youth department. “We show these for young teens and tweeners,” Hunerberg said. “If we’re going to be a complete furniture store, you can’t leave that customer out. This group wasn’t finding what they needed in our store.”

The beds are always queen or full sized. “It’s rare that you’re going to get a teen still in a twin bed,” Hunerberg said.

While the backdrops are full of color and excitement, Hunerberg doesn’t go over the top with accessorization. She said she plans to hang some compact discs on the wall in one space and maybe install a huge chalkboard, but those are still backdrops more than accessories.

“We probably accessorize a little on the light side,” she said. “We’ve gone really cute. We’ve gone into posters and we’ve gone into teeny little lamps. We’ve done all that, but we’ve found that children have what they want in their rooms. We just have to give them the backdrop to store it or put it away or sleep on.” The store does pump up the volume in that zone of the store, and the music selection is certainly more oriented toward pop.

The group from Stanley shas a light maple finish and a contemporary design that could work for either boys or girls with the appropriate accessorization. “We’re going to do some real high-tech and retro stuff,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to go after the teen-agers, and we think this is going to do it.”