Accent Wallcoverings offers a full line of designer services. After nearly 10 years as a design coordinator for a national department store chain, Carol Owens, its semi-retired owner and interior designer, put a lot of time and energy into creating the store. "She built it from the ground up" beginning in 1988, says her daughter, Cindy Peck, general manager.
As you might expect, Accent Wallcoverings & Interiors' main product is wall coverings, which represent about 60 percent of total sales. But "people looking for wall coverings usually are doing some other project that will lead to something else," Peck says. For that reason, the store also offers lots of fabrics, custom window coverings, bedding, floor coverings, upholstering and the services of degreed, state-registered interior designers.
Accent Wallcoverings' success is evident when you look at the numbers: Sales increased by 18 to 20 percent in 1994, and 15 percent in 1995, Peck states. But the keys to its success can be found in matters of a less computational nature: good people, unique products and the best service possible.
A People Place
Upon entering the showroom a customer is likely to be greeted immediately by one of six licensed designers besides Owens. They are there to ask how they can help, what project the customer is working on, or what in particular they are looking for, Peck explains. "Most people want help," she says. "The choices can be overwhelming, and sometimes they don't know where to start," Peck adds.
The store's 2,000 square feet of well-stocked space awaits them. Some 1,400 wall coverings books line the walls, and throughout the store several displays or vignettes showcase window coverings, bedding, custom furniture and coordinated decors. The space also includes paint and laminate samples, although the store doesn't actually sell these products. The samples are there for customers and designers to pick and choose from, while the actual products are handled through builders or contractors.
One side of the showroom is set aside as a design studio where the designers have workspace and access to samples. In the back is office space and a small storeroom where about 300 patterns of wallpaper are kept in stock.
Friendliness is important to Owens and Peck because they want each customer to feel at home in the store. The designers employed there must be able to work with people and present themselves in a way customers can feel they know what they are talking about, Peck says. "The designers tell customers what's available, things they wouldn't know otherwise. They provide choices or options," she says.
When interviewing prospective designers, Peck pays attention to the applicant's personality as well as to his or her portfolio. The current group working at Accent Wallcoverings comes from a mix of backgrounds and experiences. Yet each is required to have a degree in interior design and be registered by the state of Texas. This approach works well. "The store has never had to advertise to hire designers," Peck says, and some of them have been with the company since its beginning.
The designers work on a three-to-five-day-a-week rotating basis, Peck explains. Their professional services are offered without fee to customers in the store. However, a fee is charged for in-home consultations, Peck adds. She says that the designers constantly review new style books and attend seminars to keep up on trends, designs and products.
Pecks says good back-up people are essential for a store like Accent Wallcoverings. "You can't do it by yourself," she advises. One of her back-ups is Mark Nunn who works with ordering and receiving custom products, especially for contractors. Another is Trish Scott whose organizational skills keep samples and prices current.
Product and Services
Accent Wallcoverings "heavily advertises" its wall coverings. "That's what draws customers to the store," Peck says. But the store doesn't discount wallpaper products. Peck knows they can't compete on price with the large, discount box stores, nor do they necessarily want to appeal to price-shopping customers. Instead, she explains, they make it a point to set the store apart from the rest by never offering patterns that can be found in the discount outlets. Not only does that mean its customers can choose something different than what's available everywhere else, but it discourages price comparisons as well.
But Peck doesn't want to turn away business either, even if the customers are just shopping for price. So, three times a year Accent Wallcoverings has a month-long sale offering 10 to 20 percent off its custom wall coverings. It also will offer lower prices on some in-stock wallpaper, Peck says.
Another of the store's unique offerings is custom area rugs. Accent Wallcoverings specializes in the kinds of area rugs that are hard to find, Peck explains, like those coordinated to match the colors or patterns in a customer's wall coverings. "It's a nice product to provide your customers," she says.
For windows, horizontal and vertical blinds and pleated shades are available in addition to custom and some ready-made soft treatments. In keeping with the current trend, wood blinds and shutters also are offered.
To install its products, Peck works with six "good, very reputable, very high-quality" installers on a contract basis. She also contracts with three drapery installers, and can provide customers with the names of three floor coverings installers. Peck understands their importance to the business. "Once you find them, you keep them," she says.
Good for Business
Accent Wallcoverings can be found on a major east-west thoroughfare in Fort Worth making it highly visible and centrally located. The company moved there in 1990 when the space became vacant. The new location proved immediately profitable. The previous tenant was a wall coverings store that had been there for about 18 years, so everyone in the area already knew where to go. "The first year there, business tripled," Peck says.
Customers also tend to be loyal. Although Dallas is only 30 miles away, Peck says there isn't much crossover. "People like to shop in the area," she says. Besides, Accent Wallcoverings can provide area residents with any products available in Dallas or other markets. In fact, Peck and Owens just returned in mid-April from High Point, NC, where they were looking for new designs and product sources.
Repeat and referral customers are a mainstay for Accent Wallcoverings, but Peck doesn't limit marketing to word of mouth. The company spends about two to three percent of gross sales on advertising, she says, and virtually all of it goes to the company's advertising agency, which Peck calls "a godsend."
"The agency designs the ads and decides where to spend the money," Pecks says. Newspaper display advertising and target ads to mailing lists of home owners and builders make up the bulk of marketing effort.
Builders are an important part of the advertising mix because Peck says there is so much construction going on in the area. She estimates that out of about 50 people who come into the store on any given Saturday, five or six are building a new home. With a college, a university and several hospitals in the area, many of these homes are being built for the professionals drawn to Fort Worth and can range from 3,500 to 10,000 square feet in size.
Those are good figures to work with if you're in the interior design business, and Peck's business and management background deepens her appreciation of them. Peck joined Accent Wallcoverings in 1991, soon after it was moved to its present location. "At the time business tripled, Mom needed help," Peck says. She was "more into numbers" then and didn't think she would enjoy working with customers as much as she does today.
Somewhat begrudgingly Carol Owens is learning to enjoy her time away from the showroom she started. She works mainly with long-time repeat clients, some of whom ask for her by name, but she still can be found at the store several days a week. "Customers seeing her in the store is good for business," Peck says. And that makes everyone's life a little easier.