Bellsey and Schwartz, both members of IIDA, own and operate The Wallpaper & Design Store, an interior design showroom in Parsippany, NJ, about 45 minutes west of New York City, that has been growing steadily for 20 years. The recent expansion of its showroom and the carefully chosen products and services the two have added over the years are a tribute to their successful philosophy.
Schwartz and Bellsey began by selling only wallpaper weekdays while their children were in school. But that's not the way it is anymore. Open six days and one evening a week, wall coverings are just part of the entire package they offer today. The Wallpaper & Design Store features select wall and floor coverings, furniture, fabrics, window treatments and accessories--enough to redesign a room or a client's whole home.
Working exceptionally well together and as a team with the six designers in their showroom, Schwartz and Bellsey create compelling design with longevity in mind no matter the customer's budget. "The bonus for our clients is cost savings and convenience," Bellsey says. At The Wallpaper & Design Store, they simply do it all. "We do everything from soup to nuts," Schwartz says.
Located in a strip mall right off highway 46 in Parsippany, The Wallpaper & Design Store not only is easy to get to, but located about 30 miles from Manhattan it's well within reach--and influence--of New York City. That proximity has both its good and bad sides. For example, their location puts them near important markets and affluent customers, yet they also must be aware of price shoppers and large discounters that are drawn to metropolitan areas. But for Bellsey and Schwartz, the shoppers these large box stores attract are not their typical customers.
In all of their marketing efforts--local print and radio outlets and occasionally in regional magazines--Schwartz and Bellsey do not undersell their services. "We've never advertised ourselves to be the cheapest," Bellsey says.
Parsippany is a "fairly wealthy area," Schwartz says. "There is a tremendous amount of new homes being built in the growing suburbs," she says, and many of the customers at The Wallpaper & Design Store are buying new homes. Some upwardly mobile families are moving into larger homes, others with children grown and away from home, are looking to downsize. Either way, The Wallpaper & Design Store services all their needs from whole home design plans to single room plans with a multitude of fabric, accessory, furnishing and paint selections.
Creating compelling interiors that remain within all budgets is Schwartz and Bellsey's philosophy. To do that, they tend to design for longevity with a solid footing in "good basics," they say. In an ideal situation, Bellsey and Schwartz say they should be able to return to a customer's home 10 years later, change the artwork and accessories and have a whole new room using the same original design and have it be as good as the original.
Design plans always begin with a personal consultation and usually end with either Bellsey or Schwartz on-site for the installation. In between come sessions at the drafting table and meetings at the customer's home where it is easier to show design ideas, fabric and color samples. Using their "collective eye" to create room plans has been extremely successful. "About 90 percent of our customers end up taking our recommendations for decorating," Schwartz says. The resulting unique look and the convenience of working with one store keeps customers coming back and leads to recommendations.
The current trend in interiors in the area shows a return to traditional designs. That translates into "lots and lots of fabric," Bellsey says, although their customers' tastes can range from traditional to contemporary and colorful. But varying tastes don't create a problem. "We adjust," Bellsey says.
About two years ago, The Wallpaper & Design Store was expanded to 4,600 square feet of space with the addition of more than 3,000 square feet. "The showroom is organized into distinctive departments," Schwartz says. "There is a wallpaper, a fabric and a carpet department," she says. Plus, room settings are presented to show how furnishings can be coordinated. "We feature screens, accessories and artwork," Bellsey says. "None of it's run of the mill. It's artsy," she says.
All of the associates working in the showroom are designers, and when hiring, Bellsey and Schwartz look for designers with experience. Even so, they say, it can take a year to a year-and-a-half to learn all their product lines and the full scope of the business. The end result is longevity among employees as well. One designer has been with the company for 10 years.
Finding personalities that will mesh with theirs and the other employees also is important. "Everybody who represents the store has to be better and nicer than everybody else," Bellsey says. "They also must care about customers," Schwartz adds. "Our customers want to be treated nicely. They are willing to pay a reasonable price to be taken care of," she says.
Ralph Rosamilia is an excellent example of the type of employee Bellsey and Schwartz appreciate most. He installs all of The Wallpaper & Design Store's hard window treatments and does most of the soft treatment installations. Rosamilia has been with the company 17 years. "He is the best window coverings installer around," Bellsey says. A former retailer himself, Rosamilia realizes the caring service and talent he represents. "He brings a second pair of shoes on installations, which he only wears inside customers' homes," Schwartz says. "A good installer can save a job," she adds.
Schwartz and Bellsey also work with from six to 10 outside designers who regularly use the showroom as a resource for their own design clients. Technically, these designers offer the same services as Bellsey and Schwartz, so does that make them direct competitors? "Possibly," Bellsey says. "But we would never take a customer away from one of these designers. We look at them this way, they increase our market," she says.
Schwartz and Bellsey are just as particular about selecting suppliers. The two regularly travel to North Carolina markets looking for something new in furnishings. "You must stay current," Schwartz says. "You must know what's current, know what your customers are seeing in magazines and you must stay one step ahead of other showrooms," she adds.
The Right Mix
The 20-year partnership between Schwartz and Bellsey began soon after the two first met, which was when they happened to take their children to the same nursery school. One day over a cup of coffee the two got to talking about what they would do the following year when their children were in school all day. The idea of opening a wallpaper store came up.
Schwartz and Bellsey began their business about a year later in a small room behind another retail store. Helping them to get started was Bellsey's parents who, for years, ran a paint and wallpaper store in Brooklyn. The two used that connection to contact wall coverings manufacturers and to establish a good credit rating for their new venture. Several of the manufacturer representatives were additionally helpful as mentors. Tentina Window Fashions, Del Mar and Mills Supply were especially helpful in teaching them about window coverings and fabrics.
When The Wallpaper & Design Store first opened its hours were weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.--the time Schwartz and Bellsey's children were in school. Two years later, the retail store in front went out of business, and the two expanded into the 1,400-square-foot space, where they remained for the next 16 years.
While the location of The Wallpaper & Design Store remained the same, little else did. Most notably, the store began adding more interior decorating products to its initial offering of wallpaper. Window coverings were first. Once, the store offered mostly hard treatments--specifically, PVC verticals. Then, "when fabric came in real big, we had to change what we had," Bellsey says. Fabric became the next logical addition. Finally, furniture and accessories were added to the showroom. Each new product added to the mix was based on customer demand and careful consideration, Schwartz explains. Adding furnishings to the showroom was a big investment, "but you can't sell it unless you have it on the floor," she says.
Expanding the shop's services and products was essential to building The Wallpaper & Design Store and is a key ingredient of its success today. Bellsey says it straight out: "We would die if we only had one product to sell." As an example, Schwartz says a window coverings-only store that recently opened in their area went out of business in six months. "You have to have a mix. When one product is down, the others can make up for it," she says.
For their showroom, Bellsey says, "there really aren't any direct competitors because we do so much."