The accolades only begin there. Robb & Stucky boasts one of the largest accredited and licensed interior design staffs in Florida, its in-house custom drapery department ranks among the largest in retail with a staff of 21 full-time workroom employees, it has been recognized by House Beautiful magazine as one of the top five furniture stores in the United States, and CEO Lubner has been honored by the National Home Furnishings Association as its Retailer of the Year.
The reasons behind Robb & Stucky's growth and success are many. They begin with an attitude: viewing home furnishings as fashion and showcasing them through innovative, high-end merchandising techniques. Robb & Stucky was among the very first to present products in lifestyle vignettes displaying merchandise from different manufacturers and artisans arranged to create real-life room settings and ambiance. The company also emphasizes customer service. "Our philosophy centers on fashion-forward merchandising, customer-focused displays and impeccable service with personalized attention to all customers before, during and after each sale," Lubner says.
Robb & Stucky also stays one step ahead of everyone else. "Our management team is aggressive and forward-thinking, thoroughly immersed in the industry and in constant pursuit of the market," Lubner says.
But above all, with nearly 600 employees all told, Robb & Stucky's success has everything to do with people. "Simply put," Lubner says, "we believe in hiring the right people to do what they do best."
From the management level on down, Robb & Stucky employees tend to be dedicated and long-term. An excellent example is Joan Willis, who for most of the last 24 years has been manager of the Robb & Stucky drapery workroom.
In a 100-by 100-foot facility in the company's home base of Fort Myers, the Robb & Stucky workroom houses the modern equipment, sewing and quilting machines necessary to handle every type of custom window treatment and bed covering. It includes a woodworking area for treating arched-top windows, as well. Here 20 full-time employees give each design that special hands-on touch that makes the often one-of-a-kind window coverings they produce the ultimate complement to a customer's interior.
As manager, Willis' responsibilities are all-encompassing: "Everything under this roof from seeing to the maintenance on the machines to ordering all our stock items and materials, bindings, linings and hardware. Everything pertaining to running this place is my responsibility," she says.
Willis also runs in-house seminars for the company's designers to keep them up-to-date on new ideas and new ways of doing things. She often visits a final installation to take photographs to bring back for the workroom employees. Every month or so she sits down with them and reviews the treatments in a slide presentation. "We look at what was done beautifully and what could have been done differently," she says. Once a year, she and the workroom spend the afternoon visiting model homes for which Robb & Stucky did the interiors and window coverings. "It helps for them to see the treatments in the homes and not just on the worktables. When it's installed, it looks different," she says.
A testament to the designer's beautiful work is the number of homes Robb & Stucky has decorated outside of Florida. Willis traveled to Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA, and into New Hampshire last year for clients who had their winter homes in Florida done by Robb & Stucky and wanted their other homes done as well. "Part of what sets up apart is the fact that we offer total design all under one roof. Customers can pick everything at one location," Willis says.
Willis came to Robb & Stucky after starting in bridal dressmaking and running her own store-front drapery business for five years. She was hired as an assistant, but within three months was made manager of the seven-person workroom. Because of her responsibilities Willis sews less now than she once did, but she never really stops. "I go out on the floor and sew to come up with new ideas all the time. I always try to be more creative," she says. "You have to realize draperies probably are the most difficult design element in a room. Each piece is custom made to fit the window's dimensions and the desired function as well as to support the stylistic integrity of the room's design. You're really creating an original every time," Willis says.
Each Robb & Stucky store has a coordinator, a person who facilitates the work flow between the design staff and the workroom. Willis explains it is the coordinator who does all the estimating and completes the work orders. "We like our designers to be totally free to work with customers," she says. "Our coordinators do all the estimating -- all the breaking down of sizes -- so our designers are out selling not sitting behind a desk calculating figures. Their time is better spent selling. That's what they do best," Willis says.
Of course, fewer mistakes are likely with one person at each store responsible for the paperwork. Willis understands the difficulty of completing the worksheets, which she admits "is a chore in itself." Over the years, she has worked and reworked the work order form. "Every workroom should have one worksheet to get accustomed to so people aren't spending time searching for answers," she advises.
More often than not, the company designers will bring in unique designs. "Quite often our designers will come in with just a picture that they found in some magazine somewhere in this world and we have to go from that. Often it will be just a sketch of something they dreamed up. We do many, many, many one-of-a-kind, unusual treatments," Willis says. She recalls a recent project in Pittsburgh, PA, that involved five arched windows along one wall with a finished length of 300 inches. Each window was handled as an individual treatment butted up against the next, she says.
Once a design enters the workroom it can be handled in a number of ways, Willis explains. A fancy top treatment is likely to be given to one person who works on it from beginning to end. Straight draperies or panels follow something like an assembly line: one person does the side hem, another the bottom hem and someone else does the pleating. In this manner, Robb & Stucky often works on up to 20 window treatments a day.
In-home measurements are taken by one of the installers hired by Robb & Stucky. Willis says, ideally, it's best to get the person who will do the actual installation to take the measurements. During measurements crew members are asked to take photographs of any unusual windows or architectural elements that may be useful once fabrication begins. Although sub-contracted out, all of the installers work only for Robb & Stucky. "We keep them busy enough," Willis says.
All the Right Moves
Robb & Stucky's tremendous growth over the past two decades seems far from over as is evident from its plans to expand both in size and product mix. In May 1997, the company opened a 113,000-square-foot showroom and studio in Scottsdale, AZ -- its only location outside of Florida. (In addition to Fort Myers and Naples, Robb & Stucky has showrooms in Sarasota, Clearwater and Altamonte Springs, a suburb of Orlando.) In September 1997 it moved its Fort Myers headquarters across town to a new facility, which also houses a 65,000-square-foot showroom and interior design studio. This year, a 35,000-square-foot expansion is scheduled for its Naples gallery and studio.
The company also has made moves into specialty retailing and additional profit centers. It opened the first two of three planned patio stores late last year with the third scheduled for this month. Also in the planning stage is a second clearance center.
With its record over the past 18 years, whatever is in the offing for Robb & Stucky, it's sure to be a winner. "As for strategic planning," Lubner says, "we have a history of making the right decisions at the right time."