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Dervilla Designs Grows 70% Above Expectations: Retail Profile

Furniture World Magazine


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Adele Tosh and Sirous Fozouni are writing a remarkable success story.

"Some people have simple taste. They only want the best." This headline was used for one of Dervilia Designs' recent print advertisements. It also expresses the philosophy of Dervilia's President, Adele Tosh.

Adele, with her husband and partner Sirous Fozouni, have just celebrated the first anniversary of their newly expanded 9,500 square foot store. "We've not finished our year end, but we know that right now we're doing 60 to 70 percent more than we had projected." Dervilia is located in the heart of downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's second city, a parkland university town astride the South Saskatchewan River.

Their success is a remarkable accomplishment in our '90s economy. Saskatoon is Adele's home town and her favorite city, bar none. She spent the past seven years in Toronto, first graduating from the International Academy of Merchandising and Design, then honing her marketing and interior design skills within the home furnishings and design industry. "My idea was always to come back to Western Canada and open a store where I could work with textiles, custom built furniture, and offer accessories and antiques for the home."

Adele, the creative driving force behind Dervilia, said, "The store has an international ambiance. We've used warm colors to develop a friendly, inviting environment. We play upbeat but relaxing music. The decor is unique, extremely mixed and the atmosphere is very social. People are bringing their friends into the store just to experience it.

"I believe it's important to keep an open feeling throughout the space, so people can look from one vignette to the next and not get lost in a maze of little room-like, closed-in areas. With that sort of arrangement you can forget where you saw an item you liked by the time you get to the sixth vignette! In our store, you simply turn around and you can see the items you're interested in.

"Our ceilings are very high, and there's a mezzanine from which you can look down at the activity in the store." There's a sweeping staircase to the mezzanine which occupies another 2,000 square feet and serves as a design area and the home for authentic Persian carpets, one of the best selections in the province, together with a rich array of in stock fabric and drapery samples.

Print advertising forms a minor portion of Dervilia's communications budget. Television works particularly well for them. "We like the immediate response. We see customers in the store as a result of television within two or three days. Our commercials are unusual, black, white and sepia, lots of shadows and romantic lighting and no voice-over at all, just soft Spanish guitar as background. The camera fades in and out slowly, a sophisticated effect that draws you in."

But Adele feels direct mail is "Tops! The most focused. For a sale, or a new product coming in, direct mail is perfect." Adele believes strongly in consistent follow-up techniques. "When people buy from us we send them a thank you letter, photographs of the product they purchased and samples of the fabrics in a Dervilia folder. Then they can take the folder with them when they shop for other home furnishings. We also supply them with information about the care of the product, how to clean fabric or leather.

"Usually they'll need chairs, drapery or accessories to go with their purchase, so we send them notes about what they might be planning to do next with their homes.

The semi-annual $l million auction sale is very popular with Dervilia customers. "The pieces chosen for the auction are by customer request. They come in and tell us what they would like to see in the auction. It helps us turn our inventory and it creates a little bit of excitement that brings people into the store twice each year. They are buying things they absolutely love, and they make other smaller purchases during the auction. Carpets do very well at the auctions, too."

During the September auction, customers were able to charge their purchases to their Dervilia charge cards with no interest/no payment until January, l997.

Adele decided to launch her own in-house charge card with same day confirmation of instant credit some months ago, to "give customers more flexibility in planning their purchases. It provides another option to the more traditional lay-away plan. We're trying to help our customers put a whole look together, to be able to afford to finish off an area at a time rather than just buy a sofa and have to wait to purchase chairs, a carpet or accessories to go with it."

Because of Dervilia's uniqueness, local media have provided a great deal of valuable public relations exposure.

On site design service has been offered from opening day, and now represents 40 to 50 percent of total business. "We encourage our staff to attend design school; one is studying at Ryerson now.

"My role," said Adele, "is to gently point customers in the right direction, open them up to the possibilities of what their homes can be, an expression of their own personalities and lifestyle. We try to bring in a cross section of good quality products, including a collection of whimsical and fantasy pieces, antiques, mirrors, carpets and accessories, at affordable prices. If we don't have what a client wants, we'll track it down or design it ourselves. That's one of our specialties. We can also refurbish, reupholster or redesign existing furniture."

Customers have been coming in from Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and "even Oregon! Down the way, we project having a few stores in Western Canada, possibly in Regina or Calgary to begin with to help us serve the customers we already have in those cities."

Dervilia, Adele tells me, is a Latin word which means "True Desire", certainly significant to the retail philosophies Adele, Sirous and their customer base!

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.