Florida-based retailer develops special relationships with customers, learns their aesthetics, their budgets and helps them actualize their dreams for beautiful homes.
It was carved in stone. Literally. In 1996, Donnie Saxon and his partner, Tom Clark, conjured up a retail venture “Unique to the furniture industry. We wanted a sign for our store that would convey quality and longevity but would not cost us a fortune,” said Donnie. “Just starting out, we were putting the majority of our funds towards renovating the space and inventory.
“I visited a granite yard and happened to see a discarded bro- ken piece of granite with beautiful color and texture. The only issue was that it was broken on one end. The yard gave me the broken piece. I took a hammer to it and was able to match the raw edge on the other end, so it looked like it was supposed to be that way.
“A local artisan engraved 'Saxon- Clark' onto it, then hand applied 24 carat gold paint, and voila! a sign that has stood the test of time!
“It currently hangs in the Design Center at our Altamonte Springs store, the heart of Saxon-Clark. It's a daily reminder of our humble beginnings and serves as a reminder that the hands-on can-do approach that worked for us in the past is still one of our best assets when it comes to customer service.”
Today, the award-winning Saxon-Clark Furniture Patio Design’s showroom of over 30,000 square feet in Altamonte Springs, Florida, displays “The finest furniture, accessories and rugs at the best prices possible. We recently opened a second 3,000 square foot showroom, a much more intimate setting, in our original College Park, (Orlando) location to better serve customers. We price at 40 percent off MSRP, not some made-up retail price. This was our pricing policy 22 years ago, and it still holds true today.”
Saxon-Clark quickly established a strong reputation for exemplary white glove delivery service, per- formed personally by Donnie and Tom. It was only two years later that they opened a second show- room at the Oak Grove Shoppes in Altamonte Springs, 10 minutes north of Orlando.
In 2001, came the opportunity to activate a third location on Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando. “The economy and the clientele had demanded more square footage and product.”
Donnie, originally from Augusta, Georgia, had worked in the news- paper industry for 10 years. There he honed his customer service skills and developed a keen eye for design. “In the 90s, I was a design consultant to realtor friends. They sought my advice and vision to aid them in selling upscale homes.”
And Saxon-Clark has benefited greatly from Donnie’s “go with the flow” philosophy in both industry downturns and upturns. “Tuning in to the economic market and our customers’ needs, plus being adaptable, has been the secret of our success.
The Economic Downturn
“We had just experienced our biggest year in sales, but I had a feeling, ‘This just can’t keep going’. When the economy shifted in 2008, we were ahead of the curve, already having begun to downsize, shift focus and adjust offerings. All our showroom space was consolidated into the Altamonte Springs location to be able to serve our customers and support our vendors throughout the downturn.”
Donnie wanted a business model that would encompass true design in every aspect.
“We listen to our customers and respond to their wants and needs. That's why Saxon-Clark has evolved into a full-service business supplying everything for their homes all the way down to just the right light bulb!”
In 2011, Donnie and Tom hired Jason Baird as General Manager of the Altamonte location. Another landmark year. Jason already had 20 years of experience that helped him to effectively manage Saxon-Clark’s talented staff. Contributions to the company in his first year inspired Donnie and Tom to offer him a partnership.
Jason oversaw the renovation of the new College Park location, “a more convenient place for many of the Central Florida designers who utilize us, as well as an opportunity to work in the community that helped launch our store. I think our style blends seamlessly with the College Park community and the residents have welcomed us back with open arms.” The Grand Opening offered “Light Bites, Wine & Open House” and the chance to “Win a Recliner”, “Pick Up A Discount Card to Save BIG” and, very important and effective, to “Meet Designers & Get Expert Advice”.
At age 16, Jason had his first taste of home furnishings retailing. And it wasn’t then for love of design. He was “studying criminology, while working in the warehouse of the Fort-Myers based furniture chain, Robb & Stucky. It was a part-time job, doing trash.” His work ethic quickly earned him a promotion to box opener and truck loader. “Then I taught myself to drive trucks in order to become a delivery driver.”
By age 21, Jason was the Warehouse Manager at Robb & Stucky. He was promoted to Operations Manager, then General Manager of a Robb & Stucky store.
Today, he is General Manager and Partner of both up-scale Saxon-Clark locations.
Jason feels that “Our staff, many of whom have been with us for well over 10 years, some from the very beginning,” is the most important factor that has driven Saxon-Clark’s success. “We all wear many hats and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
“Since we don’t have high turn-over, we are extremely selective and, if we do hire someone, it’s usually through a recommendation. “The same applies to our administrative staff. We have a great support team in place. From the front of the office to the back of the house.”
Saxon-Clark offers in-store training on many levels. Jason cited their all-important delivery people. “The staff we have in place used to be professional furniture movers. So, they know all the ins and outs of moving furniture! They wear moisture wicking shirts with our logo. Delivery trucks are wrapped with graphics and our logo. And they have a custom lift gate to load and unload furniture safely.”
Well aware of climate change, “We use all LED lighting in our stores, and strive to reduce our carbon footprint through eco-friendly HVAC and fuel-efficient delivery trucks.
“Since we designed a ‘Green Home’ for a builders’ magazine, we’re tuned into products and practices that are sustainable. “While we don’t necessarily go out and seek eco-friendly furnishings, we are always cognizant of its availability, and we purchase fabrics, textiles and furniture that, whenever possible, won’t deplete the planet.
“Saxon-Clark is known for its customer service. The highest compliment we can receive is when one of our customers sends in their neighbor, family member or friend. We don’t look for sales people to work in our stores, we look for designers and employees with an interest in design. Anyone can sell furniture, but it takes a special person to develop a relationship with the customer, learn their aesthetic and budget and help them actualize what’s in their head.”
The Saxon-Clark customer base extends all over the United States and abroad. “We tailor service to our clients’ preferences. At a certain point, nearly every larger client will require an in-person visit. Personalized service is where we excel.”
“The majority of our customers are 35-plus. We present a good-better-best story offering quality classic to contemporary furnishings. Furniture at Saxon-Clark is heirloom quality. Our customers tend to have discerning taste and definitive opinions about their aesthetic.
“Younger customers are seeking quality, choosing to ‘buy smart’, and furniture that’s made to last. Saxon-Clark’s ‘Make it Yours’ program offers options to choose fabrics, finishes, woods, and more to truly create something that is unique and one of a kind.” A bespoke vision.
“We present in-store design workshops that will help to turn customers into long-term clients, then into friends. The more they know, the more they appreciate what we offer and what we do. It builds trust. Developing long-term relationships is key to our success.” Donnie and Jason share an outreach-based focus. “Giving back to the community is something we feel strongly about. If we can share our success and help others, it’s a win-win. Kids Beating Cancer® is a particularly touching cause we've supported this year. Saxon-Clark donated funds to the Mennello Museum of American Art, a breast cancer charity and the Zebra Coalition. We also provided backpacks and school supplies for under-served youth in Central Florida.
Saxon-Clark has studied the most efficient and effective methods of communicating with customers over time and has increased its use of video on social media. Said Jason, “Over the last 22 years we have utilized print, radio, television, direct mail and the Internet.
What works best for us is television. Furniture and design require visual media.
“What works best for us is television. Furniture and design require visual media. The best marketing and advertising outcomes for us have come when we tell a story, and SHOW product! Television has a broad reach and has been very effective for Saxon-Clark in the Central Florida market.”
The company gets lots of additional exposure through “high profile projects and awards. Saxon-Clark designs many show houses and has won multiple awards. Donnie designed a Boca Raton home that was featured on ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ and has been featured on HGTV several times. “
Additional awards and accolades include: American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Awards; multiple Aurora Awards; President’s Awards; National Council of the Housing Industry; Street of Dreams Awards and Builders Awards.
Each October and April, Saxon and Baird attend the High Point Market and other shows, both national and international. Buying is an art that can occur anywhere. “We are always seeking to find new and unique furniture, rugs and accessories for our clients and that sometimes takes us out of traditional markets and outlets. Often we will source things specially for a discerning design client who wants a one-of-a-kind piece."
At Saxon-Clark, the concept of design is paramount which is why their website has been created to offer unusually easy interactivity. Creative customers can “custom build” their upholstery, choose style, body and pillow fabric. They can use the Room Planner, then E-mail their plans to family, friends or a decorator.
“We don’t currently sell online. It makes more sense for us to stay true to our original business model and tag-line of ‘See it, Feel it and Live it’. With our 70-plus brands, our in-house floral department, our rug showroom, custom window treatments, flooring, bedding, accessories and more, there is just so much for the customer to absorb!
“In order for our customers to really love their purchase and enjoy it for years, we encourage them to visit one of our showrooms. Our designers and experts help guide them through the process to complete the look of their room, all the way down to that proverbial light bulb! We may, one day, make the transition to selling a few items online. But, for now, we like customers to experience the wow factor of our products on display, meet and interact with our design staff.”
“Our in-house floral department is a major asset for customers.” Hundreds of floral designs adorn the showrooms from cozy arrangements to lifelike palm trees in patio groupings. Donnie said, “To find the right size tree or silk floral arrangement that perfectly accents their furniture and living space can be difficult. Our customers can choose their container, their colors, flowers, greenery and more. From azaleas to zinnias, we build fabulous floral arrangements for our customers that fit any space or aesthetic.” He laughed, “Our handcrafted ornamental trees are so lifelike that some folks have been known to water them!”
Over the years Saxon-Clark has developed an important relationship with the design trade. “Jason handles the to-the-trade department along with Ann Marie Wilson in the front office. Since Jason knows the business from design to delivery, he was the natural choice to head up our program.
He knows how designers want to work and can facilitate the easiest and best outcomes for them. Ann Marie brings a wealth of experience to our program and helps keep it running smoothly.”
The future of Saxon-Clark? Said Donnie, “As a company, we will continue to evolve and grow and give back to our community. If you follow economic and political trends, you will notice that we are beginning to see more furniture and textiles being made in America, and I think that will continue for the next 10 years or so. Whenever possible we source custom upholstery made in the States because, in my experience, the U.S.A. is just the best when it comes to upholstery. Americans want quality and longevity. They want their money’s worth, and I see them demanding that in all aspects of goods in the foreseeable future. And that’s great news for a company like ours that demands the best quality.
We don’t necessarily need to grow in size. We do plan to grow our brand and reputation by offering the best quality, service and design.
“I’ve always said, I don’t want to be the biggest, I just want to be the best.”
As more people become involved in the design and aesthetic of their homes,
we see a growing trend toward customized home furnishings.
The future of the home furnishings industry? “As more people become involved in the design and aesthetic of their homes, we see a growing trend toward customized home furnishings. We carry several lines, including Vanguard, that allow customers to build a headboard, credenza, couch or table to exact specifications. There are literally thousands of options they can mix and match to get a one-of-a-kind piece that fits their needs. We have dedicated space in our Altamonte showroom where the consumer can work with a designer using software that helps them visualize the furniture they build. They can see examples on our floor, see and feel fabrics, finishes and other elements that will go into their design. It’s an engaging and interesting process that our customers really love. They leave knowing that the furniture they've purchased is the perfect fit, feel and look for their families. It's something a big box or chain furniture store can't offer.
“We have added services and departments that most furniture stores don’t have. Saxon-Clark is a one stop shopping experience. Our 30,000 square foot showroom contains a design center, floral department, rug showroom, renovation/remodeling services, custom cabinetry, custom window and bedding departments as well as accessories, mattresses and more. If Saxon-Clark doesn't have it, we can get it.
“Our aim is to take the stress and strain off the customer and make their furniture and design experience top notch!"
Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.