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Retail Success: Domaci

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.3 May/June


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Retail Profile: Domaci

 


Bethlehem PA-based Domaci is a wonderland for eclectically minded, environmentally motivated consumers and perceptive designers.

 

Domaci means home in Czech. Warren and Derrick Clark (the Czech Connection) and their partner, Rebecca Addington, target the creation of the perfect ambiance for their clients and friends, so they can love where they live and find their own perfect “Domaci”.

A wonderland for eclectically minded, environmentally motivated consumers and perceptive designers, the Domaci showroom’s welcome includes almost every kind of home furnishings imaginable. Visualize upholstered and top grain leather furniture, reclaimed wood tables and bookcases, cowhide and natural fiber rugs and iron-forged media cabinets. There’s a custom live-edge program that invites browsers to select from headboards, dining/coffee and side tables that are “uniquely you”. There are crank tables handcrafted from reclaimed teak and recycled iron from India. The vast spectrum swings from clocks, local artisan pieces, soy candles, wooden nickels, unique glass bottles, antique cameras and that ancient typewriter their customers have always been eager to find!

Domaci is a destination in its own right. You’ll find it on East Third Street just off Main Street in legendary Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s “top 100 best places to live”.

Once a center for shipbuilding and renowned since the mid 1800s as America’s largest steel producer, the city’s cultural and historic heritage also includes its interesting choice as the safe storage place for George Washington’s personal effects.

There are three institutions of higher learning at Bethlehem and, since 1937, during the Great Depression, the town has adopted the designation of America’s “Christmas City”. A nice blending of the potpourri of credits is the huge steel star, the Bethlehem Star, perched on top of South Mountain. To round out Bethlehem’s credits, it is the home of the prestigious annual Bach Festival.

Getting Started

We launched our Domaci website in the fall of 2015, followed by a pop-up shop in nearby Easton, Pennsylvania. Shortly after that, we opened our first brick and mortar location.

Could the partners have found a better place for Domaci? “We moved to Bethlehem in 2014, knowing that the area was ripe for the kind of business we wanted to start. The right demographics were there, and there was really no one else doing what we wanted to do.

“Both Derrick and I separately got our starts in retail while in college,” Warren told us. “I wasn’t immediately drawn to design and home furnishings but became interested in décor and really honed my skills while working for the Bombay Company for over seven years. I was a District Manager for them when they filed for bankruptcy in 2007.

 

 

“It was my work with them that took me to Texas where I met Derrick. We were actually neighbors living in the same apartment complex. We have been together since 2005, married in 2012.

“We have very similar tastes in design and décor, even gifting each other with the exact same items one Christmas! Owning our own business had always been at the back of both our minds. And that dream continued to grow once we started planning it together.

“We launched our Domaci website in the fall of 2015, followed by a pop-up shop in nearby Easton, Pennsylvania. Shortly after that, we opened our first brick and mortar location in the spring of 2015 on Bethlehem’s historic Main Street.

“Rebecca joined us during our first year. She came in as a customer during one of our first weekends, and we were immediately attracted to her energy and enthusiasm. We learned that she worked at the Pottery Barn in nearby Allentown, and proceeded to recruit her when we were ready to bring on our first hire.

“She has been instrumental in helping to grow our design services and our customers absolutely love her. Rebecca became a partner in the business in 2018.

“Also in 2018, we relocated from our original shop on Main Street to a larger location nearly three times the size in Bethlehem’s up-and-coming SouthSide Arts District. And we will be opening a second location this fall in downtown Lancaster, PA.”


It was crucial we provide both a great in-store environment and experience
that customers would talk about with their friends and family after they left the shop.

During the first heady months of the virtual store in 2015, owners Warren and Derrick filled orders from inventory they kept in their garage, ordering larger items on demand. “Word of mouth” worked for them then. And it still does. “Some of our best customers have been referrals. We have a limited advertising budget. Even more so when we first started!”

When “bricks and mortar” became an actuality, they knew that it “was crucial we provide both a great in-store environment and experience that customers would talk about with their friends and family after they left the shop. We also rely heavily on social media for promotion and we love it when we notice people ‘tagging’ someone else in a post to make sure they see it.”

Sustainable Retailing

It’s not a surprise that the partners’ philosophy extends to the great wide world of sustainability, a movement that is exponentially gaining impetus, credibility and broad recognition. Susan Inglis, Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, “Met Warren through Home Trends and Design, a founding member of SFC. He and Derrick took our GREENleaders’ class as they were preparing to open the store.

“Our program ‘Sustainable Saturdays’, is a unique program SFC offers to members to support sustainable events in their communities. Regular events help get the message out. We are happy to use all of the tools we offer including SFC's brochures and electronic files. More information about these can be found at https://sustainablefurnishings.org.

“Warren, Derrick and Rebecca are brilliant! They are bringing a great design sense and an empowering attitude to their region, and the result will be many happy homes, I am sure. It is significant that they have a commitment to best practices to sustainability. The home will only be happy in the long run if it sustains a healthy future. Working with Domaci will ensure that.”


The SFC has been vital.
Thanks to them and to the education they provide, we know exactly what to look for when sourcing sustainable furnishings.

To the partners, engagement in the enjoyment and promotion of everything vintage has heightened their awareness of sustainable furnishings. “It’s only going to grow. While some of the younger generation may not be focused on furniture that lasts forever, they are still concerned about where it’s coming from and what it’s made of, and that factory workers are treated fairly and that no harmful chemicals are being used in the manufacturing process.

“The SFC has been vital." Warren continued. "Thanks to them and to the education they provide, we know exactly what to look for when sourcing sustainable furnishings. They’ve helped us find vendors to shop from as well as the right questions to ask when we’re meeting with a potential new vendor.

“Most customers are definitely willing to pay more for furniture they expect to have a longer life span and that won’t end up in the landfill in a couple of years. But if you are asking if they are willing to pay more just because an item is responsibly sourced and produced, then probably not the majority.”

The challenges involved in keeping sustainable furnishings affordable? “Our biggest challenge in that aspect comes down to transportation costs. Which would be a factor even if we weren’t sourcing sustainable goods. The goods themselves are usually truly affordable, but the expense of getting them from the vendor to our showroom and/or our customers' homes is sometimes a deterrent. Our primary vendors are over 1500 miles from Bethlehem, so freight is always a concern. We work with a number of local vendors whenever we can, but that’s not always a possibility.”

They also, “Recycle all paper waste and cardboard packaging. We reuse other packing materials like bubble wrap and packing peanuts whenever possible. Additionally, we attempt to be as ‘paperless’ as possible with most files kept electronically. We also use LED track lighting.”

Customer Engagement

We’ve had calligraphy workshops, maker’s marts, a pop-up flower shop... even a guest speaker on the history of brewing in Bethlehem for ‘Lehigh Valley Beer Week’. We try to keep it fun and entertaining.

Said Warren, “The modern consumer does a lot of research before making a major purchase such as larger furniture pieces, so it would be perfectly natural for them to look around at other, more well-known stores and websites before visiting us. They are just exploring all of their options.

“Engagement really starts when they enter the shop. We have to create an environment that is eye-catching, interesting and that feels like a mini adventure. We believe everyone should be greeted within a minute of entering the shop. Even if they’re just there to browse, we let them know we’re available if they need us for anything.

“If a customer lingers in the store for awhile and seems to be taking interest in certain items, we’ll engage in a little ‘tough talking’... meaning we’ll talk about the piece they’re touching or looking at. This is especially true if they’re looking at one of our items with an interesting history or sustainability story. An example, ‘Did you know that table is made from a recycled foundry mold from Bethlehem Steel?’ or, ‘Did you know that the finish on this table is water-based, and that you don’t need to use coasters to protect it from moisture rings?’ Those sorts of things. Beyond that, we try to keep them engaged when they’re outside the shop with interesting and relevant social media posts.

Our look and style are probably most popular with Millennials, but our regular customer base really does run the gamut.

“And we regularly update the shop’s layout, doing three to four major floor moves a year along with additional ‘tweaks’ so the shop is different just about every time someone comes in. This prompts them to stay longer and explore.

“Additionally, we host events in the shop to keep things engaging, fun and entertaining. We’ve had calligraphy workshops, maker’s marts, a pop-up flower shop and more. We even had a guest speaker who spoke about the history of brewing in Bethlehem for ‘Lehigh Valley Beer Week’. As we grow our design services, we would like to incorporate some in-house workshops to the mix as well.”

Target Demographics

“I wouldn’t say we have a ‘target’ consumer. Our demographics are truly all over the place. Bethlehem is a college town that is also a bedroom community for Philadelphia and New York City. And we have a large population of retirees. So, we try to have a little something for everyone. Our look and style are probably most popular with Millennials, but our regular customer base really does run the gamut. Most customers come in first for great design and quality furnishings. While we do have a handful of customers coming in specifically because of the sustainable pieces, I think most of our customers just end up seeing that as a bonus. It helps them feel better about making a purchase that they probably would have made anyway.”

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Trends

Domaci’s diverse inventory includes the best and brightest of design trends, judiciously chosen for interest, appeal and longevity. Warren said that “In addition to regularly attending the major furniture markets in High Point and Las Vegas, and keeping an eye on industry publications, we also keep a close eye on the social media accounts of retailers in other areas of the country who inspire us and tend to have a similar design aesthetic. More than once we’ve reached out to a fellow retailer to compliment them on something in their shop and ask them if they could share their source with us. As for the future, I think we’re going to see eclectic style continue to grow. People don’t like to be put in boxes and labeled as belonging to one particular style. So we’re going to see vintage pieces mixed with shiny and new items. Industrial elements mixed with more glam finishes.”

Design Services

Domaci reaches out to “Actually partner with the design community and make referrals whenever we have someone approach us with a project that is beyond our scope. We have a great partnership with a local designer whose primary focus is kitchens and bathrooms... not rooms we really focus on. We have sent her a number of referrals for customers who approach us about redoing those rooms. In turn, she has referred customers to us who are looking to update rooms she doesn’t focus on, like living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. In fact, one of our best customers last year came from this partnership. Since we offer our own design services, some in the design community might see us as a competitor, but we do offer a ‘to the trade’ program for any who might be interested.”

Domaci's “In-home consults are a vital part of our Studio D design services. Not only are we able to go in and take important measurements, but we’re also able to get a feel for the entire space and how our customers actually ‘live’ in that environment.”

The partners are constantly looking for ways to add excitement to their retail mix. “For us, in-store events are one of the best ways to create and maintain excitement. I already mentioned our guest speaker during beer week. We also had a ‘Back to the ‘90s’ party one evening awhile back. We served Zima (Jolly Ranchers optional), had a specially curated ‘90s music playlist and invited a local vintage clothing store to have a pop-up shop in our space that night with a focus on ‘90s fashions. It was a fun evening for sure.

“And an on-line experience... we had a customer from out of state who was looking to purchase some Bethlehem-related items for her mother who was from the area. One of the items she wanted was out of stock, and we weren’t sure if it would be available again before Christmas. But we promised we’d keep her up-to-date if so. It just so happened that we did get that item back more quickly than planned (thanks to a great vendor partner!), so we were able to get it to her mom in time for Christmas. Our customer was absolutely thrilled.”

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Staffing

When an addition to Domaci's staff is needed, “We base our choice, first and foremost, on personality. Is this person someone we genuinely enjoy talking to? Do they maintain good eye contact? Would I see myself shopping from them personally? Experience is great, but all of the technical stuff can be taught. I’ve often heard it said that potential employees never get better than their interview, so if we aren’t truly ‘wowed’ by them at that stage in the hiring process, we’re probably going to pass.

We do three to four major floor moves a year along with additional ‘tweaks’ so the shop is different just about every time someone comes in.

“We do provide in-store training. We’re still a small operation, so we don’t have a formal training program just yet. But adequate time is spent with any new employee to make sure they understand policies, procedures, our customer service philosophy, product knowledge and more. “We are working on a more formal training program as we grow, so hopefully that will be something that comes to fruition before the year’s end.

“Currently all employees are paid hourly with commission. There are occasional bonuses. We don’t currently offer health care, but that’s a goal as we grow.”

Customer Service

Domaci has a grand maxim that really covers all aspects of customer service, “Under promise and over deliver!” And that being said, they “Try to keep it as personable and informal as possible. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have formed friendships outside the shop with several of our customers. Just be real and genuine. And always ‘under promise and over deliver’!

Giving Back

“Derrick is a member of Bethlehem’s Historic and Architectural Review Board. We’re both active participants in our downtown association and we’re very active supporters and participants in our retail neighborhood association.

“Additionally, we have regular ‘give-back’ events where a portion of our proceeds from the day or evening will be given to a local charity or organization. Right now we are actually wrapping up a book drive to celebrate ‘Read Across America’ and help ‘Cops ’n Kids’ make their ‘March for the Millionth’ goal to donate one million books to children across the Lehigh Valley. Customers who donate a book (or books) get a discount at Domaci.”

Events & More Services

"I’ve often heard it said that potential employees never get better than their interview,so if we aren’t truly ‘wowed’ by them at that stage in the hiring process, we’re probably going to pass.

Some other marketing treasures were found on Domaci's lively and colorful website. Under the website heading “domaci happenings”, there is an invitation to meet with local real estate experts to get tips on shopping for a new home, plus offering information for those looking to sell. Also, an offer for shoppers to join them for “Live music beginning at 7 p.m. and FREE BEER while you shop!”

Could you resist?!

Warren’s latest news? “We’ve recently added real estate services to our offerings. Both Derrick and Rebecca are now licensed realtors! “So now we can help our customers furnish AND find a home!”

 

Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.
Read other articles by Janet Holt-Johnstone