Since opening in 2013, Ohio’s Fleurish Home has seen sales of home décor and accessories grow steadily. Today, home décor accounts for 45% of its total sales. Photos by Audra Shields.
While 2020 was an uneven year for home décor retail, it taught Ohio-based store owner Debra Campbell one particularly valuable lesson. When her three Fleurish Home stores were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and business was reliant on online sales, Campbell reached deep to keep things running.
“I had all my stores’ phones forwarded to my cell phone, filling orders from my kitchen counter to make every sale I could. It helped me understand how strong and resilient I am and it made me more confident as a businessperson,” Campbell told Home Accents Today. “A lot of times as an entrepreneur, you look at some of the other things you could be doing and you don’t necessarily celebrate the wins. I definitely celebrated the wins this year.”
And here’s the biggest win to celebrate — through it all, Fleurish Home continued its trajectory of growth since opening its doors in 2013. Prior to getting into the home décor business, Campbell owned and operated Wall Artistry, a company that specialized in artistically painted walls. She also taught painting classes, which then was parlayed into selling chalk paint. That eventually turned into today’s family of home accent and gift stores in the Cincinnati/Dayton metro area that focuses on the middle of the market. The name is a play on words, combining the artistic flourish with the French word for flower.
“My vision at the time was I want to have a great home accent store where people can find things that aren’t [big box] but aren’t high end designer studio. It seemed everything was one or the other; you were really low end or really high end,” she said. “Where’s all the middle ground? That’s what most of us want. That’s the Holy Grail if you can find that.”
Campbell and her husband, Doug, opened the first Fleurish Home in Springboro — a city of 17,000 between Cincinnati and Dayton — in May of 2013. “We had so many people coming in from further in Cincinnati. Springboro is technically the northernmost suburb of Cincinnati but everybody considers it a suburb of Dayton,” Campbell recalled. “We used to call it ‘Cincinnati Saturday’ because every shopper on Saturday was from Cincinnati. It was great, but we thought if we have a store in Cincinnati, wouldn’t that be nicer?”
While looking for a shop in Cincinnati, things took a detour to the north. One of Campbell’s best paint buying stores in Columbus closed, so Fleurish Home’s second shop opened in Ohio’s capital in 2014 (they closed the store in 2019 to focus on the area closer to home). The Cincinnati shop opened in June of 2015 and the newest store, located in Hamilton, opened in September of 2017. The Hamilton building also serves as Fleurish Home’s warehouse and distribution center.
Last year, Hamilton was Fleurish’s strongest store by far. Its uptick in sales and the strength of online business helped maintain growth in a challenging year. Campbell credited a strong sense of community and a greater willingness to shop local.
“I think the idea of shop local is something that’s been out in the conversation for some time but I think there’s been a huge shift in how that message has been taken by the general public [in 2020],” she said. “The Hamilton community was really proactive in that and we saw good growth. Our other two stores were down for the year. We weren’t down a ton, but we were down. Without online and without the community support, it would have been a tough year.”
The three stores are similarly sized (Springboro has around 1,100 square feet of selling space while Cincinnati has around 1,000 square feet and Hamilton has some 1,200 square feet of showroom, not counting the warehouse area). They’re also merchandised similarly to create the look that consumers in southwestern Ohio have come to expect.
“One of my staff members described it well. The stores are like sisters; you can tell they’re related but each has a bit of its own personality,” Campbell said. “I know we’re doing a good job in that when somebody walks in and says it looks really familiar. We do such a good job of it, even when we do something at a show — we do several pop-up events and set it up like it’s a store — and then they realize it’s Fleurish. That’s very rewarding to know we have worked very hard to create the look and people know us by our style and they like what they see.”
Paint was the store’s key driver in its earliest years, but home décor overtook it a few years ago and now comprises 45% of Fleurish Home’s total sales. Of the home décor categories, seasonal accounts for 60% of sales with Christmas décor as a particularly strong piece of business. Other key categories include artwork, objects and accents, faux botanicals, pillows, throws and rugs.
In addition to home accents and paint, Fleurish Home also sells gifts and a few furniture pieces. “On some of our furniture pieces, we’ll have the finish rings hanging to let people know it is something they can get in other finishes that we can order,” Campbell said, noting that she handles all of these sales herself while letting her staff take care of the everyday business.
Social media is another aspect of the business that Campbell manages herself. “That’s something I don’t want to pass on to somebody else to manage,” she said. “Because we have three stores, I’m not out on the sales floor. I’ll be out there a little but I can’t be in three places at once, and if I work all the stores in a week, I can’t do the operational things I have to do. I look at it as social media is my way to connect with all of the Fleurish customers from all of the stores personally.”
Being active on social media is only one piece of the online puzzle, and Campbell said she was an adopter of e-commerce earlier than many of her contemporaries. She said for much of the existence of the shop’s website, she had second thoughts about selling online, primarily because the site wasn’t creating many sales, but one conversation changed her perspective.
“Somebody said something to me that struck a chord: don’t worry about trying to compete with Amazon, but you need to make it easier for your customers to shop with you. I did a survey and what I found was we had around 75% of our customers who had been on our website but less than 10% who had bought,” she said, noting that today, Fleurish Home boasts around 2,500 products online. “That reinforced that people want it but I’m not judging if my e-com is a success based on what the dollars are. If they’re coming and saying they saw it on the website, I know it’s worth it.”
Having an established online presence paid dividends in 2020. So, too, did taking time to re-evaluate everything about the business during the shutdown.
“When we had to shut down, I had to do everything myself. You really start to think about the things I need to do myself and the things I need to have other people do that I do myself now,” Campbell said. “I looked at restructuring the staff based on learning all of these new roles we have now and this new way of doing business. Every step of the way I had to reexamine how it’s done and how I could do it better because I had the time.”
Other hard-learned lessons included the importance of leaving personal tastes out of buying decisions and how to interpret what customers mean when describing styles.
“You can’t take what people say literally. You have to learn how to interpret what they like and what they’re looking for. That takes time,” Campbell said. “I don’t think as a new business, you can know that instinctively. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point that I’m confident in what our customer base is looking for.”
Finding the perfect accessories among a sea of sameness is yet another difficult aspect of being in the business. Campbell said one way she remedies this is by rotating purchases from vendors to keep the assortment as fresh as possible.
In terms of the rewarding pieces of business, Campbell didn’t hesitate to mention her customers and their valuable feedback. With every sale, Campbell said she asks for photos of how the piece looks in the home because it excites her and her team. She recalled one unique display item (that Doug didn’t think she would part with) that proved particularly memorable.
“I had a vintage dress form that I purchased from an antique show that I loved and used as a display in a wedding area and I had a customer that asked to buy it,” she said. “It took two or three months for her to send me a picture of how she decorated in her house. She added some faux botanicals to it and has the corner set up with a beautiful velvet chair. I’m so happy she bought it because it’s so perfect for her and she’s so excited about it. It feels so good to know you played this little part.”
And as the industry gets deeper into 2021 and further from the tumult of 2020, Campbell believes it will maintain its positive momentum.
“I think it’s going to be a really good year for the industry. People are still spending a lot of time in their homes. They’re thinking ‘What’s behind me when I’m on these Zoom office calls?’ Or they’re looking around and saying they’ve had this color on their walls for the last 10 years and now they need to paint them and add new pillows and curtains,” she said. “I think a lot of people are going to be doing that. I think outdoor living is something I’m going to be looking for at market that I’ve never looked for in the past.”