One Week's Worth

Its been another exciting, inconsistent and newsworthy week since the last post...already one week old. An "election" in Iran, shenanigans in South Carolina, the passing of not one but two icons of my youth....and closer to home, an escape to the beach, unpredictable business, and new opportunities.

The Dallas Lighting Market just ended this week. My sources tell me it was the slowest market ever, with several exhibitors announcing they would not be back. The June market is slow anyway, so maybe they should just have it once a year in January. I am getting ready to go to the Atlanta Gift Mart next week, and am looking forward to it because I haven't been in about 10 years. It will be interesting to see how its developed. I am going as an Interior Design Society trade member, and will be sitting in on some design seminars. It will be a good insight into what is happening in design circles these days.

On another front, I visited with Charleston Forge last week. It was really time for us to catch up, since they are such an important supplier to us and have been through lots of changes these past few years. I was really struck by the fact that they STILL make everything by hand. It is really amazing to see these guys beating on iron, bending steel and making beautiful furniture. They have tons of prototypes, discontinueds, and floor samples just lying around in their showroom and factory floor. We (CR) are going to sell these items as closeouts, and you can get a sneak preview here. Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but I think Charleston Forge is one of the most unique manufacturers in the county, and these closeouts are unbelievable deals. I just think everyone should have a piece of CF in their home.

We fit in a visit to Sunset Beach, and had a great time boogie-boarding in the surf. It was really hot, though, and you could not stay on the beach for more than a few hours. By noon, it was just unbearable. So, thats when I went for my run on Sunday!

June is ending with a whimper, but not before we posted one of our best June sales months ever. That is the inconsistent part of the month. The good days were really really good, the not-so-good days were very quiet. Nonetheless, we are all grateful for the incremental growth in our business and it has opened some doors to new suppliers. But I must save something for my next post......

A week in Boston

It would be hard to encapsulate this crazy, hectic week in Boston, with the Internet Retailer conference taking up most of the week, ending with a soggy visit with family and seeing lots of old friends in between.

The internet Retailer conference was a huge success in every sense of the word. There were over 5,000 attendees and hundreds of technology suppliers there as well. I arrived on Monday, ealier than I wanted to, and had the chance to meet with some great e-commerce providers that could really help Carolina Rustica. I was able to fit in a visit with some friends for lunch as well, and both Monday and Tuesday nights went out with some of our current vendors, like Google, SLI, and Lenser.

Tuesday was my big presentation, and I was nervous about speaking in such a huge venue. We were in the main room, so it was a little intimidating. But once I got started, I really loosened up and the presentation flowed pretty well. I'll get feedback from the organizers which will tell me how I really did! I hope they invite me back, though, as it is an exciting venue, filled with some very dynamic thinkers. That sounds cliche, but its true.

Internet retailing in the next few years is going to continue to evolve, and merchants are getting incredibly savvy as to what customers desire in order to make a sound purchasing decision. We are going to keep up with these rapid changes as best we can (as a small company) since we depend on our website business as much as our in-store business.

Carolina Rustica on MultiChannel Merchant

Here is a quick summary of what I recently had to say to our friends at Multichannel Merchant about the use of social media. Multichannel Merchant has really become a leader in exploring the dynamic world of interacting channels, from brick-and-mortar to catalog to internet. They cover a lot of ground in an exciting industry.

Social Climbing: Niche Marketers are Finding New Customers Thanks to Social Media

Carolina Rustica has made some attempts on Facebook and MySpace, says Richard Sexton, president/CEO of the furniture and home decor merchant. “But we really need to improve these and make the content more relevant and valuable to visitors.”

The fact is, Sexton says, “it is really time consuming keeping those pages current when we also devote time to our more visible blog.” But some social media networks “have really blossomed as a viable driver of traffic, both paid and nonpaid,” he notes

Taking Responsibility

Yesterday, one of our much larger competitors, Boyles Furniture, filed Chapter 11. They had already closed several stores, but remained a Top 100 furniture store with operations in NC, SC and Florida. They are going to continue to operate under Chapter 11 protection, and their objective is to shed the debt that has burdened them so badly in the recession.

What burns me is that Boyles, and companies like them, incurred this debt willingly as part of over-aggressive expansion plans. They signed contracts, procured loans, built up their empire without consideration of a downturn. However, as this story in the Charlotte Observer reports, Boyles seems very non-plussed about the effects of declaring Chapter 11. We had to file to do what was right for the creditors, employees and customers associated with our operations,” founder Larry Hendricks said in a news release. Whaaaat? Dear Mr. Hendricks, what exactly do you think happens when you declare bankruptcy? These are the exact parties that get hurt when you erase debt under Chapter 11. It was your own business decisions that led you to this point. The economy did not help at all, for sure, but a little restraint could have gone a long way.

I consider Boyle's a good competitor, even though we may not even be on their radar. They have nice showrooms, a high-end supplier portfolio, and a good designer base. However, they over-expanded and ignored some fundamental business principles. Now their creditors and dismissed employees are paying the price. Its not "right" for any of those parties, nor for customers who may now have to worry about their furniture being delivered.

Rest assured, Carolina Rustica is in terrific financial condition, with no debt and year-to-date growth of 8% over last year. We will continue to act in a conservative and mutually-beneficial fashion with our customers, employees, and suppliers.

Blogging about Blogs

I'll try to avoid making this too self-promotional, but one of our favorite magazines, Multi-Channel Merchant, did a nice write-up about how businesses use social media to reach out to customers. The article mentions both the potential benefits and pitfalls of placing your brand on Facebook, through Twitter, or your own in-house blogs.

A Big Announcement Regarding Our Web Site

Carolina Rustica Selects Burke Communications For Web Site Upgrades

CHARLOTTE, NC – Carolina Rustica, an interior furnishing store in Concord, N.C., has contracted with Burke Communications to update its Web site and implement search engine optimization.

Carolina Rustica was challenged by the growth in products and categories in its home-furnishings retail Web site. With over 25,000 products online and new manufacturers being added every month, navigating between specific categories was becoming cumbersome for customers. Additionally, the company was facing challenges from category-specific Web sites that sell a single product line, making site navigation and checkout easier for customers. Search engine rankings were also a consideration, given the broad array of their products.

Beginning with Carolina Rustica's lighting division, Burke Communications greatly simplified the shopping cart and checkout process, making it very easy for customers to purchase chandeliers, outdoor lighting, and other lighting products from Carolina Rustica's Web site. The updated e-commerce function will be applied across all of Carolina Rustica's departments. Burke also established SEO for Carolina Rustica's overall Web site to increase traffic to the site from leading search engines.

"We've seen a significant increase in our Web site traffic, as well as our sales conversion rate in our lighting products. Previously, most customers opted to call us to complete their purchase rather than check out online, but we're seeing a great improvement in e-commerce with the improvements Burke made. We are excited about bringing the upgrades across the site," said Richard Sexton, Carolina Rustica's president.

Carolina Rustica is a 9-year old company that has grown by offering an open, customer-oriented approach to selling fine furniture, lighting and kitchen accents. It operates a retail store in Gibson Mill at 325 McGill Road in Concord, N.C., and a Web site, serving customers all across the country. The company's philosophy is to be as open and transparent as possible, offering complete information about the company and the products it sells, so customers understand and feel comfortable with what they are buying and the company standing behind the sale.

Burke Communications is a full-service advertising agency experienced in branding and Internet marketing. Since 1991, Burke Communications has developed and implemented integrated communication solutions for regional, national and global businesses with advertising, design, video and Internet projects. In 2008 it was ranked as Charlotte's 7th largest Web design firm by the Charlotte Business Journal, and No. 1 on The Mecklenburg Times' list of the 10 fastest-growing Web design agencies in Mecklenburg County, N.C. In 2009, the firm rose to number 13 on the Charlotte Business Journal's list of top advertising and marketing agencies. For more information, please call 704-377-2600 or visit