WESTFIELD, N.J. — When Kelly Richardson acquired The Farmhouse Store in August 2021, the Bracewood Capital managing partner brought his Fortune 50 experience to a beloved mom-and-pop retailer operating in one of the United States’ wealthiest small towns, and he paired his financial commitment with a goal to expand and diversify the customer base.
“My background is in finance and accounting, and I was looking for investment opportunities,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t looking for retail, and I had no experience in brick-and-mortar, nor furniture and interiors, but I felt this business was well positioned to receive my skillset.”
Operated by the previous owners for 14 years and located in a “jewel of a downtown area,” The Farmhouse Store has played a significant role in the community, according to Richardson.
In addition to the inherent physical charm of the store as a destination, the previous owners were actively involved in the day-to-day operations and well known for their customer service. However, after making it through the COVID pandemic, they decided to move beyond retail and into their next professional endeavor, and Richardson decided to become a furniture store owner, prevailing in a “little bit of a bidding situation” with a $1 million-plus purchase price.
“The store met my financial requirements, and it is also close to home, so I jumped on the opportunity and took ownership on Aug. 30,” he said. “Now it is about what happens next.”
Settling in and looking forward
Following the 15th anniversary celebration of The Farmhouse Store in April, Richardson hopes to expand in New Jersey and beyond. He is utilizing his financial career experience to explore the feasibility of store locations and research demographics, all while also thoughtfully adding new product categories and SKUs, offering in-store financing, developing an e-commerce strategy and supporting the existing customer base as business returns to normal.
“My focus right now is to stabilize sales after the transition and as the industry grapples with the post-COVID environment,” Richardson said. “During the pandemic, a large number of households invested in their home interiors and/or made moves to new homes. Both were favorable to the industry.
“We’re now in a space where many home interiors are completed and people aren’t looking as much to big projects. As a new store owner, I’m working to learn what that means for the business and what the best practices are to maintain and grow the business when the industry is expecting a slowdown,” he added. “If all goes well this year, you can expect another Farmhouse Store to open within the next 12 months; that’s my very ambitious goal. I believe in the brand, our staff and that we have what our customers are looking for.”
Part of the expansion strategy is identifying specific demographic areas, Richardson said.
“We’re looking at where people in the 35 to 55 age group are moving, at the growth of nearby cities, and at housing styles that meet the needs of people downsizing in the 55 to 75 age range.
“When I took on the business, our customer base was fairly homogenous,” he continued. “But we see a broader county shift and more ethnic diversity coming into the city. We’re adding to the styles available in the store slowly with assorted colors and patterns with a goal of creating a fun place to shop for everyone.”
A perusal of The Farmhouse Store product line highlights well-known furniture and décor brands and a varied selection of gift products. The inventory supports the store’s loyal base, and ironically, supply chain issues support Richardson’s long-range plan is to bring a larger variety of product options to an expanded, diverse clientele.
“The supply chain challenges have impacted us as much as anyone,” he said. “We find that customers are shopping around lead times and in a custom shop like ours, that creates an opportunity to emphasize the value our clients are getting with particular fabrics and brands. Because everyone in the space is experiencing the same constraints, we want to make sure our customers know what’s going on, what to expect, and why. We understand that customers want their pieces sooner than when they are available right now, and we’re trying to find ways to encourage clients to make purchases well in advance of when they are needed. For example, if you’re looking for a dining table for family gatherings during the fall and winter holidays, now is the time to purchase.”
New ways to buy, new styles to see
Realizing that some customers don’t have the necessary funds on hand to buy immediately, Richardson has partnered with a third party to offer financing to customers, and he is extending opportunities for one-year payment terms arranged directly with the store. His goal is to support his customers in achieving their desired vision for their homes, whatever their budget, whatever their style.
“I’ve seen many customers piece together a room or their home over time due to financial restrictions,” Richardson explained. “We want to help remove that barrier in ways that aren’t onerous on the client.
“We’re also exploring e-commerce and want to try it out with our gift items and accessories as we discover what the best role is for it and our store. I expect this to be a slow rollout as we don’t want to lose focus on our in-store experience and service, which is what our customers have come to love us for.”
Farmhouse, eclectic & more
Richardson’s goal of increasing the diversity of his customer base requires merging legacy success strategies with a new vision focused on inclusion. Stating that he wants all people of color to feel that The Farmhouse Store is a “safe place” for them to shop, he added that his team is incorporating new styles along with inclusive messaging.
“Our creative director and lead designer, Sabrina Mizerek, left four years ago, so one of the first things I did was to find her and bring her back,” Richardson said. “She makes the decisions regarding what pieces come to the floor.”
He thinks the juxtaposition of data and design will support future growth.
“My experience is in setting up pathways for customer feedback to reach us and in bringing more transparent data to our team regarding buying decisions and what’s driving them,” Richardson said. “I trust Sabrina to translate what we’re seeing in data and feedback to a gorgeous floor gallery for our clients and designers to enjoy. She’s done a great job balancing and tempering our desire to expand our offerings while staying true to our core brands that have worked well for us.”
Diversity on the floor and in the back office
Richardson realizes that many customers might be surprised to learn that the owner of The Farmhouse Store is a Black businessman who is content to manage numbers while his team takes a community treasure to new heights and new customers.
“I’m very much a behind-the-scenes person, and I certainly don’t want to be a distraction,” Richardson concluded. “I’m a person of color; there’s no hiding that. Does it impact my experience in the industry? Yes, of course. I come in a different package than what is most common in premium, bespoke, home interior retail.
“That said, I want to keep the focus on our customers and what matters most to them, which is the experience in their homes and how we can support that. We’re walking in faith on this and moving forward with the belief that there is so much more to gain than lose.”