Over 149 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry

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Retail Success: Studio J Home

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.1 January/February


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Recognizing a void in the central Ohio marketplace, June Sedlak Mooney created Studio J, an artfully selected boutique environment, with music, and an occasional glass of wine!

 

Prepare to be dazzled by colors, shapes, unexpected surprises at the Shoppes at River Ridge, Dublin, Ohio. The realization of long-held concepts. The vision, wisdom and very hard work of June Sedlak Mooney, of Studio J.

There’s not a doubt in the world that June was destined to make her mark in the home furnishings industry. “Wearing many, many hats,” June energetically targeted the creation of her lush 11,000 square foot design oasis. After 38 years, Studio J is her reward.

And it’s a different world. The artfully selected aesthetic of mid - to upper-end brands like Stickley, Henredon, Century, La Barge, Tommy Bahama and Wildwood blend well with eye-catching artwork, lighting, rugs and accessories. Think elegance in a boutique environment. With music and an occasional glass of wine!

Dublin is a growing, northwest suburb of Columbus, Ohio. June recognized a void in the central Ohio/Columbus market. “There are several big box retailers targeting the broad middle market, but people in the area are really excited to have better quality offered to them.” Response has been “extremely positive”.

Ribbons were cut on Labor Day, 2015. “We actually had a soft opening June 21st, not only Father’s Day but my Dad’s 90th birthday. Because I wanted to dedicate Studio J to him,” said June. But excitement grew during the big splash of the Labor Day weekend, special events were staged, there was a musician, a jewelry artist, there were drawings and enticing giveaways.

That rugged 38 years of preparation had been mentored by her late father, John P. Sedlak, founder and owner of Sedlak Interiors, Cleveland, Ohio. June told us that John, an honored veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, the Army’s 222nd Infantry Regiment, was a recipient of The Presidential Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism. After the War, using the G.I. Bill, John attended John Carroll University and graduated from Western Reserve University. Then he started his own furniture store in 1947 on Cleveland’s east side, selling whatever he could out of his garage, mostly appliances. He soon moved to a corner store where he expanded to furniture and carpets and eventually added clocks, accessories and lamps.

“He acquired 15 buildings all together, walking customers up and down the street, depending on what they were shopping for!


"That rugged 38 years of preparation had been mentored by her late father, John P. Sedlak, founder and owner of Sedlak Interiors, Cleveland, Ohio."

“We moved to a new location in Solon in 1989, under one roof, more than 100,000 square feet on 33 acres of land, and he created his landmark ‘Street of Dreams’ that featured 27 galleries and lifestyle areas. The galleries had different facades, crafted to look like different shops along the street.”

June talked of her father’s energy and spirit. “Dad used to say that his initials J. P. stood for jet-propelled!” There are genetics evident here.

June had been an important part of the family business “since grade school”. Her first job was “putting grommets on carpet samples”. On Saturday afternoons she delivered flyers or postcards to announce sales, “dividing them up by zip codes”. During her high school years, she spent every Saturday “keeping the store across the street from the main store open, so customers could run over by themselves. It was called the Americana Shoppe, and it was focused on Early American furniture. When I was alone I used to make sure that the lamps were lit, I’d fluff the pillows and straighten pictures. I discovered that I really enjoyed being creative with displays within the showroom. Eventually I started to design and build the displays in the front windows.

"The media that works best for us in our marketing efforts are the range of magazines that people pick up to get ideas."

“When customers came in they would always have questions for me. And almost always I had to call over to the main store to find out the answer! That helped me to learn the business quickly.

“There were eight family members in the business then, but it’s no secret that I am most like my father when it comes to passion for the furniture industry. And, like him, I have street smarts.”

June attended the College of Wooster for one year. “But I was getting antsy to really get into the business. So I took a crash course in Interior Design for six months in Columbus at the Dean Call School of Interior Design. I am certified as an honors Interior Designer.

“I then began to work full time, mainly in sales. Shortly after my official career began, the girl who ran our carpet department left to raise a family. Delighted, I jumped in with both feet and became the buyer for carpeting, selling, setting up installations, all the while continuing to work with customers in furniture.

“In the early ‘80s I started to learn a great deal more about Oriental rugs and encouraged my father to allow me to buy some hand knotted rugs from India. That decision escalated to hundreds of rugs, and later a 4,000 square foot showroom.”


"See negatives, but accentuate positives. Be exposed to the worst, but expect the best. Have reason to complain, but choose to smile."

Working with her mother, rugs then expanded to upholstery. Eventually June became the sole buyer for upholstery, leather and recliners, and she created many of the displays in their huge showroom. Her activity in design grew rapidly, both interacting with customers and in training sales associates. June’s title by then was Vice President of Sales and Merchandising. She worked closely with the Seldak’s advertising agency and in setting up and activating the store’s promotions

A Fresh Start

And then one day, buying alone for the very first time at the High Point Market in 2014, June made the decision to start her own business, and the future of Studio J became reality. By the spring of the following year, June and her husband, Bill, were immersed in intensive planning. “Trucks, warehouse, opening new stock, knocking down boxes, eventually hiring and training warehouse help. Bill earned the title then of Operations Manager, and is more involved now than ever!”

Between her epiphany at Market and the excitement of Studio J’s Grand Opening, there were challenges galore. Determining that all important location required many exploratory trips around the region. But the couple kept returning to an area she “instinctively felt was right”.

But there definitely appeared to be some negatives. It was “a shopping center with very low visibility, there were a couple of vacancies, and it was only about a third retail.”

The center was “approximately 1,000 feet from a major intersection where a large and complicated roundabout was under construction, so traffic both north bound and south bound was totally closed for roughly eight months shortly after our opening!” And then the roundabout became the site of many accidents until drivers became accustomed to the change.


"Everything is changing so rapidly and, in my opinion, the pendulum is swinging  back to brick and mortar. There is a definite trend, people do not want the big box stores and the product they offer."

And, “Two very old strip malls across the street were entirely razed to make room for the big new development that would be going up. But on the other hand, that ‘big new development’ could and would be very important to Studio J!”

The development consisted of several massive higher end blocks of condos and apartments. And a brand new and shiny Marriott Hotel. It was a leap of faith for the couple. An optimist to her core, June has an engaging philosophy:

span style="font-size: 22px; color: #000000;">"We are definitely setting our sights on the aging Millennials, although our principal demographic at this point in time is still the 50-plus group, the people with the highest bank balances"

“To be aware of problems but recognize solutions. To know about difficulties but believe they can be overcome. See negatives, but accentuate positives. Be exposed to the worst, but expect the best. Have reason to complain, but choose to smile.”

Those condos and apartments are now the homes of furniture needing Millennials, many of whom are moving from their first home furnishings ventures into higher bracket brands. “We are definitely setting our sights on the aging Millennials, although our principal demographic at this point in time is still the 50-plus group, the people with the highest bank balances.”

And that huge signature hotel has become a commercial hub, housing a constant flow of hundreds of travelers and locals for business and pleasure, its meeting rooms regularly booked for conferences and social events. Those people can’t help but see Studio J’s sign and facade (and the flyers she places in the lobby!) and drop in for a visit. At which point, of course, they will set eyes upon and love June’s “WOW factor”. And with any luck they will transition into clients or, at least, word-of-mouth ambassadors.


"We recognize unaffiliated designers, and have a special in-house department to work co-operatively with them.  They will frequently call to alert us that they’re sending in clients to work with us."

Media

“The media that works best for us in our marketing efforts are the range of magazines that people pick up to get ideas. They see our ads and the unique product mix, the color and style flair, the commentary and design advice content that is so important. All that brings them in to Studio J.

“Social media is naturally very crucial to us and useful in getting potential clients in to come to see and feel textures in upholstery and fabrics, and to recognize design possibilities in the transitional, contemporary and vintage areas. This is a textile industry and it should be hands on.

We have used print, newspapers, but for announcements and events. Television is too costly and, in any event, not as effective for us.”

At Studio J’s launch June did go public in local newspapers, not only to introduce the new venture but also to recognize her dad’s accomplishments and his mentorship and influence in her business and personal life, a public “dedication”. And to thank friends, customers and colleagues.


"We recognize unaffiliated designers, and have a special in-house department to work co-operatively with them.  They will frequently call to alert us that they’re sending in clients to work with us."


Technology

Much as June appreciates the enormous value of technology, she has an antipathy to the annoyingly ubiquitous mobile phone! “It’s a global challenge to all retailers! A client or potential client will come into Studio J with their ‘phone absolutely glued to them. And many people will chat intermittently during their visit. It’s very distracting when a designer is trying to discover their needs, whatever it is they are dreaming about for their special projects, and show them furniture that would be right for them!”

Operations

Customer service was top priority in the family business. June’s father insisted, “’Whatever is wrong, we fix it immediately!’ We strive to deliver a level of service that exceeds the expectations of our customers.”

At Studio J, Tammie McKenzie, Office Manager, orchestrates all customer service with her gentle but decisive personal touch.

Staff at Studio J includes four highly qualified and talented designers, Carol Meara, Van Shephard, Rick Sherman and John Weinheimner, all of whom work on commission. “Our warehouse, delivery, customer service and all other staff are on salary.

“We also recognize unaffiliated designers, and have a special in-house department to work cooperatively with them. They will frequently call to alert us that they’re sending in clients to work with us. We certainly encourage these hand-in-hand relationships.

“There is very little turn over, but we want to hire young design graduates and we will provide additional training for them at Studio J. We will be assisted in this area by manufacturers’ representatives.

"People are transforming dining rooms into guest bedrooms, offices, hobby rooms, playrooms, you name it! Another great opportunity to listen, advise and sell more home furnishings!"

“Our plans are in the development stage for in-house design workshops for clients and potential clients.”

There is a strict client follow-up system in place. “We call clients whenever there is to be an event and always right after a delivery.”

An amusing side-line, June talked of an unusual delivery. “An important client bought substantially from us, a houseful of home furnishings. But one of our competitors carried a sofa we didn’t have on our floor, so the client purchased this one item from them. And they do not deliver.

Services

“Our policy is free delivery within a 60 mile radius. Bill thought about it and decided it would be a goodwill gesture and great customer service if our truck picked it up for them at our competitor’s location, with a token $100 charge, and include it with our delivery to their home. Everyone was happy!”

"Bill thought about it and decided it would be great customer service if our truck picked it up for them at our competitor’s location,with a token $100 charge, and include it with our delivery to their home"

When a client arrives at Studio J, June and/or her designers “Begin with a consultation where we learn everything we can about their project and their style preferences. We want them to look at their bare rooms as a blank canvas. Together we can paint a masterpiece! We tell them that designing your home is about more than furniture... it’s about you!”

Trends

As a designer, June has a list of personal preferences, attitudes, insights. During the interactive communications with her clients she discusses a roster of thoughts and guidelines.

For example, style she says is “Fashion, following the apparel introductions. Right now there’s a new surge in interest in plaids. Also, less complication, cleaner spaces, minimalist, transitional, contemporary styling.

Color: “Color is key. Look for subtle greens with grey in them, especially eucalyptus, and blues are clean and reliable."

Technology: “Technology in home furnishings! Some amazing developments. Just think about ‘The Gathering Island’, designed and patented by Stickley. Concepts are changing so rapidly and as the formal dining room is disappearing, families still need to ‘gather’. This multi functional table has two surfaces of different heights, one butting up to the back of a sofa as a place to rest a book or a glass while the other surface can be used with stools as a work space or for entertaining. And the table has its own built-in power strip! Look for more technical brainwaves in home furnishings in the future, it’s catching on!"

Small Spaces: “Small spaces are important now and the trend will grow. This is an area to be watched. Although the spaces are luxurious in many instances, actual square footage is paring down. And we will need to provide the home furnishings answers for our clients’ new area challenges."

Customization: “Customization is part of our overall philosophy at Studio J. Extremely important. Eighty percent of our business is customized or special order. Twenty percent off the floor but definitely out of the ordinary!"

Multi-Purpose: “Multi purpose furniture, a fast growing happening! Example, on our floor right now is a handsome double ottoman with table and storage.

“The real direction in combining old and new! The art of mixing and blending. The skill of eclecticism! It can be very satisfying visually, an expression of our clients’ uniqueness.

"Right now there’s a new surge in interest in plaids. Also, less complication, cleaner spaces, minimalist, transitional, contemporary styling."

Accessorizing: “We are mixing contemporary with vintage, abstract art used along with antique objets. “There is a special area where I had walls put up and wallpapered. I call the space ‘Design Treasures’. It houses the over-the-top, very unique pieces, eglomise, marquetry, mother-of-pearl inlay, hand-carved and hand-inlaid pieces. I’ll keep that area for jewelry type pieces, but with a little more updated styling, like Alden Parkes, Caracole, Theodore Alexander and Jonathan Charles.

Room Use: “In design we need all our instincts and training now to flex to our clients’ changing needs. An example, back to dining rooms, in so many instances people are transforming dining rooms into guest bedrooms, offices, hobby rooms, playrooms, you name it! Another great opportunity to listen, advise and sell more home furnishings!”

June’s thoughts about what’s in store for 2019? An abbreviated quote from an interview by Columbus Monthly Home & Garden magazine:

“We’ve been enjoying the cool industrial look, smart mid-century modern and the freshness of modern farmhouse lately. I believe this will continue.” She speaks again of the focus on function for today’s technology, that “many sofas and tables are sporting a USB port to charge devices”. And there is advice that assists in “embracing current trends without looking dated in a few years”. She said, “If you’re loving a current trend, then by all means embrace it!” But she suggests, “Taking advantage of custom options so items are a true reflection of your taste and personality, making it distinctive and timeless.”

As you would expect, June has different and highly productive slants on community outreach. “Right now there is a project we are all very much interested in, Autism Power. And we’ve found a way to help with our new in-store promotion. We’re excited about this! We give $200 to $400 off on purchases, depending on value, for every $50 donation to Autism Power. And it’s working very well!

Undoubtedly June’s solid reputation in the industry led to recommendations from colleagues that she serve as a Judge of the Pinnacle Awards, presented by ISFD during the recent High Point market.

How has Studio J excelled so far? “In our presentations! People love them, ‘Colorful’, ‘Cool’. And our sales of name brands, especially Stressless, huge.”

Studio J’s future, June tells us, will involve expansion on several levels. Perhaps first, the creation of a catalogue. One of the tools she envisions to attract Millennials, to distribute to doctors’ and dentists’ offices in the surrounding malls and office blocks, to have available at the front of Studio J, in the lobbies of the condos and apartment buildings and, of course, at The Marriott.

And redesigning the store layout with contemporary and transitional emphasis, with a special Stickley area.

"The art of mixing and blending. The skill of eclecticism! It can be very satisfying visually, an expression of our clients’ uniqueness."

We asked what mistakes she believes retailers make in their approach to the marketplace. Her immediate response was, “The emphasis on price, price, price! Too much of a race to the bottom. We should instead emphasize enhancing the consumers’ lifestyles!”

And the future of the industry at large? “Everything is changing so rapidly and, in my opinion, the pendulum is swinging back to brick and mortar. And that I will encourage. There is a definite trend, people do not want the big box stores and the product they offer.” And tariffs and the economy in general? “Awkward to say the least! Watch and wait and look for the best!”

In the meantime, June will continue with her open hearted welcome to “Attract and keep customers coming in and staying for awhile!” They will find coffee, tea, music. Elton John radio, jazz. Sinatra Sundays, big band. And MoTown Fridays!


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