Monday, September 19, 2011

Inside the Showrooms: Absolute Fabrics and Home

One of the best parts of my job is getting to know interesting, creative people all over the world. While working on our teak feature for the July/August issue, I (virtually) met Robyn Branch, who owns  Absolute Fabrics and Home, a showroom in Amelia Island, Florida. 

I talked to Robyn a little about her background, her vision, and the changing shape of the business.

How did you get started?
My inspiration was a life change. My son was leaving for school, I met my love, moved to Florida and knew I couldn't sit still. I already had retail space in a few locations and with family and friends still there, kept them running. The distance started to be too much, so I decided to consolidate. I was building a home in Florida and ordering fabric from a local store, Absolute Fabrics. The owner wanted to move, too, so we found a location, renovated and opened with fabrics, furniture, lighting and accessories. We wanted mid- to high-end inventory, with good resources for everyone.

What's your background?
My background was always retail. I grew up in a family that owned a furniture store. The old, small town showroom with televisions, appliances and even riding lawnmowers out front. Folks would come in weekly to pay on their purchases. North Carolina is my home state, and I've never lost my love for the artisans that crowd that area. Handmade furniture, pottery, glass, textiles, you name it! My degree is in dance and theatre, but even there, I was designing costumes, dressing sets and painting scenes. I worked in fashion and produced fashion shows and fundraisers, combining the two interests. I have always been intrigued by how talented and creative people are!

What's your vision for the showroom?
The aesthetic of our showroom and how I make my choices is simply inexplicable. The closest descriptive word is eclectic, to say the least. I use that overworked word because our customers use it to describe us. Many people remark "I had no idea anything like this was here!" We are sleepy from the outside and wild on the inside! Our collection ranges from traditional to transitional to bohemian to contemporary. I am big on crossovers! I love to mix old with new and texture with smooth. Anything that looks inviting, desirable and intriguing. That's where my interest lies. I adhere to that when I buy for clients or for the showroom.

Who are your clients? How do you shop for them?
I cover a lot of ground, get to know my designers and vendors and pride myself on being able to adapt. I try to be respectful of other's designs, but I know what I like. I gravitate to anything that evolves. Product and design evolution is an incredible process to watch, and again, I love to see what these brilliantly talented people have created. I know I buy ahead of the market and I have learned not to buy what I think will sell. Most of our clients are repeat customers and I can buy with those good folks in mind, but I still follow my heart. Probably not the best way to do business, but certainly the most fun!
My ideal client is looking for change. They are open and inquisitive. I love to teach someone about a piece of art and introduce them to the artist! Explain to them the process of one person making a custom table to their specifications. I want people to know what it is they have. Education is the only way. Trust is a big thing with me, also. When I am in someone's home, I am in their life. They need to trust that my decisions are for their best end result and to my benefit for future clients! Communication is key. My clients are all so different and it has been a pleasure knowing each and every one of them. I am very flattered when they come back for their next renovation or purchase!

How has technology changed how you do business?
The digital world has impacted the showroom tremendously. I say that honestly. Shopping online is great; yet it can never take the place of actually touching a really luxurious duvet or sitting in a really comfortable chair. I love to lose myself in aisles of treasures. When showrooms exist for ideas only, we will lose them. Unless the merchandise continues to sell from the floor, it will no longer be economically sound to build a showroom. We forget how many people don't know what they want! We do a great business with customers form Australia, New York, California and Chicago, all because of our online merchandise. I take the time to talk to each one and tell them their options. It has opened a new market for us. I feel very honored that the world loves us!

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