One of the largest Ashley licensees plans to launch an upper-end retail brand this spring that will offer customers an immersive retail experience that includes furniture, apparel and even jewelry.
Memphis, Tennessee-based Dufresne Spencer Group, which operates 130 Ashley stores and 19 distribution centers in a dozen states, is opening a 40,000-square-foot store in Houston under the Worth & Co. brand name.
Targeted to open April 1, Worth & Co. will be in a former Ashley location that the company owns across from the St. Regis Hotel in the River Oaks section of Houston. Representing a $2 million investment, including $1 million in inventory, about 85% of the store’s footprint will be devoted to furniture, Jeff Edgeworth, executive vice president of the Dufresne Spencer Group, told Home News Now.
About 3,500 square feet in the center of the store will be devoted to accessories, apparel and jewelry, Edgeworth said. A 2,000-square-foot lounge and cafe area outfitted with leather upholstery will give shoppers a place to sit, relax, get a coffee or a beer and even listen to live music.
“It really is going to offer some experiences that are very different than what we have done in the past,” Edgeworth said in reference to his company’s previous upper-end Stash Home store concept the company had in place in the early 2010s and decided to close around the start of the pandemic. “And it is not going to be just furniture — it is going to be a total brand and we have gone out and added other things like apparel and jewelry and some lighting sources to fit the brand.”
Next to the cafe and live music area will be a design center where customers can browse a mix of Dash & Albert rugs and a selection of luxury Farrow & Ball paints. (The store will be one of two locations in the Houston market where the luxury paint brand is sold.)
But furniture will occupy the majority of the store, with key upper-end brands such as Lillian August, Precedent, Hickory White, Vanguard and Bernhardt, as well as Four Hands and others, some of which will be offered as private-label goods.
The lines Worth & Co. will carry are largely domestic and thus provide consumers with the ability to customize pieces.
“Everything in the store has special-order capability. There are no container goods,” Edgeworth said. “It is all customizable furniture.”
He added that based on the planned layout, there will be three major looks: a Sundance-type of design with a vintage-inspired vibe; furnishings with a Tribeca-like modern/contemporary flair; and an area featuring Cool Casual designs similar to the more contemporary lines of RH.
A spa-inspired area called Relax will feature bedding and comfort seating, including Stressless recliners and various massage chairs.
Opportunities at the high end
Edgeworth said that the upscale location of the city never quite worked out for the previous Ashley store, part of the reason it is transitioning to a higher-end strategy.
“It is just an A-plus location,” Edgeworth said, adding, “It is just too high end an area for an Ashley building. It just didn’t fit the market. … This just gives us an opportunity to flip the switch on it and try this concept.”
While he admits the company is still learning the intricacies of the upper-end segment, Edgeworth sees potential for Worth & Co. given its emphasis on higher-end brands from furniture to accessories and lighting. He also believes the time is right for the concept because of the amount of business being done in the upper end.
“We know this is a wide-open opportunity,” he said. “There is about $129 billion sold a year (in furniture) and about $43 billion of it is upper-end goods. And we are not in that market. We have 130 locations in the other two-thirds and are doing over a billion dollars there in retail revenues, so we said we want a piece of this other segment. … We have our distribution set up and it is totally separate from everything we are doing with the Ashley brand. There are no departments except for accounting that we are sharing.”
He also shed some light on how this concept with be different from Stash Home, which the company decided to close when its leases were up in early 2020. Stash Home, he said, was also high end, but more eclectic in its approach. Worth & Co. will be what he described as more “intentional.”
“I think people are going to have to come see it in order to visualize it,” he said. “To me, it will be more like taking the best showrooms in High Point and making it a retail store. The vignettes are going to be very intentional, where a person can come in and say, ‘I want it the way it sits right here.’” On the subject of whether there could be more Worth & Co locations in the future, Edgeworth said this: “You know how we are at DSG. We love growing. We love success and we are pretty relentless on it. We have some great partners with this and some great shareholders and we want to get the first one open and if we can get more of them open, it would be great in different areas of the country. … Obviously, we run everything by the numbers, so if it works it works … But my plan is to grow it. That is my drive.”