By Andrea Lillo
For Design Within Reach, design is as important to its customer as it is to the company.
“If you are that type of customer, then you have trouble finding a stapler,” said Ray Brunner, founder. “You have an aesthetic that is important to you.”
For nine years, Design Within Reach has been delivering furniture to that select group, and now for those who are looking for that particular stapler, or cookware, or mailbox, the company has opened its newest store format, Tools For Living.
“It’s not called Furniture Within Reach,” Brunner said of the Design Within Reach brand. “We’ve never seen ourselves as in the furniture business,” he said. “We’ve always been about modernism design.” And their customer, who is urban, well-educated and at a higher income level, is getting their dinnerware, kitchenware and other products at different places, he said, so the new format “makes sense. It talks to the same customer.” He added, “We think this opportunity is not to expand the number of stores but what we can offer our core customer.”
In development for about two years, TFL has begun with two locations—in the SoHo neighborhood in New York in a former DWR location (that location was moved to a larger space) and in Santa Monica, Calif., next to its DWR store there. About 2,000 square feet each, the stores are cash-and-carry, unlike the DWR locations.
In general, Brunner said, “today’s sofa buyer was last week’s hosiery buyer” at “too many retailers.” He added, “Design is a profession; well-thought-out design is not a hobby.”
About 850 products are available at the TFL stores, and “a lot are exclusive to us in the U.S.,” Brunner said. “We believe we’re curators,” working with designers and high-end manufacturers. Products at the new format include George Nelson clocks, Royal VKB cookware designed by Jan Hoekstra, a steel cheese slicer and a Neuton battery-powered lawn mower.
“We think [the format] has legs — we want to see how these two do,” he said, and he will see how they cycle through a full year before their performances are evaluated. However, “it’s not going to be a business with hundreds of stores — we’re not Starbucks,” he said. “We’re an urban business.”
Brunner was “pleased” with the stores’ performance so far. “If it does well in the current insanity then it can’t get worse,” he said.