Entrepreneur learns value of 'service first' strategy

Running a retail store requires multiple focus points, Beth Starnes has learned. Always at the top remains the customer.
By: 
May. 18, 2018

With nearly three decades in interior design and staging homes for sale, in Southwest Florida and Nashville, Beth Starnes took a big career leap in 2014: she opened a consignment furniture and design store, seeking to capitalize on the surging Lee/Collier residential real estate market.

Starnes entered a crowded market: research revealed there are nearly 80 consignment shops between Marco Island and Punta Gorda. The move has since worked out. She recently bought out a business partner, and is now sole owner of the company, which operates one of the largest furniture showrooms, 6,500 square feet, in the region.

The store itself, on U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs, is a staging center, giving customers ideas about how things will work in their own homes. “I don’t like mistakes,” she says. “I don’t let people buy something unless I know it will fit.”

• Choice market: A native Floridian, Starnes targeted the high-end Naples demographic. She has a large swath of customers who are furnishing second homes. “This is an upscale showroom,” Starnes says. “We didn’t want to build something with large stacks of stuff. We want people to feel comfortable here.”

• Variety show: The vibe in the store is everything from coastal to modern. Prices range from a $300 chair to a $12,000 dining room set. “We like to take in unique and unusual things,” says Starnes.

• Firm but nice: Part of running a consignment shop, Starnes has learned, is to maintain a top-shelf brand she has to reject stuff that doesn’t fit. The store turns away about 30% of possible sales. “We use a lot of gratitude,” says Starnes, “but we are always clear when know we can’t sell something.”

• Service first: The biggest complaint Starnes hears from customers about other consignment shops is a lack of good customer service. “I just don’t get that,” says Starnes. “Without customers, we wouldn’t have a business.”

• Helpful hints: Starnes says one of the best things she’s done in businesses is to surround herself with good and trusted people, including family. But opening a retail store also required some independent guts. “I think you have to go a little bit on faith,” she says. “When you open a store, you have to believe in yourself.”

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