When Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Kuo acquired the Robb & Stucky name for $470,000 in bankruptcy court in 2011, furniture retail executive Steve Lush had a tough task ahead of him.
“How do you take a brand like Robb & Stucky and make it relevant today?” says Lush, president of Robb & Stucky International.
The brand had a great reputation for high quality furniture and unparalleled customer service. But it suffered from a perception that its products were overpriced and its salespeople were elitist, Lush says. The bankruptcy didn't help. “There was so much damage done to the brand in the last six months,” he says.
Today, Robb & Stucky's Fort Myers showroom offers a wider selection of products and prices. Gone are the dark Tuscan-style woods and in are the lighter, more casual colors. There are sofas for $899 when you couldn't buy much for less than $2,000 a few years ago. “We had to broaden the customer base,” Lush says.
The once intimidating staff is now hands-off, and customers can easily find furniture sets arranged by style. “In the past, you had to work with a designer,” Lush says. “A designer had to put it together for you.”
Lush declines to cite sales figures, but he says traffic through the Fort Myers store is up 25% this year from 2010, the last full year the company was in business under prior ownership. He says more than 50% of customers are repeat clients. “We're on target with our projections,” he says.
Now, the company is expanding. It is building a 60,000-square-foot Key West-style showroom for an undisclosed sum in downtown Naples at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Fifth Avenue on a 2.3-acre parcel for which it paid $3.8 million. “It's got downtown Naples' first escalator,” Lush says, showing off construction photos on his iPhone and pointing out the natural light that gives the building a light airiness of casual elegance. “We didn't spare any expense.”
In October, Robb & Stucky bought the Bacon's Furniture building on U.S. 41 in Sarasota for $7.4 million. The company plans to renovate the building and reopen it next fall.
Next cities on the expansion map: Boca Raton, Miami and Palm Beach. Lush says Tampa isn't on the radar because it's not an affluent second-home market like Sarasota or Naples.
“We do have plans to go international,” says Lush, though those plans won't be firmed up until the six Florida stores are open within the next five years. American-made furniture is particularly popular in parts of Asia, for example.
When the Naples store opens next month, Robb & Stucky will have 100 employees, says Lush, a fourth-generation furniture retailer. His family owned Lush Brothers in Pennsylvania for nearly a century until it sold the business in the 1990s.
Kuo's investment in Robb & Stucky is personal and not part of Samson Holding, a residential furniture company publicly traded on the Hong Kong stock market. In fact, most of the furniture sold at Robb & Stucky is U.S.-made and it doesn't include Samson's brands.
Founded and chaired by Kuo, Samson is one of the top three furniture manufacturers in Asia and among the top 10 furniture wholesalers in the U.S. Samson's U.S. brands include Universal Furniture, Craftmaster Furniture and Pennsylvania House. The company earned $55 million on revenues of $205 million in the first six months of this year.