Thursday, July 5, 2007



Yes, I'm in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, I've been in an LA state of mind since I got off of the 101 and started my decent into LA on the 405. Traffic was bumper to bumper even before I had hit the city limits, and the outbound lanes were as well. What, was this, rush hour? No, it was 9:55 A.M. and it's a typical day in paradise, albeit, life in the slow lane. An oxymoron, the fast life in LA, but traveling in the slow lane! Humph!

I Love Paris In The Spring Time ...(okay so it's summer and I'm in LA!)...

Okay, since we talked about outdoor foam in my last column, I thought I might spice it up a bit today, so hang onto your outdoor foam seat...

As I inched past the Hollywood Hills, I couldn't help but think of that pitiful Hilton girl. Did you catch her on the Larry King Show last week? She was commenting to King that she wants to help the girls that she had met while in jail, and about how their troubles stemmed from being given too much too soon.
Larry asked her, "Paris, have you been given too much too soon?"
Hilton, seemed surprised by this question, (humm, is this a trick...?) and she looked down at the desk-top, and the camera followed revealing several jumbled pages of notes.
There was silence as she fumbled through the pages, the answer though obvious to everyone watching, somehow wasn't readily apparent to her.
Larry's a pro, so he sat there in silence, patiently giving the poor little rich girl a chance to come up with the right answer, though one might have thought that he was giving her the proverbial rope with which to hang herself.
Finally, King asked her again, "Paris, have you been given too much too soon?"
Hilton looked at him blankly, whereupon King cut to a commercial.
I was just thinking about how little time we have for the important things in life, but how many millions of people (and I truly hope it wasn't millions or I'm going to be really concerned) sat riveted before our television screens to see how this white trash heiress fared in jail. I watched about three minutes of it, all the while hoping that my 19 year old daughter wouldn't walk in and catch me.
I could only imagine her surprise at seeing me glued to the television set.
"Oh, honey!", I'd respond quickly, calmly reaching for the remote control and carefully pressing the jump button so the screen would flip back to the sports channel.
"What are you watching?"
"I was just flipping through the channel's trying to find something to watch", I would answer, though it would have been easier admitting to her that I had been watching the movie, Best In Show.
"I thought I saw Paris Hilton on the screen when I came in" she said.
"Oh that, I just wanted to see her latest act", I fessed up, just in case she had seen Paris on the screen.
I cannot believe that just watching Paris, made me lie! I think I will do just fine in LA, today!

Why am I here?

We're looking for new product, and working with vendors; we're looking at new lines of merchandise, visiting a couple of direct importers, making price comparisons, and shopping the competition; The cross town traffic is so bad, that we can actually talk through entire business concepts or problems in between stops! My wife, Caroline, and our Mill Valley partner, Michael, are discussing our current business, future business, and the possibilities of opening another store (or two, or three, or five).
One thing that has been become readily apparent to me is how few wholesalers actually manufacture what they sell, though many of them claim that they are the manufacturer of the products they represent. More accurately, they are merely an importer; sometimes importing the same goods as one or more of their competitors, who are more often than not, located just blocks away from one another.

Know Your Product--

Perhaps its easier for us to spot differences in the market place, duplications, repetitiveness, and trends both good and bad, because we shop our tails off (a southern expression). We do see more than most buyers because of our exhausting travel schedule, sourcing the home furnishings markets, both domestically and internationally. We attend every major home furnishings show in the US. From High Point to Atlanta, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. This fall we'll be adding the Las Vegas show into our travel schedule (no, not that one, the furniture show!).
We shop for antiques across the US and in Europe; Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. We shop the flea markets in Paris (Saint-Quen and Porte de Vanves), Arezzo (Tuscany), Brussels, the famed Porto Bello Road (London), and even the Santa Fe "Flea" (New Mexico), adjacent to the famed Santa Fe Opera).
Side Note: I'm beginning to think that every piece of furniture we see in this country is made in China. And that's not a bad thing. We'll talk about that in the near future. More on this later, so stay tuned.

Comparative Shopping--

In just three hours, I found three different vendors who offered the same imported chair for sale. One was at $1,000; another one was $1,400; and one of them offered the chairs as a pair for $3,000. Our customers will save between $400-500 per chair, not because we're having a "sale", but because we did our home work. We shopped the market place for them.

Isn't this the damn'dest--

Even when attending the bi-annual Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC, the grand daddy market of them all, and the largest furniture show in the world, we hear over and over from the showroom sales people, "Oh, your from California, your sales representative isn't here."
"Where is he/she?" I inquire.
"Oh, the California sales rep's never come to High Point because the retailers don't come all the way over here to High Point".
"Don't come? You've got to be kidding me! I'm here, whose going to help me?"
Well you can only imagine my surprise. But that surprise quickly turns to an adrenaline rush. Hummmm, my competitor's aren't here...goody for me!

LAST STOP...Hollywood--

Just kidding. Actually it was in Culver City (South of Beverly Hills and the 10). We overshot the street we were looking for, and had to make an "I dare you" u-turn on La Cienega Blvd (if you know this street, you know that is no small feat!). Our destination was located on a street that was more akin to an alley, so I double checked that the doors of the MB were locked before proceeding. We traveled about 25 feet, when, like a mirage, a spectacular green garden arose from what had most recently been an oil stained concrete parking lot. It was breath-taking, I'm telling you! Unfortunately for many of you, this oasis is "to the trade only" so to visit it you'll have to pay your decorator to take you.
The gardens were created by the owner, Charles Jacobsen. The plantings were wonderfully original in their combinations, and planted in large wooden tapered, square planter boxes which were painted flat black. Perfectly maintained specimen plantings prevailed throughout the exterior garden showroom. Intricately carved marble planters gave way to serene white marble fountains, all, tasteful and restrained in every way. One small garden was formed by placing an intricately carved, antique wood Indonesian doorway, raw from exposure to the elements over time, was flanked by tall columnar plantings. Other areas were divided or were designated by low rectangular boxes of varying dimensions, planted with perfectly coiffed green grass.
This location is a huge departure from the Charles Jacobsen, Inc., showroom at the Pacific Design Center (referred to as "the blue whale" by the trade), where the cool elegance of that showroom is usurped by the stunning gardens of this tasteful outpost. The gardens ultimately lead you to the warehouse showroom, where the exquisitely restored antiques are presented. The furniture is highly waxed and polished to absolute beauty. Old mirror frames with what appeared to be the original mirror glass (expect to pay more for old, faded mirror glass) graced the walls.
Charles Jacobsen's shop is a real testament to his exquisite taste and style. It is pristine to the point that I'm certain there is a bit of anal retentiveness being practiced here. This perfectly planned and executed presentation runs from the garden throughout the warehouse showroom, where brick walls exposed and others lined with matchstick blinds. The original wood framed ceiling, its framing rendering the ceiling bowed, was freshly waxed making the warehouse hardly recognizable as such.

Our salesman was obviously a bit uncomfortable with us, when suddenly he said, "You may want to see the far building as it will be closing first."
I glanced at my wife, "he's rushing us!" I said to her without speaking a word (an art perfected after twenty two years of marriage).

I asked the salesman, "What time is it?"
"It's 4:20" He answered.
"What time do you close?" I ask.
"5:00 o'clock" He responds.
You get the picture. It was so LA!
We did have ample time to see everything; and we did, we toured the two showrooms; spent time in the gardens; made notes on several items that we had admired, and we then sent our salesman to retrieve the information wee needed. Unfortunately my aloofness afforded us better service. He returned with the info I had requested, and we were on our way, the gates to the garden practically shutting on my wife's pricey little German auto--good thing I hadn't driven the truck!

More tomorrow! Stick around with the Design Guy, because you'll never know what you didn't know before you got to know the Design Guy.

Good night moon.

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