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Frontgate's first stores bring its catalog to life



Founded in 1991, frontgate spent its first dozen years of existence as a direct marketer, selling its upscale home merchandise via catalogs and on the web. The company's only brick-and-mortar selling environment was an outlet center at its corporate headquarters/national distribution center in suburban Cincinnati offering discontinued or liquidation merchandise.

But that began changing last fall, when Frontgate opened its first retail store, a 10,600-square-foot space in Phipps Plaza, in Atlanta's lively Buckhead district. In March of this year, the company opened a second store at the upscale SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, N.C.

“We're at the point in our growth and evolution where we've achieved the critical mass needed to make bricks-and-mortar a viable third leg in our distribution strategy,” says Marvin Cooper, president of Cornerstone Brands Inc.-Retail, Frontgate's parent company.

Frontgate hired Design Forum (Dayton, Ohio) to help create its retail spaces. The result of that collaboration “is essentially a 3-D version of the Frontgate catalog,” says R. Scott Jeffrey, Design Forum's senior vp, design and creative innovation.

“We wanted the store experience to be as much like the catalog as possible,” Jeffrey explains. “The Frontgate brand is about offering the best-quality products for the home – products you typically only buy once in a lifetime. In the catalog, they wrap stories around the merchandise. So we wanted to create a store environment in which stories can be told.”



The interconnection between the catalog and retail environment begins at the front entrance, where flagstone flooring, stone pillars and a wrought-iron façade “tell shoppers they are entering a very special environment,” says Jeffrey.

Flanking the front entrance are two windows, the opening pages of the store. One features a picture and text related to the “home of the month” that's profiled in each edition of the Frontgate catalog. The other displays a photo of Frontgate founder and president Paul Tarvin, along with a letter in which he highlights some of the seasonal offerings displayed inside.

“Both those elements reflect the catalog content,” notes Jeffrey.

Immediately inside the entrance is a central display area where new or seasonal items highlighted in the current catalog are displayed under a rotunda. “The feature display is modeled after the two-page spread at the front of the catalog,” says Jeffrey.

The rest of the interior is divided into three main areas: “luxury,” which houses home spa and bath products; “harmony,” which offers entertainment and electronics; and “artistry,” which displays partywares for entertaining. Those zones are demarcated by departmental lettering on the walls.

“It's not a huge space, so we didn't need a whole lot of signage saying 'electronics here' or 'outdoor grill display,' ” Jeffrey notes. “Sightlines are designed to encourage shoppers to explore the space, and get a fuller sense of all that Frontgate has to offer them.”



A neutral palette places the merchandise at center stage, and echoes the unobtrusive white background in the catalog pages. Accompanying each product display are small images of the merchandise and a related informational narrative.

“Those graphics are the same size as they appear in the catalog,” explains Jeffrey. “Big, in-your-face graphics would have been out of place in this environment, because we wanted it to have a residential feel.”

To help create that homey atmosphere, wood floors, large crown mouldings and ceramic tile are used throughout the space. The wall fixtures, which resemble home cabinets, feature light-grade veneer wood finishes. “We want customers to get a sense of how the products they buy will appear in an upscale home setting,” says Jeffrey. “We definitely didn't want a mass-merchandising feel – that's not what this brand is about.”

At the Charlotte store, Design Forum and Frontgate added more displays offering live product interaction, so customers can experience the special features of such diverse merchandise lines as portable TVs and bathroom mirror lights. To help make that possible, more electrical outlets were installed in the space.

In addition, several computer kiosks have been installed throughout the store to give consumers access to the company's entire merchandise line on “It's physically impossible to stock every catalog item in the store,” Jeffrey explains. “The in-store displays had to be edited down to featured merchandise and higher-volume goods.”


For now, Cooper says, Frontgate is using the existing two stores as a laboratory “to find out what works and what doesn't” before rolling out the stores on a national basis. And while the first two stores are both mall-based, Cooper says the basic design can easily be adapted for use in lifestyle centers or freestanding locales.

“Customer reaction to our first two stores has been exciting,” he says. “We think they do a great job of leveraging our catalog and maintaining a consistent brand image. Both those factors will help us to grow in the future.”


To give the Frontgate stores a residential feel, wood floors, large crown moldings and limestone ceramic tile on the walls are used throughout.

Client: Frontgate, West Chester, Ohio – Paul Tarvin, president, ceo; Marvin Cooper, president, Cornerstone Brands Inc.-Retail; Gerald Dwyer, director of stores

Design, Architect and Engineer: Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio – R. Scott Jeffrey, senior vp, design and planning; Diane Borton, vp, account management; Donny Victorianus, senior environmental designer; Joe Klamert, fixtures; Jason Walker, resource specialist; Christine Warren, graphic designer; Chris Duly, job captain; Heidi Miller, director, graphics production

General Contractor: Providence Contractors, Columbus, Ohio

Suppliers: Virginia Tile Co., Farmington Hills, Mich., Solnhofen, San Francisco, Gammapar, Forest, Va., Armstrong World Industries Inc., Lancaster, Pa. (flooring); Atlas, Los Angeles (carpeting); Tango Lighting, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Hi-Lite, Chino, Calif., LBL, Chicago Heights, Ill. (lighting); Wilsonart Intl., Temple, Texas, Veneer Specialists, Chicago (fixtures); Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J. (paint); Sunbrella, Glen Raven, N.C., Knoll, Oxforshire, U.K., Maharam, New York (fabrics)

Photography: Jamie Padgett, Chicago



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