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The White House Interiors in Birmingham, AL with Ann Marie James

Episode #: 077
The White House Interiors in Birmingham, AL with Ann Marie James

Guest: Ann Marie James
Topics: Supply chain, retail

Transcript:

Chris Ressa 0:01
This is retail retold the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris ReSSA. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC management.

Welcome to retail retold. Today we have Anne Marie James. Anne Marie is a tenant of DLCs in Birmingham, Alabama at a shopping center called Brook Highland.

She is the owner of three businesses one that is a store in our shopping center. And those three businesses are crown properties, silver real estate, and White House interiors, which is a furniture and home decor store in our center. We are excited to have her on today. Welcome to the show, Emery.

Anne Marie James 0:53
Thank you appreciate you having me.

Ressa 0:55
So Amory, you’re a pretty, really thought provoking, interesting entrepreneur. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are what you all do, and, and your business.

James 1:10
All right, well, we started out in real estate back in about 2005. And had a found out we had a love and or I had a love and passion for homes and decor and got my real estate license and flipped my first house back in 2005 and flipped my second one back in 2006. And at that time, I was working full time as a labor and delivery nurse. So get out of nursing to pursue what really was my passion. And that was design and homes. So about 2010 We opened silver real estate. And by then we were flipping houses. It was the it was the real estate crash back in 2007. About 2008 We really started flipping foreclosures, and it just took a life of its own by about 2012 We’d flipped somewhere around 150 homes and Holy Toledo heavy into the design portion of it. So it was just it’s just it’s taken a life of its own really

Ressa 2:20
unbelievable. Why aren’t you on HGTV? Emery you need to be on HGTV I’m watching the wrong people on HGTV Amrish

James 2:28
I don’t love I don’t I just I like being under the radar. That’s really I just like to work and do my thing.

Ressa 2:35
Wow. Okay, so you got out of nursing which is I have so much respect for my my mother in law’s actually the head of a NICU in in New Jersey. So I understand the labor and delivery world. And you moved into real estate. And so you flipped 150 homes. And then what happened?

James 3:01
Well, we moved out of Destin, which was where we were primarily doing our real estate investing, we moved up to Birmingham. And we were still flipping houses but not quite as many. And I just really became fascinated and in love with interior design. And so I opened a little small boutique furniture store that was in 2017 went to market in Atlanta saw all the pretty furniture it was it was it was just the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had and realize that I wanted to open a retail store, we were starting out something very small and really just thought it was going to be more of a supportive business to the flipping, we were staging houses and and just it just took off. We had 4000 square feet when we opened our first store in 2017. And within two months, we doubled our size to 8000 square feet. And within a year, we were looking around for a bigger space.

Ressa 4:16
So and we’ll get to that story in a bit. That’s fantastic. I love the concept that and the idea and I haven’t heard this a lot that you kind of opened up a furniture and design store to like support your flipping business but it kind of grew on its own and and it’s it’s integrated, but it also now stands on its own where it you know, it’s selling to the general public and all that good stuff. So that’s really interesting.

James 4:43
Yes, yes, it’s been fun. That’s awesome.

Ressa 4:47
So you, you’re in real estate, you’re in design, and you’re in the furniture business and this store is called retail retold and And so what’s going on in furniture and home decor today? And what? What’s going on in that world right now?

James 5:08
Well, it’s interesting because we’ve stayed steadily growing since we opened in 2017. And of course, like everybody else, when COVID hit in the spring, we were concerned that the shutdown would slow us down. And when we had a mandatory shutdown here in Birmingham for about four or five weeks, and so we did some online, creative type of retailing at the time, we developed our, our online selling, and the minute we reopened, when they gave us the go ahead to reopen, it took right back off, and it has been steadily growing ever since. So the retail side of furniture right now is just thriving.

Ressa 5:54
And that’s, that’s great to hear. And do you have any thoughts as to why that is? In your in your opinion?

James 6:04
Well, yeah, I mean, there’s a couple of thoughts that we all talk about, people are at home more than they’ve ever been through this COVID crisis. And people are looking around their homes and maybe they’re just tired of what they’re saying, but they’re coming out and their their home offices are taken off more than ever, and people just want their home to be beautiful. If they’re going to spend a lot of time there. They want it to look good and feel feel cozy and, and beautiful for them.

Ressa 6:34
Yeah, I imagine if you’re, if there’s going to be some contractors coming out of the woodwork who are specializing in the home office business soon, that’s probably going to be a thriving market and 2021 are has has the type of furniture and style that people want change recently through the pandemic is there anything people or in the world are craving a bit more and they’re thinking about from a product perspective?

James 7:02
Yeah, I think people are, you know, because their home is their safe haven. They you know, they’re responding well to our look, which is a light, airy, peaceful, uncluttered, serene look. And so the lighter colors are definitely still very popular lighter neutrals. And it’s just really more of a clean airy look that people are wanting that they’re responding to.

Ressa 7:32
Yeah, I think my my wife would love your store everything in my house is grayish and gray and the little bit of beige here and there. So yeah, and all the light ones obviously but and then like white and black. You know, white doors, black hardware, blah, blah, blah.

James 7:51
Sounds great.

Ressa 7:53
It we we remodeled our home over the past few years. And we we watched a lot of Joanna Gaines so

James 8:02
so he does a good job.

Ressa 8:03
So if you if you can envision that we tried our best on that front so from a furniture and design perspective inside and I I’m in the woods where I live so a mountain while I’m in North Jersey suburban rural for sure.

James 8:20
Sounds amazing.

Ressa 8:22
It’s already Yes

James 8:23
No I love it

Ressa 8:25
the and so that’s what’s going on from a product perspective do you do when you guys think about the future? Are you thinking about this like furniture demand like continuing to be where it is Do you see it coming down Are you because there’s just some years people are home so much more there’s still some room to grow.

James 8:53
I think a beautiful home is always going to be in style you know in the furniture industry also kind of follows the real estate industry which is up and down. And I do think that it could taper off a little bit if the if the real estate sales taper off a little bit but it was during the the down season that our other businesses well particularly the flipping business thrived so we’re kind of set up you know to do okay, in any circumstance. So if we get slow in the furniture sales will definitely be picking up on the investment side of real estate.

Ressa 9:38
I love that quote. A beautiful home is always in style. So true. So true. It’s it’s I’ve never heard it put that way but that is so true. So you know more in tune to your furniture business when when you look at when you look at the landscape of furniture out there. You know what Are you? What do you? What do you think about competition? What are? What do you think about who your competition is out there? Is there any?

James 10:11
I am. By nature, I’m a competitive person. But I don’t really look at my, the other stores around me as competition we have, we’re told that we have a unique setup in my store, I feel like if you give good service, if you buy beautiful things and make it easy for people to put it in their homes, and you offer good prices, and good quality, that you you know, it’s mainly being in competition with myself and just doing the absolute best that I can do for my customers. And I’ve found that to work. If I keep my focus on doing my own best, then the competition around me just kind of becomes unimportant. You know, I feel like all stores are doing pretty well right now. I think that when you find out how well you’re doing is when the market is a little slower. And we’re confident that, you know, we’ve been through difficult times before, and we are confident that we’ll whether whatever comes and I think that’s what will set us apart from our competition.

Ressa 11:27
I love that. That’s amazing. Have you? And how has the digital world? How have you thought about that as it relates to your business?

James 11:41
Well, I am not necessarily completely tech savvy. I have younger employees that handle a lot of that. And, and I think the furniture industry also is you know, people want to come in and they want to touch it and feel it. And there’s not a lot of people that are looking to buy a sofa online, necessarily. They want to sit on it, I want to see how comfortable it is. So while it is a part of what we do, it’s not a huge part right now. I know there are some people that want to buy everything they they have online, but we’re still selling a lot of furniture from people that just want to come in and we have people from as far out as Destin, Atlanta, Nashville, Mississippi, and our truck goes all over the place on a regular basis delivering truckloads of furniture to people in the southeast. So it’s just interesting how it still it is still very much a hands on in person purchase that we’re doing.

Ressa 12:45
Really great to hear. You do have an unbelievable website. You know, the gallery is beautiful. You know, it is, you know, the pictures and the flow of the website is really pretty incredible. You know, my question though, is you can you can do some cool things on your website, you can go on a virtual tour. You can you can, you can buy on your website and you can read about all your services. So your website’s good. Our people and your, you know, all over social media. Are you are you getting people who buy things on? You know, who buy things online from you?

James 13:28
Yeah, absolutely. We had a lady from New York purchase from us last week and she’d never been to our store. She just picked it up from somebody that she was friends with on one of the social media sites and liked our styles and made a purchase and we dropped shipped it to her so we are growing in that area.

Ressa 13:50
That’s awesome. That’s great to hear. Yeah, the website everyone out there who’s listening, go check out Emory’s website is twhintriors.com. So you can rewind that and listen but it is beautiful stuff on on their website. Is there any like area like bedroom office anything that is on fire more than others or is it just everywhere in the home?

James 14:27
It’s everywhere in the home and it’s it really is what sets us apart. Another thing we have well it’s a large door. And so we have bedroom rugs, lighting, lamps, sofas, chairs, office and so we do a lot of everything so our stores one stop shopping you know if you come in and you need your bedroom redone. We can get you a bed nightstands, lamps, light bedding sheets, everything you need. So we kinda took that approach knowing that there would be people that wanted to come in and just get everything.

Ressa 15:06
So I’m going to ask the question that you know, with, I think in furniture giving it’s given, it’s been hot in the pandemic that I think’s been challenging for a lot of furniture retailers. So I’m interested in your take. So you ready for the tough question?

James 15:22
Oh, my goodness. I’ll do my best.

Ressa 15:26
So how is the supply chain? If I order from you? Is it going to take me seven years to get me my couch? How is the how is the you know, your your inventory and the supply chain? And, you know, as we go into Christmas and the beginning of the year, as a furniture buyer, how’s it going to be getting product to my home?

James 15:46
Well, I love that you asked that question, because we’re one of the few stores in the southeast that thought ahead. And so I do have a 6000, square foot warehouse jam packed full of beautiful furniture, and we sell off the floor. So we might put a sofa out and sell it and deliver it within that same week. So we have it in stock, there’s very few items that we don’t have in stock. And I’m hearing more and more from people coming in to buy furniture that they’re shocked that they can get their item within a week because they’re being told, and really all it does take a little longer for us to get things right now. But we’ve ordered so much ahead of time that I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat on on having supplies.

Ressa 16:35
Interesting. Well, that’s good. I’m already starting to see I think retailers in general, you know, especially the ones who got stuck with seasonal merchandise in the spring. And then in the summer, when they were open. It was you know, it was you know, it was done. They’re managing inventory much better right now. Which means as a consumer, if you don’t get it for your child for Christmas, and you wait too long, it might be out of stock. So that’s good to hear on your end. I am you know, I’m definitely excited to hear that. And for all you furniture people in the furniture market, if you need something in a week or two, you you need to call Anne Marie. They’re ready. They’re ready. Well, that’s interesting. Anything else interesting going on in furniture these days that we should talk about or highlight.

James 17:29
You know, it’s always it’s always interesting to make your home beautiful. It’s, you know, it is changing, it’s changed significantly, just what used to take us four to six weeks to get in on a special order now can take up to 12 or 13 weeks. So what we’re seeing are the bigger stronger companies are really thriving right now. If they can get us a delivery within six or seven weeks, our biggest upholstery manufacturer that is made in the United States is still delivering quickly. And so we’re selling more of those brands and less of the smaller companies that were relying on China and some of the overseas companies to supply um, so we’re still we’re still probably on our biggest upholstery manufacturer, we’re still only seven weeks even for a special order, even for a special order. Yeah, so that’s been interesting, just selling more product from certain companies and less from others.

Ressa 18:36
Got it. So if you if, if you need something from the manufacturer, it takes x days, but as a consumer since you sell off the floor, unless it’s a special order. I can get it within a week typically lately. Got it? That’s fantastic. How are you managing through that to make sure you always have product, I guess that’s the warehouse and warehousing it but

James 19:03
it is we have a large warehouse team that keeps you know unpacking and putting together. We are overstocked right now just to stay ahead of the game. Yeah, we’re confident we’re in it for the long run. So we’re confident that if it doesn’t sell this season, it’ll sell in induced season, it’ll sell

Ressa 19:23
and last question. So as a as a serial entrepreneur like yourself, how much time or are you in the store or doing the retail versus silver real estate or crown properties?

James 19:36
I’m in the store more than anywhere else. It is my passion design, making people smile. creating beautiful spaces is my passion. So and I’m the buyer, I’m the primary buyer for the furniture at the store. So I’m there buying a lot of furniture a lot of the time and I have an amazing team of ladies and men that that we’re we’re like a family. So it’s a very enjoyable place to be, but I’m out probably 30 to 40% of the time, putting homes together in the area, doing the staging and the end and some of the general real estate, but I do share that with my husband and my oldest son. So we are a team of people. Awesome. A little bit of everything. All right.

Ressa 20:25
That’s great. Thanks for the furniture. Recap from you know, your perspective. The next part of the show is the story. And we’re talking about White House interiors in Birmingham, Alabama. Why don’t you tell us how you ended up with 18,000 square feet in our shopping center and tell us that story and how all that good stuff hammering?

James 20:46
Well, we started out small, we looked at it as a an opportunity to just express some of our creative nature and what what started out as a supportive business quickly grew, just by demand, we had a lot of people that liked our style, they liked our customer service. And they just liked being able to put put a beautiful home together without stress and and just being, you know, treated well. So we started with a 4000 square feet, multiplied up to about 8000. And realized that we were missing a lot of sales, because we just didn’t have enough room to display enough furniture, we might have one customer come in. And with a 4000 square foot showroom, you can empty that pretty fast with one or two customers that wanted you to do their entire home. So we started looking around for a space. And to be honest, that 18,000 square feet was a little overwhelming initially. And we looked at it long and hard before we bid on it because it did feel like how would I ever fill 18,000 square feet of space. And so it took us about three months of back and forth and trying to make that decision. And around Christmas of 2017. We made the decision to go over and I remember waking up in the middle of the night thinking I’ve got a lot of shopping to do that much space. But it’s interesting, because now that we’re there, we’ve been there over a year, about a year and a half. I could lose us a little more space.

Ressa 22:44
Unbelievable. Well, we can talk about that offline. But how has it been for you as being in the real estate business in the flipping business to now being in the retail business? What are you know, to have that much success to go from 4000 feet to 8000 to relocating to an 18,000 in a three year period is unheard of. How? How’s it been for you as like a retail owner and going from flipping houses to the retail business what have been the learnings for you.

James 23:18
It’s just been unbelievable learning she learned things about yourself that you didn’t know. It’s in the beginning. We laugh about it because it was a it was sort of a love hate relationship. It was the most stressful time of my life. I likened it to having a child, if you knew what you were going to be getting into, you probably wouldn’t go there. But when you get past that initial phase, it’s exhilarating. Just to have that behind you and the the joy and the accomplishment that that you feel and and then pulling a team together of people that have your back and that really that are so talented. You know, I just there’s a lot of days it’s hard to believe that I’ve got that many people around me that that love what they do that love the store that love each other. It’s just a it’s a thrilling experience to be able to pull something like that together.

Ressa 24:18
Wow. That’s inspiring. Yeah, that sounds like it would be the any when you were like as just a retail operator. What was like the biggest hiccup like that you didn’t expect?

James 24:33
Let’s say maybe it was just the the overall the overwhelming sense of responsibility. And you know, and not having enough hours in the day I think I didn’t expect you know, having been already a business owner I didn’t see ahead of really the amount of time I’m in stress that would be on me. But like I said, if I hadn’t known I might not have, you know, gone so big, so fast. But once we got past all that, I’m glad. I’m so glad you know that we jumped out there.

Ressa 25:15
Were glad to what was it like going someone who’s so experienced in residential real estate? What was it like now you’re doing now you went from that, and very sophisticated, experienced real estate entrepreneur, and now dealing with this larger commercial real estate landlord that, you know, is in the same business owning properties, just different properties, and you got your, you know, a commercial lease, which is very different than a residential lease, what was that like for you? What you expected or not?

James 25:51
I had no idea what was coming. That’s a long lease. And probably had I not been in the real estate business, it would have been much easier just to hand it over to the attorney and say, Hey, is this good to sign or not? So you know, but it’s just part of it, you learn a little bit about the commercial side of it as you go.

Ressa 26:16
Right? Yeah, I’m sure you did learn a lot. Now you as you continue to grow, you know, a lot about a commercial lease now, that and the differences of that, and how that all works. It’s definitely, as us as landlords, we, you know, you can imagine you’re, you’re a sophisticated entrepreneur, we get some, you know, people who are starting their first business, they’re taking a shot, they’re entrepreneurs, they’ve got the, you know, that that American dream in the Spirit, and they get that and, you know, we’ll we will definitely say, Listen, you’re you, we welcome you to get an attorney and take a look. And, you know, to make sure that you feel comfortable, because it is different in some times, and we try to counsel some of those people along the way that, hey, just so you know, this is this process is a little different than if you’re renting an apartment. So

James 27:15
sure, it was it, you know, you just you got to be you got to look at it from a business perspective, and just make sure that you’re able to, you know, that you’re working with somebody that you can trust. And that’s and that’s on your team and not, you know, and not an adversary. So we appreciate what y’all have done to to help us.

Ressa 27:38
Yeah, you mentioned that in the collaboration, I would also put another point there’s a there’s a lot more negotiation that goes into it than a than a residential lease, there’s a lot of things that are, you know, pretty standard in commercial real estate, and no one messes with whether it’s some large, you know, the, you know, insurance provision or environmental provision or what have you. But there’s a lot of things that you definitely can play around the edges. And because everyone’s trying to make it work for that custom scenario, because in an apartment, all the renters it’s kind of the same needs that are renting an apartment, but there’s different needs and wants from tenants and commercial property, whether it’s an office building an industrial warehouse, or retail center. And so I think that’s why that happens. And but once you get your first one done, like you’ve done, you’ll be all that much better for it, and you’re become much more well rounded. I’m sure it even gave you some thoughts about how you’re working in your residential business, too. So

James 28:46
yeah, absolutely. It was very educational.

Ressa 28:51
You know, one last thing and Marie, being part of a retail center like you are with all these other co tenants, right, where you have sprouts, and you have old cosmetics and Michaels arts and crafts and home goods. How has that played in? And is that is that do you think you’ve benefited from that? And and, you know, has that changed your thought process that you’re benefiting from the foot traffic of everybody?

James 29:22
Absolutely, it does. And initially, when we went in right next door to home goods, there was some thought given to the fact that they would we’re selling items for the home as well. And so if there was a question mark for just a few minutes about whether or not that would help us or hurt us, but I was always of the opinion that everybody in town goes to home goods, whether they’re just you know, maybe they’re there to buy a little a gift candle, you know, even if they’re there to buy a chair, they’re there. You know, everybody in town is going to have Um, goods. And so we, you know, we have a ton of foot traffic and I, and I think have being next door to home goods has attributed to that. So it’s amazing. And then and then and then there’s a Lowe’s in our shopping center as well. So just driving by and and we have a lot of people that stop in even still that say, Wow, I didn’t know y’all were here. I was driving to Lowe’s or I was driving, you know, to sprouts. So it absolutely, that would be, that would be one of the first things I looked for. If I were to go try to set up shop some in another town or you know, in another place, it would be to have big retailers around you that are doing well.

Ressa 30:47
Perfect. Awesome. Well, I think everyone be fascinated that you got you went from four to eight to eight team, things are going well. Sales are good. The team is great. And you’ve got an unbelievable product in the store is just gorgeous. The website’s great. And wish you nothing but the best for you. And I want to make sure we continue to stay in touch. And if you ever need anything, let me know.

James 31:24
I appreciate that. Thank you. Y’all have been awesome to work with.

Ressa 31:29
Thank you so much. You have to and then are you ready for the last part of the show? Amory,

James 31:35
I’m ready. All right.

Ressa 31:36
Three questions. What is your best piece of commercial real estate advice?

James 31:45
Oh. Location is very important. And yeah, I think almost like location. Okay, get in a place that’s visible. It’ll save all kinds of marketing dollars.

Ressa 32:07
Okay. Second question. Are you ready? I’m ready. What extinct retailer, do you wish would come back from the dead?

James 32:22
Oh, goodness. I don’t know if you’ve heard of posets. Sure. I loved posets.

Ressa 32:36
Very cool. Very cool. All right. I know we’re short on time. Are you ready for the last question?

Unknown Speaker 32:45
I’m ready. All right.

Ressa 32:48
So people are home. I think in the in the winter this year, you might see I’ll give a prediction that you’re seeing more board games sold this year than you might otherwise have seen? Yes. All right. So I haven’t looked at board games lately. But I’m looking at one right now. It’s one of the hotter board games. It’s difficulty level is easy. It’s a two to five player game. The Playtime is 60 minutes. It’s ages eight and up. It’s one of the best board games for all ages. It’s called Ticket to Ride. And what does Ticket to Ride retail for Emery?

James 33:33
Oh my goodness. It’s $39.

Ressa 33:36
Wow, you’re so close. It is on Amazon. It is $37.03. Wow.

James 33:46
All that retail experience is paying off.

Ressa 33:50
That is pretty good. So I really appreciate you coming on. I look forward to staying in touch.

James 33:57
Thank you very much.

Ressa 33:58
This was great. Thanks Emory.

James 34:00
Lots of time appreciate it.

Ressa 34:03
Thank you for listening to retail retold. If you want to share a story about a retail real estate deal that you were a part of on our show. Please reach out to us at retail retold at DLC mgmt.com This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, broker, entrepreneur, architect or an attorney. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to retail retold so you don’t miss out on next Thursday’s episode

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