108 S. Gay Street springs back to life this Friday when Natalie and Marshall Stair open Nest Knoxville. In some respects it may feel familiar. You’ll find home decor and gift items customers knew to expect from James Freeman Interiors which closed its doors at the same location last November. But you’ll also find major differences. The emphasis of the new business is on furniture and it’s a different niche than other furniture stores in the city.
I asked if this was a joint effort between the two and Natalie laughed and said, “Yes. It’s fifty/fifty with me doing all the work.” She says it would never have happened without Marshall’s support but, truthfully, he’s pretty busy being a city councilman and practicing attorney. Natalie, originally from Hickory, North Carolina, has quit her job as a controller for a local finance company to devote full time to the new enterprise. A Knoxville resident since she came to town in 2002 to attend UT, she and Marshall married late last year and agreed that if they were going to give this a try, now was the time.
It’s not a coincidence that Natalie is opening a furniture store and is from Hickory, North Carolina, where most American-made furniture originates. Her family has been in the furniture business for three generations. Her grandparents operated a large furniture factory and she grew up touring the factories there and marveling at the quality work. Her parents operate a 40,000 square foot facility (plus warehouses) dealing with “swatches,” or fabrics for furniture and fashion. She calls herself a “furniture nerd,” and says she has to restrain herself from oversharing with those of us who aren’t quite as immersed in that world.
Hickory, North Carolina has been a frequent destination for Natalie since she moved to Knoxville – and not just for the reasons you’d expect. She’s returned to buy furniture for herself and she’s taken friends there to buy furniture. Because of family connections, she’s been able to shop sample sales where she feels she’s been able to get furniture with the best craftsmanship and the lowest possible prices.
The samples are products offered for display to international buyers in biannual trade shows. The furniture companies only show samples which display their finest quality in order to make the sales to the assembled large buyers. So what happens to the thousands of sample products which are the finest quality the company has to offer, but have now been displayed at the trade shows? That’s where Natalie comes in.
There are a number of stores in the immediate area of Hickory offering samples as their main product, but Natalie points out no one is doing it here. And the discounts on the furniture are far below wholesale. She showed me an online ad for a set of tables from a well-known retailer, for example, with a “sale” price of just under $1000. Natalie has the sample set priced at just over $300. Her focus will be the high-end, classic styles and manufacturers, but with the large discounts offered on samples.
She says she has always considered herself a very hard worker, but she feels she’s worked harder getting the business ready in the last month than she’s ever worked. Ideas for the new business keep popping into her mind and her excitement has built. In her previous role with a finance company she’s helped many people develop business plans and get businesses off the ground. She’s admired their courage and has been a little jealous. In fact, she says this is a step she’s wanted to take for over a decade. She realizes it’s a risk, but thinks she’s found a model that will work.
The pieces are offered as they are, which means you can’t say you’ll take a particular couch, but in a different color. The color is what the color is. But she’s also got a lot more where that came from. She said she plans to change up what’s on the floor with a great frequency so you shouldn’t expect to see the same pieces each time you visit the store. She’s also likely add new types of items and services – we talked about fabric for covering furniture and the possibility of offering that as a service. She’ll also soon start working with area artists to have their art displayed in the store.
And you can check it out starting this Friday when Nest Knoxville hosts its grand opening. The store will open for regular hours that day at 10:00 AM, but will offer wine and hors d’oeuvres from 5:00 PM to the 8:00 PM close. Come welcome downtown Knoxville’s newest retail business (and “like” their Facebook page to keep up with the latest). Hours going forward are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday. They will close Sunday and Monday.