It’s not quite as easy as ABC, but it’s very much happening. What was once one of the most iconic stores in the entire home furnishings world now has new owners who want to return it to its former glory.
ABC Carpet & Home, in New York’s Union Square neighborhood, began in 1898 as a rack-’em-and-stack-’em floorcoverings store, but grew under its next generation of ownership into one of the most distinctive retailers of furniture, home decor and decorative accessories in the business. An imperfect storm of unforeseen circumstances—starting with the 9/11 shutdown of much of lower Manhattan through the 2008 housing meltdown and finally the pandemic—combined with the brand’s emphasis on cause-related merchandising and a weak online presence eventually drove it into bankruptcy.
That’s when 888 Capital Partners came into the picture, buying the business for about $26 million in late 2021. Ever since, under new management, the company has narrowed both its focus and its physical space while slowly bringing back in some—though certainly not all—of the eclectic merchandising mix that defined ABC during its heyday.
Walking into the store today, it’s clear that the brand’s refresh remains a work in progress, but shoppers can see improvement. “When we came in, we knew the business had to be right-sized,” Sid Banon, manager member of 888 Capital Partners, tells Business of Home. “ABC had a magic to the brand, something that Paulette [Cole, former owner] had created, but we wanted to make it more businesslike and focused. When we got here, the unanimous consensus was that the product line was too wide.
Moving away from the “more is more” strategy meant shrinking both the footprint and the assortment. The former five-floor space was reduced to two floors, at street level and the basement. ABC had earlier consolidated its other building across the street, although under its new ownership it retains its Brooklyn satellite location. The selling space in Manhattan is now about 30,000 square feet.
The former store’s wildly diverse merchandising mix—including personal accessories like jewelry and beauty, vintage and one-of-a-kinds, numerous leased departments for home textiles and an extensive assortment of furniture—was edited down to focus on rugs and decor. Rugs, which are where ABC got its start selling out of a pushcart, now account for about 55 percent of its product mix. The balance is furniture and smaller home decor merchandise.
“Rugs are the heart and soul of the business and will always be the main focus,” says Suki LaBarre, vice president of merchandising and e-commerce. She’s quick to add that there are focused assortments in a number of other categories, including decorative pillows, bed and bath, and the recently re-added kitchen accessories mix. Some of those offerings are under the store’s own Cobble Hill brand with a mix of national brands like Sferra and Signora. Some departments continue to be leased, she says, and there are a few vintage and one-of-a-kinds mixed in throughout the store.
Furniture has largely moved online, an area where the former ABC was decidedly behind the curve. Right now, e-commerce accounts for about 12 percent of ABC’s overall volume, and the company hopes to get that up to 30 percent eventually, according to Banon.
There may be additional outposts in the company’s future, he says—ABC once had a store in West Palm Beach, Florida, and it has long considered other locations, specifically California—but for now, the main flagship is the priority. Banon declines to provide total annual sales numbers, but he says, “The business is on the way back,” with online sales helping to drive growth.
The old ABC Carpet & Home was a one-of-a-kind store that will likely never be duplicated today, with e-commerce being so much more of the business, and all of those niche products now available at the click of a button. The new owners of the brand are trying to create an ABC for the next generation of the retailing business. They’ve gotten a good start, yet it’s still pretty early in the reinvention process.
Homepage image: ABC’s flagship store in Manhattan | Courtesy of ABC Carpet & Home
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.