shop talk | Jan 31, 2024 |
How this Virginia shop owner gains traction with Instagram videos

In Business of Home’s series Shop Talk, we chat with owners of home furnishings stores across the country to hear about their hard-won lessons and challenges, big and small. This week, we spoke with designer Susan Jamieson of the Bridget Beari Home Store in Richmond, Virginia.

Since launching her interior design firm, Bridget Beari Designs, in 1992, Jamieson has steadily built out her business. Next came her own line of paint colors and wallpapers, and in 2017, she opened a retail store. More recently, she’s begun a weekly social media series, posting videos to her considerable following sharing tips like how to choose darker paint colors, decorate with books and botanicals, or wallpaper your entryway. Ahead, she discusses plotting out her content (or not), operating in a college town, and how dogs are central to her proceedings.

How this Virginia shop owner gains traction with Instagram videos
Susan JamiesonJoe Bernado

What was your career like before the shop?
I’ve been an interior designer for 30 years, so we’ve always had a studio. I did a nonprofit showhouse with a bunch of other designers, and we needed a custom paint color to match one of the fabrics. I was like, “Well, I know how to do that.” We went to a paint company and mixed different drops into the can and came up with this beautiful color. Everyone was like, “Oh, my gosh, you really know how to mix paint!” That led to us having a line of our own paint colors. My customers always say that I really have a way with paint. I’m the queen of color. We were showing the paint at a local store here, [but] it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go. I thought there was more potential. so we decided to open a retail store in 2017. I mean, you can’t sell paint if you don’t have a place to sell it.

And to look at the colors.
Exactly. So, that was how it all started. It wasn’t my intention to have a retail store, but I was always looking for new avenues for creativity. It fell in our lap and just made sense.

Can you tell me about the name?
I decided to name the business after my two dogs. We give money from the sales of our wallpaper and paint to dog rescue groups from all over. We have a dog run at the pound that’s named for the paint. I rescue a lot of dogs because—I don’t know, they just come to me! [Helping rescues is] our mission. All the paints and wallpapers are named after dogs. We have contests online where everybody can vote for the name of a wallpaper. It’s been fun.

What is the balance of merchandise? How much is proprietary vs. vendors
We like to make some of our own furniture pieces, and we make all of the wallpaper, lampshades and paint colors. That’s probably 20 percent. Upholstery is another 30 percent, and the rest is accessories, botanicals, [pieces from] local potters—a menagerie of things that I love.

How do you source those other vendors?
We go to High Point Market for our customers and for the bigger items. Everything else, I research. I’m always searching for something that’s appealing.

How would you describe the store’s aesthetic, and is it similar to your design studio’s?
Our tagline is “Living the Mix.” In my design, too, I don’t do one style. If people want contemporary, I like to do contemporary. If they want traditional, I like to do traditional. That makes my job fun and interesting. I’m not a one-trick pony. And that’s kind of what the store is—we’re always changing. We’re always showing people how to mix different styles.

Every Saturday, I do a video of tips for store [customers], because [they’re] different from my [design] clients. My clients come and it’s all about their house, it’s all about them and their style. When people come into the store, they’re kind of lost and just looking for things. Giving tips every week—how far should your pendants be above your island, that type of thing—and showing different products helps the general public who are coming to the store.

How did the weekly tips come about?
People started asking questions on Instagram: “Can you tell me how to do that?” “How do I pick a color for my front door?” So I said, “OK, I’m just going to answer online, and everybody can hear and send me questions.” So it just happened. I don’t really plan too much. [I’ll think], “Today I want to redo the bookcases. Let’s show people how to redo the bookcases.” “Today we’ve got six barstools in the store, and they’re all different heights. Let’s talk about what height goes with what.” People comment [in person], “I saw your post on the dining room chairs, and I started counting my dining room chairs.” That’s cute! At least people are watching. I’ve done it for almost two years.

How this Virginia shop owner gains traction with Instagram videos
Bridget Beari paint and wallpaper selectionsGordon Gregory

How much have you delved into strategy? Do you see what people are sharing, or watch when certain stories go viral?
I actually look at other people’s stores and how they use Reels. I’ve been looking at these “pop” Reels, where it’s different items and then they pop about, and I was like, “OK, I’m going to try that.” I’m always trying something new. I painted a piece of cardstock with our logo on it, and that seemed to be very popular. The Reels are not as quick and easy as just [posting] a picture, but I think people really like the visual—something that’s going to make you look a little more than just a still picture of a lamp. I see what other people are doing, and I try to do a little bit of something more special or more exciting. I mean, it is time-consuming, and it’s all me. It’s not like we have a production team in the background. It’s my iPhone.

Do you have a trade program?
We do. We sell our wallpapers in different showrooms in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Texas. We sell our paint locally, but we ship all over. You can get a trade account very easily. You just go online and send us your business card, and we can send you samples to sell directly to your customer. Paint is a tricky business—there is a lot of damage sending liquid through the mail, and California has certain rules. But we’ve done it, and we’ve done it successfully.

Is paint the biggest category for you? Or what flies out of the store the fastest?
Funny—it’s our candles. We have a signature scent, a rose and quince candle, that we couldn’t keep in stock. This year we did a new candle that’s peppermint and eucalyptus, and it’s already a big hit. Sometimes having small things people can take away is the key to keeping things moving.

What’s your favorite category?
I love original art. I’ve been on the board of a nonprofit art gallery here in Richmond for over 20 years, so [I have] relationships with the local artists, and they bring things they might want me to put on the wall to sell. I sell a lot of original art in my projects. We’ve got contemporary, we’ve got landscape, we’ve got vintage—we have all sorts of different art.

How this Virginia shop owner gains traction with Instagram videos
The interior of the Bridget Beari Home storeGordon Gregory

What is it like operating in Richmond?We’ve lost all of our furniture stores. There are only maybe three or four left, and they’re not big. There are not a lot of little stores either, for some reason. The older generation has moved on or retired, so it’s all very small pop-up stores. That has helped us in the sense that we get a lot of people moving here from the big cities—from Washington, D.C., and New York—and when they google “Richmond home store,” we get a lot of traffic that way. When they come in, they say, “Oh, this is so different. I was expecting super traditional. This is much cooler than I thought.”

That makes me feel good. I feel like we have something to offer. There are two colleges in town, so we also get a lot of parents who have dropped their kids off or are looking for something to do.

Are there any challenges to operating in the city?
The challenge is that people aren’t venturing out; they’re just going to shop online.

Are there other ways that you try to get people back into the stores, like events or workshops?
We’ve done events. We do pop-up art events. When a designer has a new book, I’ll have them come in and do a roundtable discussion. We’ve done wreath-making. We did a “handmade and local-made” event where we had all local makers come in. We did a fresh-flower show. We’re always thinking of new ways to bring people in.

What dreams do you have for the business next?
In terms of our products, I definitely see fabrics in the mix. We create our own furniture, but [it has only] been one-offs: We create one table, we sell it, it’s gone. I’d like to have a little more product development, with our own special paint colors. Also, we are thinking about expanding … to show more merchandise. There’s a space right next door that seems not to have been occupied for the past four months. I would like to have a little more space. And I would like to continue to have a great store where people like to come.

How this Virginia shop owner gains traction with Instagram videos
The exterior of the storeGordon Gregory

What’s your favorite day as a shop owner?
The day that we move everything around—when we get new merchandise and decide we’re going to have a whole new look. People really like that, because they come in and say, “Oh, it’s completely different from the last time I was here!” They like to see something new. Again, it’s about living the mix: How can you mix it up and show something that maybe they haven’t seen before? The other great thing is [when] customers come and just sit, whether they’re coming to talk about their project or they like to hang out. It feels good when people just want to be there. And then maybe they walk away with a candle.

I work there every Saturday. We have a staff, but I like when people know that I’m there. They can come and talk to me. We’ve ended up with a lot of design customers through that.

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