shop talk | Jun 7, 2023 |
This Atlanta shop owner didn’t want to be ‘another guy with a great eye’

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 Bradley Odom, an Atlanta-based interior designer and owner of the shop Dixon Rye.

This Atlanta shop owner didn’t want to be ‘another guy with a great eye’
Bradley OdomCourtesy of Dixon Rye

Odom happened into retail as a teenager and wound up climbing the corporate ranks at West Elm and J.Crew before going back to school to launch a proper design firm and shop simultaneously. Here, he discusses how he brought a corporate eye to his own business while creating an aesthetic that can’t be found elsewhere in Atlanta.

What was your career like before the shop?
At age 19, I got a part-time job at a local retailer, and it lit a fire for me. My classmates were going off to college, and I was just a part-time salesperson. But very quickly, I became a manager, not having a clue what I was doing or how to lead a team. Fast forward a little bit, and I had an opportunity to work with a couple national retailers; I spent 10 years at J.Crew, starting in the field, the store teams, then working my way up to corporate roles. When I left J.Crew, I was director of sales and training.

How did you get into the home world?
I got recruited to West Elm when [the brand] was launching. I ended up working there for 10 years. My last role was director of design education, so I was doing a lot of work with training the store teams about design. I knew that I wanted to do something else. [Back] at 26, I remember this really cool store in Birmingham [Alabama] and thinking, “Gosh, it’d be cool to own my own place one day.” I always held that in the back of my head, but I knew I wanted it to be more than just, “Here’s another guy with a really great eye.” I decided to go back to school and got my interior design degree from SCAD. After completing that is when I was like, “Okay, it’s time to open this thing.” We’ve had the store and design business for almost eight years.

How did you launch both businesses at the same time?
It was solely about the store in the beginning. I knew I wanted to create a brand, not just a shop. This was also during the time, which obviously still exists, of the conversation around: “Is there a future for brick-and-mortar?” So when I was concepting this, the branding was such a huge part of it, from beautiful shopping bags to the right playlist, the right smell in the shop, the right [signage] on the building.

Shortly after we opened the shop, people seemed to really like it, and we got a call for a big interior design project to completely renovate an old family farmhouse. I was very upfront with the client: “I’m fresh out of school, but I know I can do this.” It ended up getting published regionally and was a big win for us. From there, [the business grew in a similar] way—most of our design clients come from the shop.

I would love to hear about how you honed the aesthetic after working in retail for so long. How is it different from a lot of the Atlanta scene? I kept reading that you focus on Southern hospitality, but then you have these pieces from Europe and Africa.
My grandfather was an upholsterer, with a shop in the back of his home. People would drive from all over the Southeast to bring their furniture to him because he was the best. So from an early age, I had a love of quality. When I launched a shop, I wanted it to feel intentional and meaningful, and I wanted to use it as a way to educate people on how things are made.

It was also important to me to have a strong point of view. That point of view was my taste, what I loved, but I also wanted it to be something that you could not get in Atlanta. There are some amazing shops in Atlanta, but a lot of them tend to look the same. It was affirming when people would come in and say, “Oh, this is so different for Atlanta.”

The Southern hospitality part is really about service, less about the product. It’s not about florals and chinoiserie as much as it’s about the relationships we’ve built. One of our very top customers for eight years in a row has been Suzanne Kasler. Some of the top designers in the Southeast shop with us, and I think it’s that craving for something a little different.

What is your trade program like?
In these “interesting” economic times, trade has taken a whole new level of priority for us. We offer the standard 15 percent off, but we also try to help manage the process with them logistically—until we know the piece is in their customer’s home. It’s also about me being present on the sales floor and getting to know the designers and their aesthetics. I always ask, “What are you looking for that we don’t have?”

Tell me about your sourcing strategy. Are you going to market, are you traveling overseas, do you have people spot stuff for you?
All of the above. If I weren’t a shopkeeper or a designer, I’d probably be a picker. I love traveling in Europe, finding things that feel interesting and storied, and telling those stories here. One of my favorite vendors is out of Morocco, and I can have an idea of a random thing—“Hey, I was thinking we could make decorative eggs”—because last week I was looking to source this overscaled egg as a decorative object in someone’s home, and they were all either really expensive or not the right quality. We have these guys in Morocco who make amazing pottery, and I wondered, “Could they make an egg out of the same material?” We did a quick sketch, and today we got an email back saying, “Yes, of course, we can make that for you.” That is really rewarding.

It’s actually one of the things I’ve always respected about Thomas O’Brien, who is probably the person that I hold [as my] holy grail. He has the store Aero, but he is also an incredible interior designer, a wonderful product designer. I have always respected the tentacles of his career, and I try to emulate that where I can. So in terms of the sourcing, we use these filters: Is it already available in Atlanta? Does it feel storied? Is it something that would work in the mix? We use those whether we’re at High Point or the south of France.

This Atlanta shop owner didn’t want to be ‘another guy with a great eye’
Popular products at Dixon Rye include the Moroccan pottery from The Tadelakt ShopCourtesy of Dixon Rye

Is there a certain product or category that flies off the shelves for you?
That Moroccan pottery. A couple of years ago, we had a big opportunity to have more lighting in the shop, so we designed a shape that we felt like would make a great lamp. The scale was good, it felt like it could work in almost any environment, it wouldn’t be that expensive—an entry-level price point for a lamp. We worked with those guys, and now we offer that lamp in six colors. We have a very hard time keeping them in stock. You’re not going to see it anywhere else, and it’s at a friendly price point.

Nearly every shop owner tells me “candles,” so that’s a nice change.
Our second bestselling item is a Mad et Len candle in Spirituelle, which is this beautiful scent of light mint and basil. That candle is $130! Mad et Len has this cult following. The people who love it make sure that they have that candle at all times.

And what’s your own favorite object in the store?
I’m pretty obsessed with the Jasper sofa. We’ve had the Carmel sofa on our floor for about five years, and it’s just a classic, beautiful, well-made piece of upholstery, and it’s what I have in my home. But the Jasper, it’s probably the first sofa that’s come along that I’m like, “Oh, man, I really wish I had the Jasper.” I just love the drop-down arm. It’s also an inch shorter than your typical sofa, so it’s a little lower, with some really nice depth.

What is your e-comm strategy like, and how has it changed over time?
The first couple of years, we had a webpage just saying what we do and who we are. The website tells our branding message and our stories, but I think it’s important for us not only to have the product be a part of that e-commerce strategy, but also content. Here & There, which is our blog, or our recent playlist—I find that those things are important.

We sometimes call out specific shops. If we know we’re getting a big delivery of that pottery, it’ll be The Tadelakt Shop, or [pegged to an occasion, like] the Valentine’s Shop or the Mother’s Day Shop. We’re always going, “How do we do more business?” Our next big endeavor will be, “How do we sell more upholstery online?”

This Atlanta shop owner didn’t want to be ‘another guy with a great eye’
Odom wanted the store to feel different from other home stores in Atlanta, opting for a more worldly aesthetic instead of a more traditionally Southern lookCourtesy of Dixon Rye

Tell me about the blog, Here & There. People are now into newsletters more, and everyone understands the value of social media, but why do you think the blog is a worthy use of time and resources?
When I was in the final stages of concepting this idea, I had already hired a person who had worked for me in the past to be our retail and operations manager. She’s still with me today. I said to her, “I want to figure out how we can email subscribers something that reminds them that ‘hey, we’re still here,’ but isn’t ‘40 percent off rugs!’ or ‘new item this, new item that.’” We launched this newsletter eight years ago, before the shop actually opened. At the time, it had 12 subscribers, and today it has over 10,000. It’s called Quiet Decency, and it is a visual blog we send out on Sunday mornings of strictly images that I collect throughout the week. We send it at 6:30 in the morning, and it has been such a wild thing to watch—the amount of people who come through the door and say, “Quiet Decency is amazing,” or, “This is my church on Sunday mornings. I have it with my coffee.” People just love it because it’s not a sales-y approach, but they’re getting to see my perspective, what I’m drawn to.

That’s the first marketing thing we ever did. A year later, we started biweekly product emails, and again, we tried to figure out how to do that in a more soulful way. From there, it became, “How do we get someone to spend more time on the website?” That’s where Here & There was born. We tell people when we’ve spent a week in New York or Paris, and where we ate, and what we did; I think one of our first ones was my trip to Antwerp [Belgium].

How did some of the stressors of the pandemic affect you, like labor shortages, shipping delays and inflation?
I am so grateful that most of our team has been here for the entire time that we’ve been open, which is awesome. It’s funny—I went from working at West Elm, where the average age of a retail associate there was 18, 19, 20 years old, and [now] our entire team is over the age of 40. I think we attract a more mature, grounded, design-savvy customer, but also [a more mature] employee.

In terms of the pandemic, there was certainly the boom. Very scary in the beginning, obviously, when the store was closed for a couple of months. We did some marketing things, what we called Be Well, and it was like, “How are you spending your time during this lockdown? How can we help you?” Designers told us how they were spending their time at home. And we had people sending us emails: “What can I do to support you?” I’m like, “Buy something!” We started curbside delivery, all of those things. I would say that now is an even more interesting time because we’ve seen things taper off, for sure.

I imagine after all those weirdly good years, it’s hard to adjust the numbers.
We had such incredible, triple-digit increases through the last couple of years, so we’re doing a lot of sales comparison back to 2019. That’s not to say business is bad—it’s not bad at all, I’m super grateful—but we instead have been looking at it compared to 2019, and I’m thrilled to say that we’re having increases over that. Architectural Digest named Dixon Rye one of the most beautiful stores in the country in January, and Veranda did a similar thing in October, so we’re starting to see a lot of new faces both online and in the store.

What is your favorite type of day as a shop owner?
I love a jam-packed day. I like it when things are new and different and interesting. Yesterday, we had a huge delivery of Astier de Villatte that arrived from Paris, and it was like Christmas. That’s one of the most thrilling things—those days that new items are arriving, and everyone’s on board, unpackaging and pricing and placing. It’s also fulfilling when you have a client who says, “Wow, what a beautiful store. I love coming in here because it feeds me.”

Homepage image: Atlanta-based interior designer Bradley Odom opened Dixon Rye in 2015 | Courtesy of Dixon Rye

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