The Farmhouse Store has seen strong demand for its artisan furniture and unique home décor since launching its flagship Westfield store six years ago, and its second store — opening Friday, in Princeton — will be the model for the company's expansion, potentially via franchising, to other affluent New Jersey municipalities.
Since Ed Menapace opened in Westfield in 2006, sales have grown sixfold in tandem with the store’s expansion from about 1,700 square feet to about 10,000 square feet. His brother, Ron, who will manage the 3,325-square-foot Princeton store, said the smaller footprint “is a good size that allows us to showcase our vendors and merchandise, without being too large and having too much overhead.”
He said the company is looking at partnering with investors to open franchise locations, as well as opening additional company-owned stores, and is targeting other affluent downtown locations like Summit, Red Bank and Ridgewood: “We are looking at walking downtowns with a lot of foot traffic that people like to come to for shopping.”
A specialty of the Farmhouse Store is “barn wood furniture” made in Pennsylvania by craftsmen who dismantle barns and turn the beams and posts into tables and benches. The store also deals with several glassblowers, and sources artisan jewelry from throughout the country.
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, the national retail consulting and investment banking firm based in New York, said luxury is among the strongest retail segments, as the wealthy have seen income growth in recent years, in contrast to the squeeze on middle- and lower-income consumers. And he said upscale retailers “are building more stores downtown: you have more urban shopping than even before.”
Since New Jersey is an affluent state, Farmhouse Store “is smart to look around New Jersey, because they are a (small) company and they have to be careful with their geography,” Davidowitz said. “If you control your geography, that gives you an element of control of your business.”
Retail real estate broker Richard J. Brunelli, of R.J. Brunelli, in Old Bridge, said as Farmhouse looks to expand, they will find “no shortage of space in the better downtowns right now. In Red Bank, they could find half a dozen sites to look at, and you can probably find space in Summit, Millburn and Ridgewood. Especially in that category: furniture stores that have gone out of business leave behind space that would be very suitable.”
John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said many downtown retailers are still recovering from the recession, so it’s a mixed picture, depending on the location. “But obviously upper-income individuals, who shop at higher-level retailers and specialty retailers, tend to be impacted less in a recession and are the first to recover.”