Few people walk into a retail outlet and proclaim that they want to buy the store. But when Kevin Lemoi had the opportunity to acquire Groton’s Bare Wood Fine Wood Furniture last September, he couldn’t resist.
“My wife and I bought 14 pieces of furniture from this store and then we bought all of the furniture,” said Lemoi, with a laugh, as his first anniversary in business approached.
Bare Wood Fine Wood Furniture had been in operations for a decade before Lemoi took over, and his acquisition was not an impulse purchase – he has been involved in customized furniture building for the past three decades. The main selling point for Lemoi was the store’s exclusive focus American-made wood furniture, which appealed to him on both an aesthetic and business level. Indeed, a sign at the store’s entrance ensures shoppers that all of the merchandise for sale is 100 percent wood furniture.
“It is probably one of the things I hear the most from my customers: they don’t understand what they’re buying,” he continued. “And when they buy a piece that is an engineered piece, it has medium-density fiberboard in it, or it has chip board or sawdust and glue, and is covered with a very nice veneer. But it’s not real wood furniture.”
As for offering only American-made items, Lemoi stressed quality control in the merchandise, particularly with the Amish vendors who create many of the items being offered.
“The Amish have been building furniture in this country for over 200 years,” Lemoi explained. “They know what they’re doing, and you’re buying legacy items when you buy an Amish piece. It gets down to detaching yourself from an order-today-and-get-it-tomorrow kind of world – those products are typically engineered to fail. But when you buy a product from us, these are engineered to last for a lifetime.”
And how many products is Lemoi talking about? “We work with 15 U.S. manufacturers and they all have full catalogues, so there is so much more that I could sell than I could ever put on the floor,” he said, with a laugh. “We salt and pepper the floor with samples from all of vendors, so people get a sense of the quality.”
A casual exploration of Bare Wood Fine Wood Furniture offers a wealth of unexpected delights: a cedar bird feeder, a boat-shaped bookcase featuring with decorative oars, a clock shaped like the state of Connecticut, a folding stepstool that can be stored in its own box, and – perhaps to the delight of “What’s My Line?” fans – a bread box. Items are available in unfinished, pre-finished and finished states. The store offers finishing on unfinished merchandise, with Lemoi adding that he can match colors to other existing furniture so the customer does not have a mismatched set.
“We sell an awful lot of bookcases, kitchen tables and bedroom sets,” Lemoi commented, adding that some people are impressed enough with the floor samples that they order them for immediate acquisition. “Kitchen tables are one of my favorite things to sell, because memories are made around those pieces of furniture.”
Lemoi noted that he is open to using his own woodworking skills to create unique or even peculiar items that exist only in the buyer’s imagination. “I was recently asked to make a pipe box to hold eight to ten unique and fancy pipes,” he said. “The design needed to allow for air ventilation and have enough room to safely store all his pipes.”
But there are some limits to what Lemoi will offer. “I only buy wood from organizations that practice sustainable farming,” he stated. “I am not buying ebony from an individual who is just cutting it in Africa and not replenishing.”
Bare Wood Fine Wood Furniture’s pricing ranges, according to Lemoi, from $40 for the small unfinished novelty items up to $10,000 for the full-finished sophisticated furniture. “It’s about choice,” he said. “If you want a kitchen table, I can sell you a kitchen table for $379 that sits six people. Or I can sell you a $5,500 kitchen table that seats 12 people. It is about your need, your price range and your lifestyle.”
Bare Wood Fine Wood Furniture culls its customer base from the New York-to-Boston corridor, although admitted that his customers tend to be from the older and more financially comfortable sides of the demographic spectrum.
“Typically, young people just starting out tend to look for things from other vendors, just because they’ve been programmed to go to Walmart,” he said. “But we get a very fair mix – a lot of senior citizens, a lot of young people who just got new jobs and are ready to upgrade and need new furniture.”
Lemoi also noted that the public will not see his store blossom into a chain of retail franchises. “The quality of service goes down,” he explained. “Nobody is going to give you as good of customer service as the owner. I believe it is important to me as the owner that I hand-hold every customer who comes through the door. I think it is one of the biggest mistakes that business make – get too big, too fast, and customer service suffers as a result of that. I want a relationship with my customers – I just don’t want to sell them one thing and be done.”
Lemoi shares the store’s break room with his wife Peggy, who runs the Shear Value hair salon next door. While Lemoi invests in print advertising and actively pursues social media to raise awareness of his store, word of mouth is his strongest channel for marketing. And after a year running the business, he has yet to lose the sense of fun in watching the reactions of first-time visitors.
“People come through the door expecting a certain thing and are blown away,” he grinned. “We get the ‘wow’ factor all of the time, and you can see it in their eyes.”
Bare Wood Furniture is located at 976 Poquonnock Road, Groton, CT 06340. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 860-449-9445 or visit barewood.com.