My annual trip to look at inspirational and world class retailing in New York last week was not looking good. I went to see the new Barneys store and was hugely impressed, but still I was struggling to find store concepts that were interesting, unique and that I could not see anywhere else. I thought back to the days when I used to go to the USA especially to see the jeans and trainers that were not available in the UK!
An emergency call to Joel Bernstein, former creative director of Liberty and co-founder of CocoMaya, who always seems to know what’s hot in the world, led me to the BDDW store. BDDW is a high-end furniture, homewares and lifestyle company with a store in New York and a showroom in Milan. Their merchandise is really unique and interesting, but what really excited me was when the store assistant led me through the curtain next door to M. Crow & Co., their new concept design store. Now that was a retailing experience!
I caught up with the founder, Tyler Hays, and discovered how he started the business. Tyler, who calls himself a ‘classic renaissance guy’, told me that he has so many hobbies and interests, he is literally busy seven days a week! Tyler says: ‘M. Crow & Co. grew out of the awkward collision around all of my hobbies – and saving the store and its heritage’.
A painter and sculptor, he founded BDDW 22 years ago and moved to New York to see if he could really make it. He found that his furniture began to sell extremely well, and as he got busier making things in wood, metal, carpet and stone, he opened an enormous studio in Philadelphia. In 2001, he opened the Crosby Street store in New York, that he still occupies today. Two years ago on the studio site, where he grows barley to make beer, he was digging when they discovered clay on the property 20 feet underground. That was the beginning of a hand-made ceramic business. The blue and white ceramics, which are individually crafted, sell like hot cakes and there is a long waiting list for them from people from all over the world.
Tyler’s humble beginnings started in a tiny town in Oregon where his family had lived for many generations before. It was there where he developed his creative skills. Two years ago, he heard that after 107 years, the local family-owned general store was having to close down. Knowing that living in the rural and low-income area meant a 30 minute drive to buy milk, he decided to save it. He then bought it and set up the shop! Tyler has not changed the general store, which still sells food, cigarettes, tools, and other sundries. Keen to generate work in Oregon, he dug three miles down the road from the store and now sources clay there, using it to make ceramics unique to Oregon.
From his studio in Philadelphia, where he employs 100 people – all of whom have degrees from art school, he crafts an eclectic range of beautiful products, including blankets, accessories, jewellery, clothing and shoes. He uses the general store as a factory outlet, selling furniture for less than half the price in NYC. Tyler believes in giving back, and regenerating a small town in the USA is high on his agenda – as is employing creatives and giving them a chance not only to make things, but to learn retail, online and business skills. And best of all, his strategy is really working.
My immediate question to him was: ‘So Tyler, when are you rolling out M. Crow & Co.?’ I am delighted to say that his answer was: ‘I can’t stand a world with all of the same stores and the same merchandise. I love the idea of one store with bespoke, hand made items that you can only get in one place – and, of course, online!’
What is your favourite concept design store? Let me know at email@example.com, and have a great weekend.