Change is inevitable. Styles, technology and even language evolve as time goes on, but Greg Rich found one thing that hasn’t: the furniture-selling industry. So he took it upon himself to change the way we buy.
“The furniture industry has not changed much in 50 years,” he says. “It’s still an antiquated business.” Furniture stores are generally giant warehouses, where “a guy comes up to you with a clipboard and tries to sell you an ottoman.” And that’s just the retail side. The design side, Rich says, has always been very exclusive—you’d better have a big budget in order to get exactly what you want.
A former IT headhunter turned furniture importer, Rich had been looking for warehouse space when he stumbled on a defunct furniture store with storage underneath. “I jumped on it for the warehouse space beneath it,” he says, and got sucked into the retail side of furniture, when he got his high-tech idea. “My thought was the internet has changed everything around us. We need to come up with a brick-and-mortar” store to reflect that.
This turned into Habitation Furnishing and Design—a high-tech furniture and design store in St. Louis Park. “If you go into one of these giant big-box furniture stores, what you’re going to find is a mass of genericized product. Habitation made the footprint much smaller,” Rich says. “Our showroom floor is only 7,500 square feet, yet we have vendors that have very deep product offerings.”
The main aspect that makes Habitation high-tech is how they display their offerings. While customers can come in and see many items physically in-store, much of the shopping is done digitally. At a warehouse, “the idea is that if you’re looking at special order or nonstock items you’re usually huddled over a little book.” At Habitation, everything is displayed on a 65-inch TV where “everyone can look at it together.” Rich is working on a plan to put nine monitors together so that a family can eventually look at a life-size couch.
And when it comes to that couch, Rich says he realizes that “a couch is a part of an entire whole. We’re not just going to try to find a couch on the floor and sell it to you,” he says. “We look at your entire room and see if something will integrate well.” And while some might worry about not seeing their item until it’s on their doorstep, Habitation works around that fear. “If it arrives and you don’t like it, we send it back at no charge and we find what you do like,” Rich says.
They can do that because they can always find a use for that item. “We can work what you don’t like into our floorplan and someone else might like it,” he says, or they can add it to one of the many model apartments they do with builders throughout the Twin Cities.
Like other smaller furniture stores, Habitation has interior designers on hand to help create your perfect living space, but unlike many other smaller stores, they carry a wide range of styles. While some might just focus on midcentury-modern, Habitation covers that, plus industrial/post-industrial, mod-con (modern contemporary) and everything in between.
Habitation also hosts events where they feature local artists in their showroom, something Rich believes is extremely important in a world filled with big-box mass-market items. “We want to be a part of the community,” he says. “We want to be a place that people are happy to have in the neighborhood.”