Sunnyland Furniture A Shopper's Paradise
David and Debbie Schweig have created a fun-filled retail environment for outdoor-living customers in the Dallas area.
BY SHARON SANDERS
Shopping can be fun. Ask anyone who has visited Sunnyland Furniture in Dallas. Two-time Apollo Award Winners David and Debbie Schweig have created a shopping experience in their outdoor-living store that is anything but ordinary. From golf-course retreat to a tropical paradise, Sunnyland's masterfully merchandised displays entice even the most cynical shoppers to buy. The Schweigs' lifestyle marketing approach and fun-filed store environment have brought them the business success of which they have always dreamed.
When the Schweigs were offered the opportunity to purchase Sunnyland Furniture from Debbie’s family in 1977, they jumped at the opportunity. Debbie had grown up in the family furniture business and David was selling high-end jewelry. “All I was really doing was changing products,” he says.
At the time, Sunnyland Furniture was the outlet store for the furniture chain run by Debbie’s parents; while they sold patio furniture, it was not their primary focus. In 1990, the Schweigs relocated the store to a small shopping center and began selling outdoor-living products exclusively. It was a major face lift in 2003, however, that was the beginning of the Sunnyland Furniture of today.“
I call it the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation,” Schweig says. Both the exterior and interior of the store are virtually unrecognizable since the remodeling. The exterior was changed from an L-shaped storefront to an eye-catching long line. They added 10,000 square feet of showroom space, a 2,000-square-foot patio and an on-site warehouse, making the new store an impressive 65,000 square feet. The Schweigs transformed the interior of the store into a totally different concept than that of any other outdoor-living retailer in Dallas, something that they knew would resonate with shoppers.
Sunnyland offers three distinct shopping experiences. When you walk through the front doors, you enter the 22,000-square-foot big-box showroom. This no-nonsense room is stocked with cushions, umbrellas and neatly displayed furniture organized by manufacturer and collection. It is tailored for the needs of customers who want to make their purchases quickly and leave.
Those shoppers who need a little extra help visualizing their outdoor retreats can make their way to the adjoining 10,000-square-foot lifestyle showroom. This unique space is filled with over 20 fully accessorized furniture vignettes displayed in real-life environments, including a second home on a golf course (complete with a professional-quality putting green), the charming front porch of a ranch home, the backyard of a cabin and a cozy evening entertaining setting. Customers wanting to recreate a favorite vacation spot can become inspired in the 2,000-square-foot fantasy backyard. This enclosed patio features a romantic Tuscan villa with a terra-cotta-tiled roof and solid stone columns, as well as a relaxing Polynesian paradise with a straw-hut bar.
(from left) David Schweig, president; David “Nick” Nickell, buyer; Ron Joiner, general manager; and Debbie Schweig, vice president.
According to Schweig, the whole idea behind the showroom is selling customers on the idea that a patio is just as important as any indoor room. It is a way for them to spend more time outdoors. “I want to shift their mindsets,” he says. “People will easily spend thousands of dollars for indoor furniture; they need to see for themselves that patio furniture is worth the investment.”
Schweig stresses that he is not trying to go head-to-head with big-box retailers. He stays focused on showing the product properly and on the overall experience. The result has been a greater demand for midrange and high-end furniture and an increase in overall ticket sales ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.
The Schweigs worked closely with local designers and landscape architects to create the vision for these one-of-a-kind settings. They also partnered with local gazebo, decking, stone and roofing vendors to bring the vision to life. “It’s an opportunity for them to showcase their products for customers in a nonwarehouse setting,” Schweig says. It has been a winning partnership for everyone involved because everyone is targeting the same customer base. The total cost of labor and materials to create these amazing environments was more than $150,000, all of it paid for by the vendor partners.
An element of fun is always part of the Sunnyland shopping experience, too. “We call it shoppertainment,” Schweig says. On any given day of the week, customers are treated to giveaways, demonstrations or some type of in-store event. One of the most popular activities is the store’s three-hole putting green, which is a favorite with kids and adults alike. The goal of the entire Sunnyland team is to make sure everyone leaves the store with a smile. “Shopping should be fun for the whole family,” Schweig says.
The Schweigs use a full mix of media to spread the word about Sunnyland, including radio, television, telephone directories and the Web. Schweig recently turned all of the advertising over to an agency after many years of doing everything himself. “It was a relief,” he says. “I couldn’t keep operations running smoothly and do the advertising the way it should be done.”
Sunnyland’s profits have continued to grow steadily since the remodeling. Schweig attributes much of this growth to the new showroom experience, the broad range of products and his seasoned sales team. There is no doubt that Sunnyland is at the top of its game, but the Schweigs are not resting on their success. They are always looking for the next big idea. “Business is changing constantly so you can’t be complacent,” Schweig says. “It’s all about keeping your store fun, interesting and fresh.”