Success - one woman's `Domain'

Judy George discovered the formula for retail success in her own home, where she lives with her husband and four children. She loved mixing all sorts of things - nostalgic family things from her grandmother and her mother such as old photographs and laces, beautiful hand-made crafts, fine antiques, and good contemporary furniture.

When visitors came, Ms. George recalls, ``It was as if they were seeing new ways in which they might express themselves in their own homes.

``So I decided to create a store that would broadly reflect the way people actually wanted to live today,'' she says, ``a store full of good things from many places and periods that could be purchased one at a time and assembled to suit the customer's own style.''

The result was Domain, Inc., the new home furnishings retail chain that she heads. Its first store opened less than a year ago at The Mall at Chestnut Hill in Boston's suburbs, and the second on Newbury Street, downtown.

A third is opening in June in Westfarms Mall in West Hartford, Conn., and some half a dozen others are scheduled to open later in other East Coast locations.

``I wanted to create something with which everyone could identify,'' she says.

``People - particularly the baby boomers - were growing up and older. Their tastes and values were changing and I perceived that they wanted to touch base again with a fuller and more decorative sense of home. I envisioned that Domain could show them a way, a new way to do it.''

Her stores have been such a success that George gets fan mail galore, invitations to speak at conferences and markets, and customers rushing up to her in the store to thank her for making shopping such a pleasure. Even as this interview was taking place in the store at Seven Newbury Street, an enthusiastic shopper broke in to say that with the range of furnishings and accessories that she found here, she could ``furnish five houses in 15 minutes.''

Stores like Bloomingdale's have come to look her operation over, and one major manufacturer has termed her merchandising concept ``venturesome, sensational, and romantic.''

George chose the name Domain ``because it was French, but not too French, and is a short but telling name that means your `home' or your `place.'''

She believes in affordable prices and in a fair but modest mark-up that does away with the need for frequent sales. She also believes in instant availability of goods, with no long waits for the customer.

``I am considered to be a maverick in the retail field,'' she says, ``because almost everything about my stores is unconventional and because I've found different ways of buying and of presenting things.''

She combed craft fairs to find the 30 or so craftspeople whose one-of-a-kind objects she showcases in her stores, and she considers her link with the craft community to be a mutual blessing and benefit.

She purchases antiques from a buying service in England that collects things from all of Europe and the British Isles into a major warehouse.

Several times a year, George and members of her team, including an authority on antiques, arrive to ``sort out those things that are right for us, be they French armoires or English Victorian treasures, or whatever.''

As for contemporary furnishings, past experience, she says, has led her to those manufacturers who can make a really good product at a reasonable price. She points to a sofa with classic lines that she can sell for $750 and which is extremely popular.

``I know how to buy,'' she says, ``and how to design and specify what I need.

``Of course, what Domain does that is so unique is the way we put it all together.

``We literally show people how almost anything goes,'' George says, ``and we give people all kinds of ideas.

``Right now the big thrust is toward Victorian. Everyone who comes in gravitates to the Victorian settings. I find that people want a luxurious look that is not stiff, nor too sparse or spare, but one that gives a warm, lived-in feeling and is still elegant.

``I observe and react to what people are telling me and showing me. They invariably go like homing pigeons to what really interests them, whether it be Victorian or our Santa Fe room, Brittany bedroom, or Dynasty dining room. I take note because I never want to be accused of having my head stuck in the sand.''

George was president of Scandinavian Design for almost nine years, during the period that the chain grew to 53 stores with a volume of $85 million. Before that, she offered design and marketing consultation services through her own business, called ``Ideas by George!''

The venture capitalists who are backing Domain admired her spunk, energy, enthusiasm, and sharp instinct about what people want in their homes. They also suggested William Anderson as her vice-president and chief operating officer, says George, ``to keep me and the company on track.

``We make a great team. I have the passion for the business and the convictions about what sells. I have had to discipline myself, but I have worked incredibly hard to deliver what I promised. He brings quiet balance, experience, and money know-how.''

The mix of merchandise offered by Domain stores includes both antique and contemporary furniture, lighting from many countries, area rugs, an international collection of linens, accessories that include Chinese porcelains and Murano glass from Venice, and original art and handmade craft objects.

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