By Tom Lassiter
Photos: ©2017 Sebron Snyder, Mirgedigital. www.mirgedigital.com.
Texans, by reputation, aren’t prone to understatement. Norman Wollach, however, a native of South Africa by way of Southern California, remains a master of understatement despite years of living in the Lone Star state.
“We do things a little differently,” he says, matter-of-factly and possibly with a wink. “I call it a curious anomaly in the business.”
Curious for sure. Jacksons Home & Garden, where Wollach is Home Department manager and buyer, is a specialty store in a category all to itself.
It’s a casual furniture store, showing 25,000 sq. ft. of high-end furniture and accessories. It’s a grill store, dedicating more than 6,000 sq. ft. to barbecues and outdoor cookery. Shoppers also will find imported dishware, chandeliers, lead crystal giftware, candles, body oils and lotions, plants, garlands, door mats, gas logs, sculptural concrete products, pottery, and, at this time of year, Christmas gear (in season), including garlands, ornaments and trees.
A fully ornamented tree can fetch $9,000, and for that the staff will deliver, set up the tree, and hang every ornament. This is Dallas, and yes, that happens.
“People walk in the front door,” Wollach says, “and you watch their eyes get bigger as they look around. It’s a very different store. We go quality, quality, quality.”
Merchandise has to be top-shelf, or Jacksons (there’s no apostrophe; that’s just the way it is) won’t bother with it.
The store, which started in 1982 when owner Bob Jackson bought a pottery shop because he wanted the property, recently dropped two well-known casual furniture manufacturers. Among the reasons were concerns about warranties and market positioning. One, Wollach observed, “is becoming much more of a promotional brand.”
Quality at Jacksons, Wollach explains, means something more than how the goods rate. “It’s quality in how we approach the customer; the service we give to the customer. We are all about servicing the customer.”
At Jacksons, starting with Bob Jackson at the top and working down to the newest salesperson, everyone follows the gospel of retailing guru and fellow Texan Stanley Marcus. “The customer is always right,” Wollach quotes, “and when they’re not, pretend.”
Those aren’t cheap words at Jacksons. Not by a long shot. Stanley Marcus would be proud. The length to which Jacksons goes to make things right and keep customers happy is extraordinary.
|L to R: Norman Wollach, Home Department manager/buyer and Bob Jackson, founder and president.|
The Birthday Party
This is what customer service is all about at Jacksons.
A repeat customer from out of town decided to treat himself for his upcoming 60th birthday by purchasing outdoor dining furniture. He chose an imported Domiziani tabletop. To go with his artful Italian focal point, he special-ordered U.S.-made chairs.
Manufacturing schedules and shipment times were confirmed. Delivering new furniture in time for the party would be no problem.
But a problem developed anyway. The party date drew near and the status of the chairs, being made several states away, was unavailable. Finally, Jacksons reached out to the furniture company’s chief executive to get an answer. The chairs, Jacksons learned, would be ready on the Wednesday before the Saturday party. In other words, not in time for delivery by common carrier to Texas.
So here’s what Jacksons did to keep its customer happy. Wollach flew a man to the factory location, where he rented a truck, loaded the chairs, and bee-lined for Texas, arriving at 11 pm on a Thursday. Friday morning, a fresh driver and crew took over, loaded the hefty Italian tabletop and its base, and drove four hours to deliver the goods.
Promise kept. Customer saved.
“I write it off to advertising,” Wollach says. “We made that party, and that was critical to me. I refuse to disappoint a customer.”
|Big Green has an impressive display at Jacksons Home & Garden, and the store carries many other top barbecue brands as well.|
A Good Year
Jacksons enjoyed record casual furniture sales in 2015 and 2016, Wollach says.
Then things got better. “This year we exploded,” he says. Sales were up by 30%.
Wollach attributes the gain to an ever-increasing emphasis on quality, upscale products, and a solid reputation for customer service.
“We have become a store where customers know they are going to be treated right,” he says.
Jacksons saw gains across all of its categories. “A huge uptick” in wovens. Brown Jordan “did extremely well,” Wollach says. Gloster and Tropitone “just exploded. We did very well with Lloyd Flanders,” and so on.
Special orders account for about 65% of casual furniture sales.
Just as Jacksons doubled-down on its commitment to higher-end outdoor lifestyle products, the demographics of the Dallas metro area experienced a big infusion of newcomers, many of them well-paid young professionals.
Toyota located its new North American headquarters in the North Dallas suburb of Plano, where it employs about 4,000. State Farm has a campus in nearby Richardson, built for up to 8,000 employees.
“We watched the demographics change,” Wollach says. In a span of 18 months, Jacksons saw the age of its customers expand from “50-plus to 35-plus.” Those younger shoppers wanted something different than the Baby Boom generation.
“Thankfully, we were able to take advantage of that,” Wollach says, by offering furniture styles that mesh with current trends and appeal to style-conscious younger adults.
In Dallas, that means furniture that pays homage to classic Mid-Century Modern design, he says, rather than “full-on contemporary.”
The market has moderated and shifted, Wollach says, not just in Dallas but nationwide. He saw the shift reflected in new products at Casual Market Chicago, where he noticed an ever-greater emphasis on transitional styling.
“There’s no question about it,” he said. “Traditional is gone. Formal is gone.”
He also sees in his clientele a greater appreciation for investing in quality and value. “Folks are done with the idea of paying $1,000 for nine pieces of patio furniture and having to replace it in a year and a half,” he said.
|Hand-painted table tops of volcanic stone from Domiziani are sure to catch the eye of Jacksons discriminating shoppers.|
Bob Jackson’s preparation for success as a specialty merchant was 18 years in the dry-cleaning business.
He had multiple locations in Dallas, 140 employees, and an eye for real estate. He had purchased most of a block on Lemmon Avenue except for one parcel, a pottery shop that had imported Italian tile since 1938.
The owner would sell the land only if Jackson would also buy the pottery business – which paved the way for the next phase of his entrepreneurial career. That was around 1982.
A few years later, while visiting Italy with his wife and experiencing the culture and tradition that produced the Italian tile sold in the pottery shop, Jackson “had a vision. All of a sudden I knew what I was going to do with the pottery,” he says. “My wife, Marilyn, started feeling the same way.”
Jackson began divesting himself of the dry-cleaning properties and sold most of the Lemmon Avenue tract. As for the pottery business, “It exploded,” he says. (In addition to sharing admiration for Stanley Marcus, Jackson and Wollach share favorite words.)
Jackson added casual furniture to the mix. The company began wholesaling pottery and, in 1996, manufacturing concrete fountains, tables, benches and other outdoor items. A live plant and greenhouse business followed.
Jacksons Home & Garden expanded into gift items, including candles, body oils and lotions. The company developed a hearth business.
Wherever Jackson saw an opportunity to do more and offer something special to his customers, he did. For instance, Jacksons custom designs and manufactures fireplace screens.
“We had a welding machine and decided to make our own,” Jackson says. “We’ve made stuff for the owners of the Dallas Cowboys, nice stuff.”
Jacksons Home & Garden employs about 160 people in its wholesale and retail divisions. They include a trio of degreed horticulturalists, artisans who craft silk flowers, and employees who cast a resin-concrete mixture to become decorative pots and planters. The complex on Lemmon Avenue has 38,000 sq. ft. of air-conditioned space on two levels, and there are plans to nearly double that.
The store sells everything necessary for an outdoor kitchen and recommends third-party installers with a similar devotion to customer service.
Bob Jackson often can be found driving a forklift or doing whatever is necessary. “I don’t want to retire,” he says. “I’m going on 73. I enjoy this.”
|Dallas is certainly a good market for patio products, and Jacksons has a line-up of some of the best brands.|
Lots of merchants aspire to have a destination store. Jacksons Home & Garden truly is one.
“We have folks come in from everywhere,” Wollach says. “We’ve shipped as far as Malibu, Baltimore and states all the way to Rhode Island. Folks actually fly into Dallas just to come to the store.”
That’s super convenient for travelers arriving at Love Field. It’s right across the street from Jacksons.
Local traffic, though, drives sales, especially through repeat business. Jacksons strives to cultivate strong customer relationships by creating an easy-going atmosphere and retaining sales staff who build personal bonds with their guests.
“We have folks who come in week after week,” Wollach explains. “They’re very comfortable here, and we make sure they are.”
One longtime salesperson, he says, has a knack for bonding with customers who seek her out when they return. Those customers refer friends and bring children and grandchildren to meet her. “Really,” Wollach says, “the relationship is multigenerational.”
What shoppers see can, and often does, change from week to week.
“We have a visual team, and we’re constantly changing the store around,” Wollach says. “We don’t want things to become stagnant. The sales staff likes to do that and have fun with it.”
The eclectic product mix and always-fresh presentation encourage repeat visits and impulse buying.
Shoppers, Wollach says, may come in for a candle but walk out with an $11,000 Hestan grill or an $800 lead crystal vase. “We have people come in and buy a $3 plant,” he says, then they come back and drop $15,000 on patio furniture.”
Typical casual furniture customers routinely spend anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 when shopping at Jacksons. If a customer manages to leave with only a fire pit, the ticket might be $1,800. Others, Wollach says, “come in and drop $50,000 – or $80,000.”
The sales culture at Jacksons emphasizes helping shoppers make intelligent choices. “We want the products to last as long as possible and be as functional as possible,” Wollach says. “From our perspective, if you give folks good advice, they will keep coming back.”
The Dallas market apparently has a fairly high opinion of Jacksons. D magazine, an upscale publication whose motto is “Let’s Make Dallas Better,” runs an annual “Best of Dallas” contest. Readers have voted Jacksons the city’s top patio store for seven of the last eight years.
Wollach attributes that feat to Jacksons’ product mix and, “more importantly,” he says, “I think it’s the service they get.”
No Buyer’s Remorse Allowed
Sales staff training at Jacksons emphasizes that, “The customer is everything,” says Wollach, who earned his stripes in customer service while with Bloomingdale’s in Costa Mesa, California.
“I refuse to disappoint a customer,” he says. “I will do whatever I have to do. I will move mountains.”
If that means taking a loss on a sale to keep a customer for eternity, so be it.
For example, there was the time Wollach’s offer to help a shopper unleashed a tale of disappointment. She had purchased patio furniture from Jacksons six months earlier and said she now regretted the purchase. It just didn’t work out as she expected.
Wollach pulled up her paperwork and offered her the chance to start over. The store took the furniture back and gave her full credit.
“To me,” Wollach says, “that was advertising.”
In addition to the good-will payoff Jacksons gained, the shopper became a regular at the store. That’s the benefit of moving mountains.
|With 24,000 sq. ft. indoors to work with, there’s room for quite a variety of products.|
Jacksons’ love affair with things Italian intensified about seven years ago. The store became a dealer for the Domiziani line of volcanic stone tabletops.
Italian artisans hand-paint designs on slabs of volcanic rock. The slabs then are fired in ovens at temperatures approaching 1,800° F. The result is art suitable for serving dinner and enduring everything the Texas climate can throw at it. Jacksons guarantees the tables will hold up for 20 years.
A tabletop for four retails for about $3,250. The base is extra. Domiziani also produces long tables; one model measures 188 inches. Long tables require a stainless-steel frame to support the massive weight.
Over time, Jacksons became the largest Domiziani retailer in the nation, Wollach says, doing more business than all other U.S. retailers combined. Jacksons now has U.S. distribution rights for Domiziani tabletops, with exclusive rights to Domiziani’s contemporary works.
“They are basically functional art,” Wollach says. “For somebody who is looking for something out of the ordinary, this is it.”
Domiziani shoppers consider the striking tables as a focal point or an accent, Wollach says. He’s had customers buy six different tabletops for six different areas of their home. A tabletop sale usually entails seating, too, with many customers choosing chairs from Brown Jordan or OW Lee.
Jacksons’ ability to turn high-end sales doesn’t put shoppers of more modest means at a disadvantage. When competing against a brick-and-mortar store, Wollach declares, “I will not be undersold. If I have to buy that customer, I will.”
That commitment explains why Wollach is such a good fit at Jacksons. He and Bob Jackson met about four years ago, when Wollach came by to visit a relative who worked at the store. The two got to talking and, Wollach says, “He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
The men see eye to eye.
“From my perspective, the customer is gold,” Wollach says. “If I can’t keep my customer happy, I don’t have a business. Bob realized this many years ago. There’s some genius involved here. He has built an enormous company by making sure that his customers are taken care of.”
Store Name: Jacksons Home & Garden
Address: 6950 Lemmon Ave., Dallas, Texas
Owner: Robert Jackson
Key Executives: Forrest Jackson
Year Established: 1983
Web Site: www.jacksonshg.com
Phone: (214) 350-9200
Number of Stores: One
Number of Employees:
Gross Annual Sales:
Sq. Ft. of Building Space: