It’s been twenty years since Ginny Stewart and J. Todd Lannom opened Centro on McPherson Avenue in the CWEscene. Since then, they’ve helped beautify many homes and they continue to source the best designed modern furniture, lighting and accessories in the world.
Tell us about the team here at Centro?
J. Todd Lannom: Ginny Stewart was originally an independent manufacturer’s representative selling modern furniture, lighting, and textiles to architects and designers in a 4-state territory. She operated out of a building on Washington Avenue that housed Mossa Center, a modern furniture store where Steve Schuepfer and I worked. Mossa’s owner passed away in 1996, so in 1997 Ginny and I decided to open our own store. We opened to the public on July 16th, 1998. Steve circled back around to the design industry and joined our team as showroom manager in 2001.
Congratulations on 20 years! What does this anniversary mean to you as a business owner?
Ginny Stewart: It means a lot as a business owner. Especially, when a customer that hasn’t been in the store for a while comes in and says; “you made it, I didn’t know if Centro would be here or not”. It really makes you realize that we sustained through a very difficult economic recession (2008-2009) when many similar businesses went under. It is gratifying when a national or local publication lists Centro Modern Furnishings as one of the best furniture stores in the country.
Take us back to 1998 when you first opened your doors. What was that experience like starting your own business?
J. Todd Lannom: This might sound strange, but it all seemed so easy at the time. Ginny and I had both been in sales “to the trade” so we had a network of architects and designers who continued to specify our brands for their projects. We worked out of the guest bedroom in my CWE condo for about a year, and the cash flow from our sales, combined with a small bank start-up loan, allowed us to secure our lease, hire an architect for the store build-out, and purchase the merchandise for the store. The process was not without some hiccups, but looking back now, it’s pretty amazing it all worked out so well. I think we even paid the bank loan back by the end of that first year.
Why did you decide to open your store on McPherson in the CWE?
Ginny Stewart: Both Todd and I live in the CWE and wanted to locate our store within the neighborhood. During our search, it just so happened that a rental space came available on McPherson which was a perfect match for our needs. We have not been disappointed as the street offers a great blend of retail businesses along with restaurants that service the fast residential and employment growth in the area.
Tell us about Centro and what makes your store unique?
Ginny Stewart: Over the past twenty years, we have traveled to European trade shows to source the best designed modern furniture, lighting and accessories in the world. Many of the products for sale in our store are in permanent museum collections. Centro Modern Furnishings does not work with companies that produce “knock-offs”. We are a member of Be Original, an organization that supports authenticity and the investment in original design. All of us at Centro have a passion for good design. We’re here to assist you in your purchase, whether it be an Alessi Fly Swatter or a B&B Italia Charles sofa.
How do you decide which brands to carry?
Steve Schuepfer: For the past 20 years we’ve focused on the high end design brands out of Italy and the two historic “American” brands: Herman Miller and Knoll. The companies that we work with are at the forefront of furniture design and manufacturing worldwide. With these brands we always know that we’re getting the best of both worlds: the best design and the best quality manufacturing.
What are some of your most popular brands?
Steve Schuepfer: For furniture: B&B Italia, Cassina, Moroso and Zanotta. For lighting: Artemide, Bocci, Flos and Moooi.
Earlier this year, you added Blu Dot to your showroom. Tell us about that.
Steve Schuepfer: Blu Dot is a great company that is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year too. They’re doing good design, good quality manufacturing at a good price point. All with a much quicker delivery time than importing from overseas. We were surprised that after the opening of Ikea, there wasn’t anyone jumping in to fill the needs of the mid-price point, design hungry consumer.
What are some design trends you’re seeing for 2018?
Steve Schuepfer: The trend of everything being softer/warmer is going to continue. Quilted upholstery fabrics, warmer paint colors, warm metal finishes.
So what’s in store for the next 20 years?
J. Todd Lannom: Our biggest challenge will be in finding ways to keep our brick-and-mortar store relevant in the face of growing online competition. We’ll continue to work with the recognized industry leaders of modern design like B&B Italia, Cassina, Moroso, Flos and Zanotta, but we’ll also explore smaller boutique labels, including some that are “Made in the USA”, to complement our core brands.