Together We Stand

A side-by-side retail strategy creates a buying atmosphere that a single store cannot

Photo: Bart Bahth and Rawle Blackman

“ONE GREAT LOCATION, two great stores,” says Rawle Blackman, ­explaining the thinking behind a decision made five years ago, when he and Bart Bahth moved both of their ­businesses to side-by-side locations on Wharncliffe Road South, just south of Commissioners Road.

Today, customers frequently walk across the parking lot from one store to the other—and so do the two men. “We have lunch together three or four times a week, give each other advice and do joint marketing,” says Bahth. “We’re good friends, and so are our wives.”

Blackman owns home furnishings business Modern Living London ; Bahth owns bath and kitchen showroom London Bath Centre. Both carry high-end, fashion-forward Canadian brands, and specialize in customizing items to meet clients’ specific needs and visions.

The duo will often work with the same interior designers, homebuilders and renovation companies, and ­frequently see their regular customers in each other’s stores. “We worked on six lottery dream homes together, which was great exposure for both of us and we noticed it drove traffic to both stores,” says Blackman.

By grouping the two stores together, Blackman and Bahth say they’ve been able to create a one-stop environment that consumers increasingly desire

In its former location, London Bath Centre mainly dealt in business-to-business sales, working with designers, builders and renovators on custom projects and multi-unit developments. Since the current location is more visible, Bahth says he has seen a notable increase in retail sales.

By grouping the two stores together (a strategy often called retail “clustering”), Blackman and Bahth say they’ve been able to create a one-stop environment that consumers increasingly desire. And in addition to each store benefitting from increased foot traffic, it also leads to increased exposure and spontaneous purchase decisions made by customers in the moment.

Both owners describe their typical retail client as aged 40 and up, often over 60, university educated, fashion conscious and well-travelled. “We are seeing a lot of empty-nesters who are renovating or downsizing,” observes Blackman.

With an ongoing demand for cohesive design—creating balance and unity in not only a single room but throughout an entire house— Blackman and Bahth find that design and product trends in their perspective businesses are often intertwined. “[For example], you see black legs on furniture and matte black plumbing fixtures,” says Bahth.

Mid-century modern continues to be in demand,” says Blackman. “There is a misconception that modern is for small spaces,” he says. “That’s not true. It can be large pieces—long sofas, for ­example, with clean lines and a minimalist look. And it’s okay to mix modern with ­classic pieces—you can be as eclectic as you want to be.”

Both stores stock a selection of high-demand items, but mainly the showrooms play a touch-feel-and-see role—giving clients a concrete sense of what they are ordering. “We offer custom orders, and operate on ­just-in-time purchasing,” says Blackman.

“Customization is no longer price prohibitive as more and more manufacturers are offering the same price as the floor models,” he adds.
One advantage to using established Canadian suppliers, says Blackman, is that the average turnaround time is relatively short—around six weeks in the case of Modern Living London.

“And it is always good quality and always on-trend,” he says. “We feel that’s one thing that makes both of us stand out—we are always ahead of the curve.” Kym Wolfe

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