Sunday, November 17, 2002

Branching out helps Silky Way grow more business

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

MONTGOMERY- They may be artificial, but Sally Waxman's trees and flowers just keep growing and branching out.

Sally Waxman, owner of The Silky Way.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
Mrs. Waxman, owner of The Silky Way, has helped nurture the business from a floral design boutique to a furnishings and design specialty shop that helps customers see their environments in new ways. As a result, her venture has continued to blossom even in the current economic downturn.

Moving to a larger location within Montgomery Square this summer capped off a year that witnessed a 40 to 50 percent increase in revenues, the hiring of additional staff and further expansion of the store's inventory.

The Silky Way's diversification has taken place gradually over its 14-year history. The process has been similar to creating a floral arrangement: blending complementary components to make a complete and satisfying whole.

Silky Way founders Nancy and Lynn Evans operated out of a 600-square-foot space on Cooper Road in Montgomery before growing pains caused them to move to a shop in Montgomery Square. The mother-and-daughter team conceived of their venture as a silk floral business only, but because silk flowers have a long life, customers wanted help relating the new accent piece to their other decorative items.

"We did some home consultations, placing lamps and art work to go with the floral designs," said Marion Rockwell, who has been with the company from the beginning. "But it was pretty much just accessories here and there."

Mrs. Waxman, an interior designer, was a regular customer of The Silky Way, ordering silk floral arrangements for her clients.

"I talked to them about bringing my business into their fold," she said. "They had done all the hard work of establishing the business, taking the first lumps, and building a reputation for good service. But I knew nothing about floral, and they knew nothing about interior design. Looking at the long-term ramifications, we decided to take a six-month honeymoon."

The partnership worked and became official in 1992.

Said Mrs. Waxman: "I had all the design opportunities here I could handle. Then Nancy retired and Lynn became my hands-on working partner. Then she married and started a family, at which point I bought the business and began to add more accent furnishings to our product mix."

The new owner added staff, including a full-time tree builder.

The Silky Way provides custom designed silk trees to residential, institutional and commercial clients all over the country. Recently the company shipped 232 of its creations to a hotel in Louisville.

Now, floral and tree sales account for about half of the store's revenues, with the balance coming from sales of furnishings, accessories and window treatments.

Since the shop moved this summer to the former CVS site in Montgomery Square, there is space to arrange furniture samples in room groupings with coordinating accessories, bedding and window treatments. The expanded store includes a design center, full of fabric samples and furniture catalogs, where staff members could consult with clients. Floral and tree designers work in a spacious storage and studio area.

"Our mode has been to expand our product line, market reach and sales volume," Mrs. Waxman said. "Knowing that one good accessory doesn't make a room led to the decision to help the customer with every aspect of interior decor. We're a one-store boutique with a national market. Our projects have included houseboats, airplanes, hotels, nursing homes and restaurants all over the country."

Since Sept. 11, she adds, people have wanted to make their homes more inviting and comfortable, even if their improvements must be made on a budget.

"With the economy as it is, a lot of people tell us, `We're going to chip away at this,' so we make a long-term to-do list with people, and create relationships with our customers that are very important. You can go into other stores and pick up accessories, but you don't usually form relationships with people there, and you don't get free advice. Sometimes we stir things up with new furniture, sometimes with accessories, sometimes with window treatments. How you `season a room' depends on the owner's taste, tolerance and budget."

"Holiday business has always been a huge component of our floral business," Mrs. Waxman said. "It amazes me how much people invest in holiday decor. They have made holiday decorating more of a fashion statement, coordinating trees with their upholstery, doing multiple trees - it opens the door to larger purchases."


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