At a time when many retailers are struggling to find the best business model, David King has come up with one that works.
And it has nothing to do with the Internet.
Since opening Doma Home Furnishings in 2006, at the brink of the housing collapse, King has managed to stay afloat and grow. He has expanded his St. Petersburg store twice and opened a second location in Tampa.
"We had to learn to be lean and mean,'' he said. "It was about controlling costs and negotiating the best deal with our vendors.''
His efforts have gained him notice. In June, King was named an Outstanding Retail Leader by the Florida Retail Federation, along with Sheri Wilken of the Mad Hatter General Store in Tarpon Springs and John and Marichi O'Rourke of Montica Jewerly in Coral Gables.
Like most independent retailers, King, 51, said success wasn't immediate or without risk. He went eight months without a paycheck and, years later, still works seven days a week, except for holidays. Any vacations double as buying trips.
Acutely tied to the ups and (lately) downs of the economy, King has been forced to adapt. When people's disposable income dried up during the recession, he offered financing programs. When shoppers took up showrooming — researching products in stores but buying them online for cheaper — he price matched and emphasized customer service and selection.
Success is rooted in his small staff of six. All have been there since the beginning or at least close to it. The shortest tenure is three years and all but one are full-time, remarkable in retail.
Unlike many furniture and home decor stores that work entirely on commission, King pays a base salary plus commission. He wants everyone to share responsibility for keeping the stores clean and attractive.
King has become a loud proponent of nationwide legislation that would require online retailers to collect sales tax. It's not fair that out-of-state Internet retailers have a price advantage over local brick-and-mortar stores, he said. That stance is one of the reasons King hasn't focused on online sales. Doma has a website for browsing but, for now at least, you can't buy anything.
"I didn't want to play both sides of the fence,'' he said.
His local focus extends to charity. Last year, the stores offered 15 to 20 percent discounts when customers donated to a particular nonprofit. In honor of the Fourth of July, products made in the United States are on sale.
King advises any retailer to play to their customers' needs. As the condo market boomed in St. Petersburg, he added multifunctional pieces that work in small places, like a coffee table that converts into a dining table. As interest grew for "motion furniture'' — chairs and sofas that adjust with the push of a button — he expanded his selection.
King also knows when to move on. When bamboo and recycled wood furniture started popping up at national competitors, he knew it was time to scale back or else be labeled a copycat.
In the end, everything you buy has to sell.
"You'd be surprised at how many people think I love it so everyone else must love it," he said. "Sometimes you've got to park your ego at the door and know that everything you look at has to have commercial appeal.''
Contact Susan Thurston at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.