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Tampa's new RH store opens at International Plaza with little fanfare

Shoppers look around the store, which has departments the now-closed Hyde Park Village store didn’t have.
Shoppers look around the store, which has departments the now-closed Hyde Park Village store didn’t have.
Published Nov. 14, 2015

TAMPA — The long-awaited opening of Restoration Hardware's four-story design gallery at Tampa's International Plaza — the first of its kind to open in Florida — was somewhat anticlimactic.

It couldn't have been further from the energy at Tampa Premium Outlets, which set off fireworks to celebrate opening day and backed up traffic in Lutz and Wesley Chapel for an entire weekend after its opening last month. Or Bass Pro Shops, which kicked off with a slew of sports celebrities and the Tony Stewart NASCAR car, and continues to fill its enormous parking lot along Interstate 75 in Brandon months after its July debut.

But RH, as the high-end San Francisco home furnishings brand likes to be called these days, is okay with that.

CEO Gary Friedman stood outside the looming charcoal building Friday morning with Mayor Bob Buckhorn and more than 100 people. Most of those in the audience wore lanyards with RH name tags. If they didn't work for the retailer, they worked for the real estate developer or the mall operating company.

"This looks nothing like the store we had in Hyde Park," Friedman said. "It's about 10 times bigger, and we hope you'll find it to be 10 times better."

The retailer invited about 800 of Tampa's socialites, from politicians to developers to nonprofit leaders, to experience the store first at a VIP party Thursday night.

After a ribbon-cutting Friday, curious shoppers streamed in slowly. But the 60,000-square-foot space never felt crowded.

"It's absolutely beautiful and so huge," said Valerie Cuzzola of Clearwater, a longtime RH shopper who missed the brand since it closed its boutique in Hyde Park Village this year.

"It has everything you could ever want in this store," said her shopping buddy, Linda Edwards, who is also from Clearwater. "I wish I could buy everything at once."

But that's tough to do for most people, given the brand's high prices. One couch could run you $8,000. Pillow covers? $149. One original piece of artwork that hung on a wall was $43,000.

"But I'm getting a lot of ideas for the future," Edwards said.

Physical price tags are hard to find in the new store. Not every couch or pillow or chair has one dangling from one end. Customers have to ask RH employees to be sure. There's also no cash register. All transactions are completed on handheld devices.

Friedman is betting that the experience these new, massive gallery stores offer will drive more sales for RH.

"Half of our business comes from online, but I believe the gallery stores will drive even more sales," Friedman said. "They get to know us in the stores."

For Tampa, he expects the expanded store will have sales two to four times what the Restoration Hardware store did in Hyde Park. The idea is that shoppers get a sense for the brand in the stores, where they can see and feel the products. Repeat business comes online.

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There are new departments in the gallery store at International Plaza that didn't exist in Hyde Park. An entire floor is dedicated to RH Baby & Child and RH Teen.

The store was built on International Plaza's Bay Street, among the upscale center's slew of restaurants. It has no direct entrance into the mall, which was done on purpose.

"We never want to be in a mall," Friedman said. "But having the visibility that comes with being attached to a shopping center like this is important."

Tampa was chosen as RH's first Florida market for a design gallery because its lease at Hyde Park Village was the first to expire. It helped that RH had a good relationship with Taubman Centers, the mall operator of International Plaza and hundreds of upscale shopping centers across the country.

Friedman said RH plans to "transform" the look of the brand. There are 10 design galleries across the country so far. Tampa is one of four "next generation" galleries, a newer concept. More are coming.

Beyond that, RH created its own music label to support emerging musicians. It signed two artists this year. Artwork hangs in every store thanks to RH Contemporary Art, a program the retailer created to support artists. The company even has its own winery in California's Napa Valley, where it pairs wine with home furnishings.

"We don't believe in speed limits, but we do believe that speed kills," Friedman said. "The fast always eat the slow. That's why we say fast is as slow as we go."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.