A Barboursville businesswoman is becoming a powerful force in the interior design industry
Article by Megan Smith
You may not yet know Huntington resident and Barboursville businesswoman Connie Post, but that will soon change.
Actually, you may already have seen Post's work without realizing it, if you've shopped for furniture anytime in, say, the past two decades. That's because Post has designed the vast majority of leading furniture stores in America.
Long known as an expert in store design by the home furnishings trade (retailers and manufacturers have looked to her firm for concepts that sell their products for years), Post has been personally responsible for the look and feel of some 16 million square feet of retail and wholesale space around the globe.
"One of Connie Post's hero's was Walt Disney," says Ray Allegrezza, editor-in-chief of Furniture/Today, the leading trade publication in the furniture industry, "and a Disney-like magic is obvious the minute you enter any of the countless stores she has designed." In addition, Furniture/Today named Post one of "90 People to Watch in 1990," just three years after she launched her Barboursville-based design firm.
Ernst & Young and Inc. Magazine named her "Entrepreneur of the Year" for the state of West Virginia four years after that, and in 2001, Furniture/Today in its 25th Anniversary edition again singled Post out…this time as one of the "25 Who Made a Difference" in the industry.
"Connie Post has become a true industry icon," says Robert W. Nightengale, a television producer and former president of the Home Furnishings Council.
In fact, Post, who delivered keynote addresses and presentations at more than 20 different industry-related conferences last year, is so well known in the business that In Furniture Magazine went so far as to caricaturize her as a collectible bobble-head doll on a recent cover entitled "Celebrity Headliners."
Recognized as she is throughout the industry for transforming the businesses of so many others, Post has been busy reinventing herself in the past few years. By all accounts, her special brand of behind-the-scenes magic will soon be, well, a lot less behind-the-scenes.
To begin with, Post has begun serving as design spokesperson for a number of the leading retailers she has created stores for in major marketplaces around the country and in Canada. As such, she acts as the "face" of the furniture chains, appearing in both print and television advertising, as well as the "voice," educating consumers with newsletters, columns and seminars chock full of design tips centered on her unique message: "A beautiful room will change your life."
"My goal is to preserve and protect the sanctity of home," Post says. "As a single Mom who raised two boys while simultaneously building a business, I'm all too familiar with the stressful, complex juggling act women contend with everyday. The home is our sanctuary and the center of family life, and it should be the one place in our lives where we love to be. Yet, rather than experiencing feelings of pride and joy when we survey our surroundings, too many feel only frustration. Women instinctively want to create a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing environment, but the majority don't know where to begin."
In their quest for information and inspiration, many turn to the so-called shelter magazines, the genre of glossy publications dedicated to decorating the home.
"That often only leads to more frustration, because the editors of those magazines regularly feature antiques or dressed up flea-market finds in their layouts, making it nearly impossible for consumers to duplicate the looks they see in the pictures," Post points out. "Rarely do they photograph new furniture that's easy to find at a local retail store."
Even when consumers do head to their local dealer they often leave empty-handed. "America's Research Group, one of the premier market research firms in the country, found that people often postpone furniture purchases because they fear making a costly decorating mistake that they will have to live with for years," Post says. "You might think the obvious answer is to work with a designer, but House Beautiful magazine found that 80 percent of their readers did not feel they could afford it. At the same time, these consumers said they still wanted the expertise a designer can provide."
With this in mind, Post began to create packages of decorative accessory products – lamps, accent pieces, floral arrangements, framed art, and area rugs – to marry with retailers' best-selling upholstery pieces in the stores where she serves as spokesperson. Every item is tagged with the Connie Post Collections brand name and is marketed under the banner Affordable Design™ by Connie Post, with her theme, "A Beautiful Room Will Change Your Life," at the heart of the message.
"Each collection includes suggested paint colors and wallpaper borders and ideas for how to complete a room easily without breaking the bank," she explains. "The consumer can therefore shop with the confidence of knowing that everything was created to work together by an interior designer."
The program has resonated so well with shoppers that Post is now putting the finishing touches on a companion guidebook, "Affordable Design: Your Personal Guide to Color." A second book, "Living as Designed," is scheduled for release next year. She is also currently negotiating with a leading home shopping network to sell Connie Post branded products on air, and this spring is set to debut "Affordable Design," a new television series on the Inspiration Network.
Says Nightengale, who serves as executive producer for the new show, "We're looking forward to Connie's presence on TV. Though there are many decorating programs on television, viewers will find this one unique and probably the most practical. Connie's understanding of the woman's point of view and what helps women make decisions is her great strength."
"Connie Post is transitioning into a global consumer brand," remarks Dennis Conforto, chief executive of San Diego, Ca.-based A-Z Media & Licensing, "and the world of home furnishings is about to change in a big way. Her vision is clear and her message unique, and women around the world will relate to both the message and to her."
Not bad for a little girl from Tyler Mountain, West Virginia. Post graduated from Dunbar High School in 1972 and studied commercial art at Ben Franklin Vocational School.
"Admittedly, I do not hail from the design capital of the universe," Post says with a laugh. "But my instructor at the vocational school had contacts with the business owners in town and got me an interview with Embee's Department Store. I did all the visual displays from the windows to the mannequins, and nights and Saturdays I worked part-time at Fad Furniture in visual merchandising."
Eventually she went to work full time for Fad where she remained for nine years. "I learned about retail design on the job," Post says, adding that while she now takes professional development classes at the Harvard School of Design each year, she never actually graduated from college.
"There really was no curriculum back then for what I needed to learn," she says.
Instead, the budding designer read books on architecture and design and worked hard at learning the ins and outs of the furniture business. Eventually, she was recommended for a job in Louisville, Ky., where she designed a store called The Bedroom for the Country Boy Waterbeds company. Her fresh approach caught the eye of a major furniture-manufacturing executive who recommended her for yet another assignment.
The owners of Jordan's Furniture in Avon, Mass., were looking for something different and decided to give the young designer from West Virginia a chance. Working at night and on weekends in her basement, Post created a design for their store by hand. The Disney-esque vision that resulted was complete with animatronics, miles of neon and even an amusement park ride smack dab in the middle of the store. It was a design that would rock an industry long dominated by men and stores that featured row upon row of beige recliners lined up like soldiers. And it was a design concept that would launch her career.
Today, the Connie Post Companies is a portfolio of vertically integrated businesses that together comprise one of the leading design and strategic brand development firms in the home furnishings industry. At the Companies' core is the Barboursville-based retail design practice that Post launched in a small rented apartment on the second floor of a two-story building on Davis Creek Road shortly after the Jordan's opening in 1987. Four years after that she bought an old IGA grocery store building on East Pea Ridge and converted it into a millworking factory to supply her design firm clients with architectural elements and fixtures for their stores.
"I was giving away $1 million in millworking orders annually to other companies and I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of their work," Post says. "So I started up my own factory."
Precision Millworking quickly became a successful company in its own right and earned Post the prestigious "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" for the state of West Virginia just two years later.
"Starting my own business required taking huge risks, but I had a vision," Post remembers. "I looked around the industry at all these men and thought, ‘They don't know who the customer is. They don't know how she thinks.'"
"The key to Connie Post's tremendous success has been that she sees things as the consumer sees them, and she understands how to translate what she sees into designs that excite shoppers," notes industry insider and television personality Ellen Gefen. "Connie helps women visualize what the furniture they see in a store will look like in their home."
"Her real talent," says Warren Shoulberg, editor of HFN, "is being able to connect the furniture industry – which is essentially a male-dominated business – with its prime customer, which is a woman. She has a special talent that enables her to speak to both without alienating the other, and that's rare.
"She's also been terrific at building her business," adds Shoulberg, "starting in retail sales and layering on additional aspects until today she stands on the brink of being the next big personality in the business."
Post and her talented team have made their mark on a number of companies here in Huntington and throughout the state. Among the many projects was the design of the former Renaissance Book Company & Coffee House, the interior for First Sentry Bank, and the Hayflich & Steinberg building on 5th Street hill. Home furnishings-related clients have included the Mattress Warehouse chain, State Electric and Big Sandy Superstores.
Kim Knopf, president of the 24-store Mattress Warehouse chain, first got to know Post because of their mutual membership in the Young President's Organization (YPO), an elite peer network of approximately 8,000 young business leaders who exchange ideas and share strategies. Says Knopf, "I may know more about Connie's business background than most of her clients because of our involvement in YPO, but that's not why I eventually chose to use her firm. Connie understands what the customer wants and needs and she can synthesize that information into recommendations everybody else can understand."
Hayflich & Steinberg's accounting, tax and financial consulting firms have represented Post "from the days before she gained national prominence," explains John R. LaFear, CPA/PFS, managing director and principal firm member, "with every year seeing new challenges, opportunities and accomplishments, both for Connie and our firms. Her entrepreneurial spirit is contagious and challenging, and we have been inspired to follow her lead by spreading our wings and expanding into many financial growth areas.
"When we built the Hayflich building six years ago, we knew we needed Connie's knowledge, skill and talent on the project, but little did we know what a dramatic and positive difference she would make. I'll never forget the first comment she made when she looked at our initial plans. ‘Ugh,' she said. ‘It's a 1950s design, but we can salvage it and update it for the 21st Century.' Thankfully she did. She saved us money at every turn and after six years the building still looks as new as the day it was built."
Joan Weisberg, vice president of State Electric on Second Avenue, is also quite happy with the way Post's designs for her company continue to withstand the test of time.
"We first saw her work at the Renaissance Book store downtown," Weisberg relates. "I had been in that store many times over the years, but when I walked in after Connie redesigned it, I was bowled over by the use of color and the elegant new look. Her design really showed off the books and we knew her approach was just what we needed for our new lighting showroom. Connie created versatile display pieces in her factory for us and showed us how to use them to present our products in a variety of ways. We're able to move them around so the showroom always looks fresh."
"Connie either knows what her client wants or she lets the client know what they need and then puts the package together," remarks Geoff Sheils, president and chief executive of First Sentry Bank. "Her energetic passion for developing designs that will improve her clients' businesses is unmatched in the industry. She's one of our city's most accomplished citizens, and one of Huntington's best kept secret."
Well, not for long. As A-Z Media's Conforto declares, "Connie is coming. Hold on to your hats, hold on to your hats."
Office Box 384 Huntington, WV 25708-0384