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VOL. 125 | NO. 6 | Monday, January 11, 2010

Worlds Away Opens Second Outlet in Memphis

By Tom Wilemon

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TRANQUIL SETTING: Worlds Apart offers a mixture of home decor items. Some are influenced by Asian and Latin American cultures, while others have contemporary styles. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Worlds Away, a designer of home furnishings and accessories, has opened its second outlet in the city.

Now the Memphis-based company offers a Midtown location in addition to its Downtown headquarters. Shoppers at the two outlets can buy furniture, lamps, small statuary and other items that are typically sold only to retailers.

The new location is at 2159 Central Ave. Owners Bob Berry and Lucy Woodson spotted the vacant building, which was formerly occupied by a liquor store, while driving to their company’s Downtown headquarters at 397 S. Front St.

Worlds Away

Owners: Bob Berry and Lucy Woodson
Locations: 397 S. Front St. and 2159 Central Ave.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays at Downtown location and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays at Midtown location.
Employees: 27
Web site: www.worlds-away.com

The outlet, Worlds Apart, has a slightly different name than the parent company.

“The thing was open within four days of us deciding we were going to open it,” Berry said. “We talked to Charlie Ryan, the landlord, on the 9th or 10th of December, then opened the store on Saturday, the 12th. It was open while we were moving stuff in. Lucy is a whirlwind. When we get ideas like that, they tend to happen pretty quickly.”

Prime location

Although the store is a short drive from the Downtown outlet, the owners weren’t worried about cannibalizing their existing customer base.

“I think it may be easier for some people to get to that location, but it will never have as much stuff as our Downtown location,” Berry said. “That’s where our home base is and our large warehouse. We’ve got 30,000 square feet down here, and about 8,000 square feet of that is dedicated to our outlet operation.”

“This industry is really kind of fickle as to what people’s wants are. You just have to keep changing.”

– Bob Berry

So far, business has been good at the new location. Megan Stout, manager of Worlds Apart in Midtown, dealt with a steady stream of customers and a repeatedly ringing telephone on a cold January afternoon. The location in Cooper-Young is in the middle of antique shops and art galleries.

“People are used to going to that area for our kinds of products,” Berry said. “We thought we would just throw something different into the mix that’s not there. That figured into the decision to move into there.”

The items the company sells range from decorator accessories for $59 to furniture for $1,800. Outlet prices are about 20 percent less.

However, the outlet stores account for a small portion of sales.

“We’re a wholesale company,” Berry said. “We design our own products. Lauri Jones is our designer. She designs these products and then we have them shipped in from either Mexico or Asia and then we wholesale them throughout the country, Canada and Europe. That’s our primary business.”

The outlets are a spinoff from the wholesale business.

“We have to do something with the over-runs, the little scratch and dents, the blemishes in the finish that come in,” he said. “You are going to have those regardless of how good your quality control is. You are going to have some items like that.”

Baby to giant steps

With the expansion, Worlds Away created two full-time and two-part jobs in addition to the 23 people it employs at its Downtown headquarters.

For almost two decades, this business has survived by evolving and by staying ahead of designer trends. The business started out in 1992 as an importer of sweaters from Ecuador, then it switched gears to market Mexican goods.

“We went to San Miguel with some friends,” Berry said. “I drove my little car down there, filled it up, drove it back and kept doing that until it was tractor trailers.”

The business grew by small steps.

“I was doing Junior League shows and scratching around trying to figure out how I was going to get this thing started,” Berry said. “Then it just kind of started taking off. We got into some showrooms in Atlanta and got some sales reps outside of the Memphis area and now we’ve got sales reps all over the country.”

Over the years, Worlds Away has specialized in Latin items, such as talavera plates, and European-influenced goods, such as toleware.

In recent years, the company has shifted much of its production from Mexico to Asia.

“Today, we are probably about 70 percent out of Asia and 30 percent out of Mexico,” Berry said. “It’s gone more into case goods. Case goods are sideboards, side tables, end tables, little occasional tables. It’s decorative tables basically.

“This industry is really kind of fickle as to what people’s wants are. You just have to keep changing.”

The nature of the business means new items will be coming into the outlets.

“As we get things in, it will be rotating inventory,” Berry said.

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