When Gracious Home reopened its flagship store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it was something of a rebirth for the New York City design institution. After shutting stores, slashing its workforce and filing for bankruptcy in 2016 (the second time in 6 years), the company did some reshuffling of leadership, with a key position going to Old Greenwich resident Rob Morrison (initially as COO, now as CEO). Since then, he’s refocused the company on what it has done best since it launched in 1963—providing a carefully curated selection of high-quality bedding, bath, lighting and table linens. He is also focused on bringing the company into the 21st century with an upgraded website, a move that will make it easier for fans of the store outside of the NYC area to shop. And just last week, he facilitated the sale of the company to Tom Sullivan, the founder of his previous employer, Lumber Liquidators. Recently, Serendipity spoke with Morrison about the challenges he and the company have faced since he signed on, the progress that has been made and what his future vision is for Gracious Home.
What drew you to the opportunity at this company? It’s an iconic name in the home furnishings business. This was a chance to revitalize one of those big New York names.
How did you aim to reinvigorate it? As the company went through some of these challenges, I firmly believe that reorganizing the company to a smaller, more nimble business would not only keep it alive, but keep it serving a real purpose. The e-commerce business which we replatformed three years ago is part of that. We were doing 70 percent of our business outside of the New York metro area.
Were there other ways you refocused the company’s mission? Other than great style there wasn’t a focus on product category—we carried classy pool toys. [I said] let’s focus on the businesses that have grown over last five years—bedding, bath, table linens, lighting, and some home décor. They’re areas where we compete in very well. These are things the customers wants to touch and feel and be educated about, and then they can now shop online on our robust website. When you’re buying a set of sheets for $1,000 to $3,000 it’s not a simple point-and-click.
How has your previous experience, at Lumber Liquidators, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus, informed the way you lead at Gracious Home? I understand reevaluating your customers needs, and certainly serving the luxury customer is something I’ve done for a good portion of my life. I live in the city and Greenwich so I am this customer. And then my time at Lumber Liquidators and Lord & Taylor taught me to be a very focused business manager.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your role? The hardest was to downsize the business from four stores to one. We kept the people who had the best relationships with their customers. I wish I could have kept more and we may bring people back.
What do you love about splitting your time between the city and Greenwich? I grew up in New York and lived in Stuyvesant town when I was a kid. I’m passionate about the city. I love the energy and the diversity, [there’s] always things to do. It’s nonstop. My wife has a passion for the theater so we do that a lot. Greenwich is a great community; we have tons of friends. As much as I’m a cement guy, I like having some grass around every now and then.