With retail sales lagging, Leeann Heininger decided to downsize her business and focus on what she does best.
Both her lease for the retail space at 1035 Lake St. and the licensing agreement with Designs Of The Interior (DOTI) expired at the end of March. Rather than maintain the status quo, Leeann and her husband, Jim, packed up and moved around the corner to 109 N. Marion St. They went from a huge, 5,000-square-foot franchise to a small, 2,000-square-foot independent operation, now called Fringe Home Design.
The new store, which opened the first week of April, will focus its efforts mostly on interior design.
“We really wanted to be able to serve our clients in a more flexible and creative manner,” she said.
Fringe will offer design services for the entire house. Work that the store offers ranges from construction management, to selecting all the furniture and fixtures. They’ll still emphasize furniture, interiors, windows, rugs and accessories, Heininger said, but offer more breadth and depth in other services.
She estimates about 75 percent of Fringe’s business is local, from the Oak Park area, while the other quarter extends from Chicago to La Grange.
Whereas DOTI was about two-thirds focused on retail, Fringe dedicates a much smaller amount of floor space. Heininger said that aspect of the business struggled, with shoppers having less disposable income in a tight economy. Now she wants to put the spotlight on her staff, all of whom have degrees in design.
“Design is our goal,” she said, “bringing our clients dreams and ideas to life.”
Customers can come to the storefront to see and touch different fabrics (they claim to have the largest fabric library in Oak Park) or look at their shelves of catalogues, or a staff member will come out to someone’s home. They also offer furniture from 350 different vendors through order.
“You think you might have vision, and she’ll improve upon it,” said customer Patty Riley-Murphy. “She knows about new trends and has resources that you wouldn’t know about. … She is really good about staying in tight budgets.”
Heininger said it’s difficult to discuss price, with the store handling everything from helping someone pick out a new sofa to redesigning an entire house. Typically, customers give a budget they’d like to work within, anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, she said.
Heininger has lived in Oak Park for 16 years, and co-owned DOTI for five years, since it opened. She’s worked in design for 25 years.
They named the store “Fringe” because they wanted something “funky” and “creative.” It also points to how the business focuses on the details, while staying on the cutting edge or fringe of the market.