The Guiry brothers opened their first paint and wallpaper store in Denver in 1899. It was still the Wild Wild West, where “drive-by shootings” were common; conducted by teenage boys who galloped down the street on horses, randomly shooting at houses, carriages or anything else that caught their fancy. “It was in this climate that the Guiry brothers realized a demand for home improvement supplies and set themselves up to supply this demand,” according to guirys.com. “Houses and buildings began going up in earnest and the city began growing as a trade center. With all this activity there existed a need for paint, wallpaper and cleaning supplies, as the main source of heat was coal, which left a sooty residue.”
As Denver grew, so did business. By the 1930s, Guiry’s ColorSource was incorporating elements of home décor – from window coverings to mirrors and fabric – into its product mix. It expanded to other locations throughout the Denver area, and became a one-stop design shop for enthusiastic new homeowners. Today, its design side is thriving with a cadre of on-staff consultants guiding customers through their many choices of wallpaper (from more than 400 books!), drapery and upholstery fabric, Hunter Douglas blinds and Benjamin Moore paints. The stores also carry unique furniture and decorative accessories.
Excellent customer service is the secret to more than a century of success, says Jennifer Smith, Guiry’s marketing manager. “We get to know our customers and help them with the entire scope of their projects. We maintain the friendliness and personal touch that you get with a small family business, while offering the pricing, selection and financing options of a large business.”
Despite the company’s size, Guiry’s still functions much like a small, family-owned shop. Third and fourth generation Guirys Richard (who took over the company in 1962) and his son, Sean, are actively involved in day-to-day operations. “They can still be found helping customers pick out products, merchandising along with the staff and even mixing paint behind the paint counter,” says Jennifer.
A natural nexus: home décor and fine art
In the 1960s, a local art supply manufacturer suggested that Guiry’s build an “art bar” to sell supplies like oil paints, canvas pads and brushes. Customers loved it and today, six of its eight stores have a full-scale art department. In fact, art supply sales are 15 to 20 percent of Guiry’s overall business and an important part of the brand. “We take art supplies seriously,” says Felicia Claiborne, coordinator of Guiry’s art departments. “What began as an 8-foot section in our Colorado Boulevard store is now 8,000 square feet. Half the store is dedicated to art.”
Guiry’s stores are located in the Denver-metro area suburbs, with one location in the heart of downtown. Most are just a short drive from the city’s many colleges. “The stores are in busy shopping areas, but just a few miles from residential living – so it’s convenient for people on the go, or on their way home,” Jennifer says.
“Our customer mix is very diverse, encompassing students and artists by profession to retired older adults,” she adds. “With lots of universities, young professionals and families, the vibe in Denver is always upbeat but ever-changing.”
The stores range in size from 2,500 to 17,500 square feet, in addition to a 90,000 square-foot central warehouse. Guiry’s has over 30,000 active art material SKUs, and every pastel and pencil is accounted for and tracked through POS and inventory software. “This lets us automate orders and restocking, and helps us to keep an eye on what sells the most, and where it sells the best,” Felicia says. “Art has such a strong customer base. We want to make sure we’re doing it right, and well.”
Each store is organized by department, and products are organized by category within each department. Lozier-brand fixtures work alongside custom shelving and cabinetry, and manufacturer displays/racks help with flow and navigation. “We make sure the departments make sense and look welcoming,” Felicia says. “The stores are visually interesting. Handmade papers are displayed, for instance, instead of hidden in drawers. We use good lighting and keep the aisles clean. Endcaps switch six to eight times per year to feature special promotions and sales.”
Paints for Pinners and professionals
While customers wait for their house paint to be mixed in-store, most will wander over to the art department. “The first thing they’ll see is children’s art supplies and gifts,” Felicia says. “Large furniture, like easels and drafting tables, are displayed up front, too, because they draw a lot of attention.”
The art departments carry fine art supplies as well as products for the DIYer and Pinterest fan. For example, the “spray paint” category takes up a 25-foot section in Guiry’s largest store, and includes Montana-brand cans as well as Rustoleum and Krylon.
“Our departments feed into each other. We have lots of crossover products like spray paint, brushes, tape and drop cloths,” Felicia says. “We offer specialty products that you won’t find in a big-box retailer, and we can supply a quote for a specific item. We’re respected because of our commitment to our customers and our broad selection and services.”
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Guiry’s continues to grow. While business is almost exclusively in-store, they recently launched a new website. “It’s still is in its infancy, but is gaining momentum quickly,” Jennifer says. “We’re beginning to see growth nationally because of our online sales.”
Guiry’s has more than 140 employees company-wide with 35 in the art department and a staff dedicated just to the website.
A mix of marketing efforts includes social media, email, web/digital, print, magazines, school publications, events and community outreach, to reach as many customers as possible, Jennifer says. Managers from each store meet every two weeks to discuss trends and customer feedback. They’re currently working on features to highlight the adult coloring book craze.
At the beginning of the year, the stores outline a promotional calendar, but keep it flexible, so although back-to-school promos were planned in January, they easily incorporated the new trend. The store’s back-to-school shopping guide includes an insert that shoppers can color.
Staying active in the community also helps build a commitment from customers. In the past, Guiry’s has been a fixture in the nonprofit “pop-culture classroom” at Comic Con in Denver, where they set up a small store and provided supplies for the artists involved. Guiry’s works with small artist guilds like the Colorado Watercolor Society and provides art supplies for inner-city student art programs.
Plans for the future include the addition of another art department this year, and new automated systems to improve and streamline stocking and ordering. “We understand the unique needs and demographics of each of our store’s markets,” Jennifer says. “Core product offerings are represented at every one, but the extent they’re represented fluctuates within each community.”
Meeting the needs of a diverse customer base – from artists and educators to professionals, students and stay-at-home moms – is a challenge, but it’s one that Guiry’s has gladly taken on.
“It’s a creative environment and we love our customers,” Felicia says. “We’re artists ourselves – or have a passion for art – so we’re excited to talk with customers, help pick supplies for their projects, and learn from their techniques. Every day is an opportunity to discover something new.”
by Jenn Bergin