Not many people could set up a homewares and lifestyle store in a barn, in a field “in the middle of nowhere,” and make an ongoing success of it. But inside the welcoming, stone facade of a 110-year old barn in Rusko, Finland, there is a retail store to which people from far and wide are drawn. Loviisan Aitta has been so successful that the owner Helena Aho recently opened a second store for the brand Rivièra Maison next to the original location. The 1000-square meter space is a world of meticulously curated products that offers anyone who steps through the door something to admire and desire, and it’s also always a hive of activity.
Within the walls of both stores, where old meets new and recycled pieces prop up shiny new things, someone is always coming up with a new idea; someone is always conceiving or creating an innovative merchandise display; and others are busily working together to create a strong, resonating brand that is as warm and welcoming as it is fresh and inspiring.
It’s not just customers who love Loviisan Aitta. It has also widely impressed the homewares retail and business circles around the world. For instance, it scooped up two gia Global Innovation Awards in Chicago in 2011 – winning the highly coveted Martin M. Pegler award for merchandising, while simultaneously becoming one of five gia Global Honorees. Aho was also voted “Entrepreneur of the Year 2013” in the part of Finland where she lives. Aho credits some of the store’s success to the awards that Loviisan Aitta has achieved. “The awards really have strengthened our position in the market and given us even more credibility,” she says.
As everyone in the industry knows very well, retail has changed drastically in the last decade, and with more and more people shopping online, brick and mortar stores have to try harder than ever to please their customers and maintain repeat business. Loviisan Aitta has been successful in adapting to the times and keeping in step with the consumer. Aho and her team have embraced technology, social media and all that goes along with it, and there is an incredibly diverse range of products on offer to cater for small budgets as well as large.
The diversity along with a sense of peacefulness in the barn space is what brings so many people back. The range of furniture includes everything from sofas, tables, cabinets and chairs to coffee tables and lounges. In home furnishings, there is everything from mirrors, lighting, linen and tableware, to smaller lifestyle products such as candles, baskets, pots, wreaths and wall stickers. And now there are not-easily-found high-quality clothing ranges on sale as well, with shoes, accessories, jewelry, scarves and handbags to keep the ladies happy.
The store is not just about selling products however. What makes it stand out in an ocean of retail stores, is that they offer very personalized services such as the creation of curtains, pillows, bedspreads, throws and other things for the home made by an in-house seamstress and there is an interior design service.
“We want to change the interior design market – like an actor that dares to take risks and does not do everything the same way as others,” Aho explains. “This is something we try to implement in everything we do, and a perfect example of how we do this is through importing new brands straight from the manufacturer, small brands included.”
There’s also a café in the store so that visitors can sit down and consider ideas, trends and the offerings on display before purchasing. The café doesn’t just offer a good chocolate cake and coffee – it also has a range of the latest inspiring interior design magazines to flip through while indulging in sweet things.
Aho stays ahead of the competition by sourcing unique brands that her customers cannot find elsewhere, and she gains a lot of inspiration from retail trade fairs. This year, for the third time, Loviisan Aitta was part of the biggest Finnish annual interior design fair – Habitare. “We did this, hoping to get more visibility among consumers and press,” she says. “We always aim to offer a fresh, new, consumer experience when we participate in exhibitions. It’s something that we do well through building our own stands from scratch.”
It’s the passion for what Aho does at Loviisan Aitta that also makes the store a long-lasting favorite for many. “I continue to love retail because we are among the first who are able to bring our customers new trends and the latest products,” she says. “And I personally love the opportunity of working with the best brands – to see how they work and how they develop over time.”
Of course, it’s easy to keep up the passion and the enthusiasm in retail if customers respond to initiatives. “Our customers love the atmosphere here, and they love the fact that they can come and escape for a couple of hours – listen to music and have the lovely smell of fresh coffee brewing,” Aho says, as though she is talking about family and friends.
Aho is also regularly piloting new ideas or campaigns to see how they go. One such idea is the placement of an interactive board in the Rivièra Maison store, where customers are able to look through a catalogue and find items that Loviisan Aitta doesn’t stock, but that can be ordered for them on the spot by staff, with all the extra benefits of time-saving, and some personal, old-fashioned service on top. This fall she is organizing a cruise between Helsinki and Stockholm, where interior designers will speak to guests about how to decorate the home, discussing the latest trends, combinations or product and other areas of interest to her customers.
During the Christmas season, Loviisan Aitta is arranging several special events. “We will host an evening with live music, wine and snacks, in a really cozy environment, called Santa Shopping Night,” says Aho. “While mingling with others, customers can see and buy the latest products on the market. We’ve hosted these type of evenings before, and they’ve proven to be a real hit.”
So what kind of advice can such a successful store offer to others in the retail industry? The advice from Aho is something that has not changed for centuries.
“Service is one of the key elements of our shop,” she says. “We are highly regarded as having excellent and friendly service and beautifully wrapped gifts.” Aho ensures this level of excellent service by always having enough shop assistants on the floor, and all employees take part in training days, information sessions, workshops and social events.
“We always want to offer the wow factor, and to ensure that the customer experience is second to none,” says Aho. “We have developed relationships with our customers, and they have become part of the Loviisan Aitta family. We want it to stay that way.”
For more information on Loviisan Aitta, visit www.loviisanaitta.fi.