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Outdoor Living Advice from Ann Roche

06/19/2014 03:53PM ● By Ryan Frisch
Ann Roche, owner of Ann Roche Casual Furniture on Shelburne Road in Shelburne, has a question for anyone thinking about furnishing a porch, patio, or outdoor space. “What are you going to be doing out there?” Ann feels that it’s important to discover her customer’s needs, lifestyle, and primary purpose for the area. “Today it’s all about bringing the family room outside, with deep-seated couches and chairs, outdoor and all-weather flat-screen TVs, grilling and cooking with versatile options like the Big Green egg grill, and dining sets and buffets.” Today it seems lounging, informal dining, and comfort are what sets the trend.

Getting to know the needs of the customers and their end desires for entertaining, living, and being outdoors with family and friends is how every buyer’s experience starts at Ann Roche Casual Furniture.

Modest beginnings

This is the wisdom of someone who has sold casual furniture for 35 years. She has not always been in her current 17,000-square-foot, two-story Shelburne Road location. “I started in a friend’s store,” she says. “Or I spent time selling out of my garage.” At one point, she occupied empty rental spaces in an office building owned by her husband Paul.

Ann went into business because she had only a few hours each day to work, a situation that didn’t really lend itself to holding a traditional job. “I was a young mother who wanted to be there for my kids,” she says. She sold her furniture while her kids were in school, but went home when they came home. “It was fun and exciting for me,” she says. “It turned into a real opportunity.”

Ann finally purchased a retail space—also on Shelburne Road—where she sold furniture for 17 years before moving to her current location in 2007. Meanwhile, one of her children, Nancy Contois, came to work at the furniture store. “I couldn’t have survived all these years without her,” Ann says.

Some Things Change, Some Don’t

Ann has seen changes in the furniture business in her three-plus decades. For example, the business used to be all about dining furniture, she says. But over time consumer interests shifted towards convenience and comfort. And Ann’s casual lines are not just for the outdoors.

“People like to furnish a three-season room or a sunroom with comfortable outdoor furniture,” she says. Often, customers will purchase teak, rattan, or even wicker pieces as accessories in a living room. And speaking of accessories, Ann used to deal just in furniture. Now her store is filled with accessories, including rugs, umbrellas, lamps, and more.

Ann also offers children’s furniture in a section of the store she calls Kasazza Kids (her maiden name, except she replaced a C with a K). “It’s not our main business, but I feel there’s a need,” she says.

What has not changed is Ann’s commitment to carrying furniture from quality manufacturers. “Our wholesalers are just good to work with,” she says. “If a customer has an issue, these guys support them. There’s no grief.” Among the thirty brands on display in her showrooms is Telescope—the very first brand she carried when she was borrowing space in her friend’s store. “It’s still my favorite— and best-selling—brand,” she says.

These Days

These days, Ann personally concentrates mostly on commercial clients—among them Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Breakwaters Café and Grill on the Burlington Waterfront, and Burlington’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel—leaving her staff to handle walk-in customers. Still, if she’s in the store, she serves walk-in customers as well. Either way, her approach is the same. “You listen to what kind of quality they want, length of warranty, and, of course, price point,” she says. “Then it’s about what the customer likes and what the customer finds pretty.”

In these economic times, Ann recognizes the need to be focused on her customers. She tries to give people reasons to visit her store during slow times. For example, in the winter she has Tom Jennings, owner of Green Mountain Florist Supply of South Burlington (and also a customer), set up Christmas tree displays throughout her showrooms.

And, always positive, she views even a slow economy as an opportunity. “Instead of taking big, expensive trips, some people are vacationing at home,” she says, adding that home vacationers buy outdoor fire pits, all-weather flat screened TVs, outdoor heaters, and Big Green Egg grills. It’s this positive, open-minded approach that earned the store the 2014 Best of Shelburne award for furniture stores.

Whether it’s for a home vacation or a patio hangout area, Ann is sure she has something for everyone.