The Heart of the Entrepreneur: Soho Interiors & Studio Furniture
David Vincent | Photographer
A decade later, Soho Interiors has become an anchor in the historic Westboro Mart and a strong partner to its mother store, Studio Furniture.
Owners Keith and Vickie Lynch have found success rooted in an entrepreneurial spirit of reinvention. It has also taken faith, creativity and a vision that started with a trip by Vickie and one of their daughters to New York.
The family-owned businesses trace roots back 50 years to 1968 when Lynch’s father-in-law purchased a store called “The 57th Street Furniture Distributors Bargain Barn” at 57th Street South and Topeka Boulevard.
“It was an everything store. It had everything in it,” explains Vickie Lynch.
The elder Lynch immediately changed the name of the store to “Furniture Bargain Barn.” Since it was located south of Topeka near the then active Forbes Field, he decided to target military families wanting full-house furniture packages.
“They would only be there for a few years. So, they wanted something that was not too expensive and they didn’t want to have to take it with them when they left,” Lynch said.
That business model worked well until the base closed in the mid-1980s. The family re-invented the store to stay afloat. They changed its name to “Furniture Barn” and began to carry a wider variety of furniture lines.
A decade later, in 1996, Keith and Vickie Lynch purchased the store from family and added an expansion, which included remodeling the post-Civil War barn they used for operations. In 2005, after a major remodel, they decided their “Furniture Barn” name no longer accurately communicated who they were. They changed the name again to “Studio Furniture,” and still operate under that name in that location.
Business was good for a while. They were close to doubling their annual sales when the mid-2000s financial troubles began to hit the area. By 2008, furniture was low on the list of major purchases for many people. “The market crashed and people just withdrew. They were fearful and a lot of people lost a lot of money. People weren’t buying,” Lynch said.
The decrease in sales brought a zeroing out of their advertising budget. The family had considered the idea of a mid-town location for a while, but it had not happened. Now, with sales struggling, they decided expanding might help with their advertising problem.
“We reevaluated what we were going to do. We saw an opportunity to have a second location and have our name in a second place,” Lynch said.
One day Vickie and Keith’s daughter and son-in-law were driving through the Westboro Mart area and discovered an empty space.
“My heart leaped. The beauty of the architecture and the creativity we sensed there was exciting,” Lynch said.
Lynch began to consider how having a storefront in the heart of the city could help them show products and send customers back and forth between locations. They would be able to talk face-to-face with people.
“The question was not whether we wanted to open a shop there, but whether we had God’s blessing,” Lynch said.
They signed the lease and quickly did enough interior work to make their front windows look presentable in time for the 2008 Westboro Mart holiday lighting ceremony. At the ceremony, a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter approached Vickie to do a story about people opening stores in the middle of the struggling economy.
The family ended up with the best advertising they could have asked for, a feature story on the front page of the Thanksgiving Day newspaper.
Vickie did not really know if they were going to survive as a business, but a word from her pastor’s wife and that Capital-Journal article confirmed that they were on the right path.
They opened on December 10, 2008. “We succeed by God’s creativity. He put the idea in my heart that we would get through it,” Lynch said.
That creativity included inventing a concept that was new to Topeka and the Lynch family. Up to that point, they had been operating simply a furniture store. The Soho Interiors model took them back to more of the “everything store” idea from 1968. However, this time, the “everything” would have an inspiration— Soho New York. Vickie had visited the area several years before and loved it.
“We wanted to bring it home with us. Since our roots were here and we aren’t going anywhere,” Lynch said.
Their strategy was to rebrand themselves in the new location, but also be able to send customers back and forth based on their needs. Soho Interiors would become an upper-end design store offering more interior design consultation and create the feel of that Soho New York experience with art, high-end gifts, and items from places like Australia, Africa and Italy.
“In the beginning, we also had French underwear, leather handbags, gifts, specialty gift wrap and unique things. To re-invent the wheel, you have to always be looking and changing with the times,” Lynch said.
Keith manages the original furniture location. Vickie and one of their daughters currently operate the new store. All four of their children, including two sons, have worked in the stores throughout the years.
Soho Interiors had become a staple on the Topeka First Friday Art Walks. To date, the family has hosted and worked more than 112 art walks. This event gave them a new way to connect with customers and be a part of the community.
Over the years, they have continued to be flexible and evolve, modernizing the store and changing product offerings as they felt the need of the area dictated. At one point, they even opened a coffee bar and bakery in the store.
After 10 years of continual evolving, they have become a modern and contemporary furniture store, but they still strive to offer something different in Topeka.
“We don’t just sell furniture. We truly delight in helping people create the environment they want to live in. We feel strong and secure and excited about each day,” Lynch said.