Turn-key home furnishings company makes Big Apple push

By Sarabeth Sanders | January 18, 2011 03:39PM

The new Tui Lifestyle showroom at 136 Greene Street in Soho and (left to right) broker Brenda Powers and marketing guru Louise Sunshine, who are fans of the brand; designer Tui Pranich

Less than two months after the debut of their Soho showroom, the founders of Miami-based Tui Lifestyle, the two-year-old interior design start-up that promises turn-key luxury home furnishings in a span of 72 hours, are thinking about moving their corporate headquarters to New York City.

Tui, the brainchild of entrepreneur Jason Atkins and designer Tui Pranich, timed its 2008 launch with that of Jorge Perez’s Icon Brickell in Miami and has since made a name for itself in the South Florida region by marketing its affordable, yet high-end, furniture and accessories collections to developers who use them to furnish their model apartments and incentivize buyers.

Among the takers so far: Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, Trump Hollywood, Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach and Miami’s Viceroy condominium. Frances Ford Coppola, Jennifer Lopez and about a dozen professional athletes have also bought packages of their own.

But in Atkins’ own words, “Miami is nothing compared to New York.” If all goes according to plan for Tui, Atkins said, New York City would eclipse Tui’s $25 million in annual sales in Miami within the next 12 to 18 months, with a goal of $100 million per year in New York alone.

Tui isn’t in entirely uncharted waters, having set up packages at the Hakimian Organization’s 75 Wall Street around the time of its debut. But the company’s latest push represents a more formal effort to break into the top tier of the new development market in New York City.

Currently, Atkins said, Tui is in negotiations to offer its services to the developers of three high-profile New York City apartment buildings, one of which has already signed a contract (as well as a confidentiality agreement). The company is also in talks for a New York City deal with developer Africa Israel USA, which has used Tui’s design packages at its Marquis Residences in Miami in the past.

“Tui is very popular in Miami,” said Lori Ordover, managing director of sales and leasing for Africa Israel. While a New York deal hasn’t yet been formalized, the company is “definitely going to think about it,” she said.

Meanwhile, with hotel projects in the works in New York City, too, Atkins and real estate industry veteran Philip Freedman, Tui’s president of sales, are each looking for Soho apartments close to their swanky, new 7,500-square-foot showroom at 136 Greene Street.

In addition to the showroom, Tui expects to open some 45 authorized dealerships — from East Hampton to Honduras — over the next two years. Distribution centers in Elizabeth, N.J. and Las Vegas, Nev. are also on the way.

Design packages, of which Tui currently has seven, cost between $10,000 and $50,000 each, depending on whether the client wants just the furniture, or everything down to the flatware, scented candles and music compilations. Because the company stocks everything in bulk, it touts its ability to offer pieces for as much as 40 percent off of retail prices for similarly upscale furnishings.

For those who just translated “bulk” as “every apartment looks identical,” Freedman insisted that’s not the case, as most everything can be easily customized by mixing and matching the upholstery, artwork and accessories.

Ninety percent of Tui’s referrals come from within the real estate community, Atkins said. (The 6 percent referral fee for brokers may have something to do with it). Thus far, Tui’s New York real estate fans include marketing guru Louise Sunshine, Brown Harris Stevens power broker Brenda Powers and Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Heather McDonough, who works frequently with new developments.

“I think that for the price, you could not do better,” said Sunshine, who is in the process of working with Tui at a “very, very high-profile trophy building” that hasn’t opened yet. She declined to reveal which property it is, because the partnership with Tui has not yet been formally announced, and Tui wouldn’t disclose any of its ongoing negotiations.

“The amount of time that developers spend putting together model units… they hate doing that stuff,” McDonough said. “I had a meeting with [Freedman last week] … I introduced him to one of my developers and the developer ordered five unit models on the spot.”

Additional reporting by Yaffi Spodek