Kapolei Is IN
Thomas Sorensen opens a new INspiration showroom at Kapolei Commons this week
Thomas Sorensen definitely has designs on life. With firm optimism, the owner-CEO of INspiration Home Furnishings is opening a flag-ship store this week at Kapolei in burgeoning West Oahu.
INspiration is Kapolei’s newest retail resident, taking more than 50,000 square feet of space at Kapolei Commons between TJ Maxx and Target stores. The former Sports Authority space is ideal for Sorensen’s latest venture because of its proximity to INspiration’s 80,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center at Campbell Industrial Park.
“Our new showroom is less than a mile from our warehouse, where at any given time we have 1,200 to 1,800 sofas ready for immediate delivery,” Sorensen says. “We bring in more than 360 containers of furniture a year.”
This is exciting news for Westside consumers, who now have access to Hawaii’s largest collection of contemporary sofas, sectionals, recliners and sofa beds. An array of artwork, mirrors, decorative rugs and accent pieces has been selected specifically for INspiration West.
Sorensen also has added outdoor furniture to enhance the offerings.
INspiration at Kapolei joins Honolulu Design Center on Kapiolani Boulevard and INspiration PopUp at Pearl Highlands Center in Pearl City.
“We expect to draw customers from nearby Waikele and Pearl City, in addition to Second City residents,” he says.
Surprisingly, folks are not hindered by mileage when shopping for furniture, according to market studies. For commuters and busy families, time in the car is today’s new normal.
As Hawaii’s urban centers grow, so does INspiration. Housing and real estate logically are the largest drivers of furniture demand.
But demographics have shifted in recent years. Millennials (ages 18-34) now outpace boomers (ages 53-71) in furniture and bedding purchases.
Since 2014, according to industry authorities, there has been steady growth in new furniture sales in the U.S. With world furniture imports reaching $222 billion in 2015, the U.S. was the top importer, with 27.5 percent market share.
INspiration, through Sorensen’s European background and product knowledge, draws much of its inventory from premier European brands.
According to Sorensen, European furniture has a good reputation worldwide for product innovation, cultural heritage and responsiveness to consumer demands.
“Europe is the world leader in high-end furniture,” he affirms. “Nearly two out of every three high-end furniture products sold in the world are produced in Europe.”
As a teenager in his native Denmark, Sorensen bought surplus furniture from factories and resold it.
In 1979, he moved to Honolulu and founded ScanDesign and ScanLine. In 1997, he started INspiration, a Pearlridge furniture showroom.
After seven years of planning, he and a partner opened the flagship INspiration showroom at Honolulu Design Center at 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., between Piikoi and Pensacola streets. The massive 80,000-square-foot showroom dominates the block with its opulent orange façade and award-winning architectural features.
Kapolei’s store is much more understated than the crescent-shaped flagship in Kakaako. Shoppers will find the thematic orange exterior with a vast inventory within its cavernous walls. Browsing is easier with floor space on one level. No stairs or escalators to navigate.
Being customer-centric is vital in furniture retailing, where buying decisions are made rather quickly. Most consumers visit no more than three stores before making a purchase. Sales personnel must establish rapport quickly.
“That takes training and experience,” Sorensen says. “Labor availability on the Westside is limited, but we are doing our best to screen and hire people with potential.”
Customer service, as in any retail business, is paramount. But it is particularly demanding in high-end merchandising.
Furniture is said to be the epitome of discretionary spending. Anything that causes the consumer discomfort has the potential to put the brakes on spending. But with housing development on the uptick nationally, the outlook for consumer spending is promising.
Sorensen, an entrepreneur with élan, is counting on it.
Pointing to new developments in Ewa and Kakaako, he cites the trend of cities getting re-gentrified with people furnishing and refitting their houses and condos.
With now three stores on Oahu, Sorensen wants to be the contemporary furniture retailer of choice. Based on the precedent of his ScanDe-sign, ScanLine and INspiration ventures, he owns that niche.
INspiration Kapolei is a wonderland of modern furnishings and interior ideas. European flair and styling make every item a conversation piece that one can imagine being the focus of attention at the home or office.
Sorensen calls it “home fashion with an attitude.”
It’s an apt analogy. INspiration is a designer showcase of the latest home and office furnishings.
Italy’s most chic brands, such as B&B Italia, Natuzzi, Cierre and Kartell, are found at INspiration.
Like the store name, furnishings are meant to stimulate creativity in home and office design. Modern trends blur the lines between residential and business space. The home office is a product of the 20th century workaholic. Furniture designers have responded with versatile modular pieces. Sorensen cites the move away from cubical office environments to more open working spaces. Privacy pods and nooks make for collaborative and conversational settings.
Executive offices are smaller in size, and some double as conference rooms. Convertible workstations are great for startups that need office furniture that can expand and grow with the company.
According to Sorensen, mobility and smaller living quarters are leading to significant change in the functionality of furniture.
This move toward furniture that facilitates flexibility is not a new concept.
But the added functions are more intuitive, more fluid and less about novelty, he claims.
Besides living room and bedroom interiors, kitchens and baths are getting greater attention these days. This is validated by expanded kitchen and bath interiors at INspiration’s showrooms.
Heralding that trend, INspiration received honors in January for an award-winning kitchen design at the National Kitchen and Bath 2017 design competition at Epcot’s World Showplace in Florida.
Spearheaded by design studio manager Dedra Hinano Nahinu, the team of lead designer J.R. Ludlow and assistant designer Lyndee Watanabe converted a dated Sierra Drive kitchen into a bright, functional space that reflected its outdoor vistas.
NKBA CEO Bill Darcy commented, “With an emphasis on innovative concepts and creative expression, this entry communicates the value of professional design to consumers and the industry at large.”
Sorensen points out that kitchen and bath designing represent opportunities for INspiration.
“We have seen a lot of specialty retail disappear in the last 10 years,” he reflects.
“At the same time, retail real estate in Hawaii has opened up with the closing of giants such as Sports Authority, Kmart and Sears. It’s sad, but it happens.”
Naturally, the trend is disruptive for consumers. But local retailers such as INspiration are stepping up their game to meet the needs of islanders.
In the case of Oahu’s second city, the shopping, dining and entertainment choices are growing right along with the population.
Just as the axiom “form follows function” inspires designers, so does Sorensen’s proven formula for retail success and living large. Here’s Sorensen’s blueprint for life:
1) Follow your heart.
2) Seek what’s functional and comfortable.
3) Choose what suits your lifestyle.
4) Add vitality with colors and textures.
5) Above all, have fun.
Are you inspired?