Our history aligns with the story of our founder Rusty Staff (Note from Rusty: yeah, that’s my real name; no jokes about social diseases please), a decidedly independent-minded entrepreneur. Rusty, with his former wife Marilyn, traveled to Asia extensively starting in 1987. Inspired by the places they saw and the people they met, they started a soft-adventure travel company, Asia Transpacific Journeys (ATJ) which operated out of Boulder, Colorado.
ATJ became an industry leader and was just coming into its own financially when the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks called into question the viability of an Asian-focused international travel business. So it was looking like it might be time to come up with a new plan. Voila! The plan found him! After having led an American Museum of Natural History group to Vietnam he was exploring the back alleys of Hanoi and stumbled across a dark and dusty shop offering fabulous Chinese-inspired furnishings crafted from fine hardwoods. Having always been intrigued by the material culture of Asia, and amazed at the craftsmanship and artistry, he took the plunge and sent back several pieces of furniture as well as some smalls. After a few months the crates turned up and despite some maddening hassles with customs (learned a lot since then!), it worked out.
A couple of months later, Rusty met a woman. While that’s how many of Rusty’s most interesting stories start, in this case, she was importing antiques from China and was looking for a business partner. So, Rusty and Carin formed DecorAsian and set about evaluating different options for selling their wares. They had decided on an available retail space in in Denver’s posh Cherry Creek neighborhood. However, the owner wouldn’t lease to a start-up company comprised of two people, neither of whom had ever worked in retail. So, on to “Plan B”.
"Plan B" became a 2,400 Sq. Ft. high-end storefront available for a seven month sub-lease just east of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. After a decent start with a five-vendor consignment model, Carin decided that with her third child on the way, retail was just too much. So, it was up to Rusty to run with DecorAsian. While the consignment model had some advantages, it was just too clunky for the independent-minded Rusty and he gradually converted the business into a largely direct-import model. At that point, having ample funds to work with from the travel company, Rusty was hoarding inventory like a man possessed. Shortly after opening the Pearl Street store, he brought in a 40’ container from Thailand which necessitated more space. So, he not only opened a retail warehouse store in Boulder to store and sell the excess but also had to lease several semi trailers in which to store the excess excess inventory.
Just as Rusty returned home from an extended Bali buying trip in 2008, the economic stuff hit the fan with the housing bubble and market crash of 2008. Rusty, being a spreadsheet geek, locked himself in a room, crunched numbers, and arrived at two conclusions: he needed to stop paying so much rent, and he needed to broaden DecorAsian's market. So, Rusty looked to Denver to find a suitable location for DecorAsian. In the vein of new beginnings, Rusty first saw the 15,000 Sq. Ft. building at 1787 s. Broadway, at the south end of Denver’s “Antique Row”, on January 1, 2009. Despite the risk posed by the still declining economy, Rusty believed that the property had great potential for a retail showroom and warehouse. So, he jumped on it and, with the help of seller-financing, was able to purchase it in February, 2009. After a fairly major renovation, the new showroom was opened in June.
The economic recovery from the 2008 crash (especially that of the housing market, a big driver of the home furnishings business) was slow. So, even as there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, things weren’t easy. Unfortunately though, in early 2011, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a metaphorical freight train when the city of Denver broke ground on a 3-year Broadway road reconstruction project centered in front of our store. This severely hampered access to and visibility of the store and might well have been the final nail in DecorAsian’s coffin. But, they came back from the brink by employing a deep-discounting policy and consolidating operations by closing the Boulder store. The Company began also to be more open to taking in unique consignment items, both as a way to conserve cash, and a way to broaden the range of their inventory.
DecorAsian continued to chug along, establishing themselves as a regional leader in this very special home furnishings niche. In fact, several other Denver Asian-specialty stores closed in the 2009-2012 period and either sold their business or most of their remaining inventory to DecorAsian, resulting again in a great broadening of DecorAsian’s range of inventory and adding to the Company's direct import purchases from Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Papua New Guinea, and India.
In 2019, Rusty re-entered the travel space by offering a buying trip to Bali to his customer base. Nine folks participated, had a great time, and purchased a significant amount of great items at huge savings. Although plans are not set, the company will offer more trips in the future. India is probably next.
An important aspect of any business’s success is availability of capital. More folks than it would make sense to mention have helped Decorasian by lending money for inventory and working capital through the lean years. It’s still not an easy business in that respect with bulk purchases of container-quantity product being the key to maintaining margins but requiring significant outlays of capital. But as things stand now, the company is self-financing its inventory purchases and looking forward to the 2020’s with a brand new website, a growing Instagram and other social media presence, a great staff, and a great and ample mix of Fine Things Asian.
An essential part of any business is the employees. While we cannot mention them all, besides our fabulous current staff of Alia, Kent, Suzy, Chai (Rusty’s son), and Frank, one individual—Reed Halstead—stands out as the first Manager of DecorAsian Boulder and our first foreign buyer. Reed was instrumental to our success in the early years and remains a good friend of DecorAsian.
Finally, Rusty's wife Kristin certainly deserves a nod for staying steady with all of the ups and downs of having a retailer-husband!
Now Corona Virus 19 is adding to the Company history. But, this history is still being written! Check back later. I hope we're not history!