It often takes time to gain footing on a career track after graduation. Daemen alumna Samantha Tagliarino, however, managed to take a giant step forward on her career path within just a month after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design degree in May 2011.
On June 18, 2011, she and business partner Brandon Tallau launched what they call online the OffBeat Movement with the grand opening of the OffBeat Emporium along popular Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The concept, unique to Western New York, is to breathe new life into secondhand and classic furniture with creative graphic design — skills that Tagliarino refined at Daemen. In fact, the basis for this unique operation was born in Tagliarino’s senior design project.
The beginning of this road to success veered curbside with the acquisition of a dresser that was left outside a home for trash pickup. The enterprising young couple saw the character in the piece and brought it home to refurbish.
“I had to come up with a concept for my senior project in design. In the midst of not being able to come up with an idea, it was recommended that we do something with our furniture idea. That’s how the developing concept of the store came in. The project really helped take the concept and develop a thorough idea for a store,” she recalls.
Tagliarino is grateful for the impact Daemen faculty had in shaping the project’s success.
“The faculty pushed the original ideas for the store and, because of them, this ended up happening,” she says. “They were a huge factor in narrowing down the concept and the initial design of how it looks and how the website evolved.”
She names Kevin Kegler, professor/ program director for graphic design/ animation in the Department of Visual & Performing Arts, as particularly influential in the realization of the concept. “He was most directly involved, the one professor who I opened up to halfway through and let him know that this is a reality. He understood when I came up against certain obstacles in the design project because I had other guidelines that I was meeting as well. When I was designing the storefront sign, for example, I had to meet Elmwood Village Association design standards. He worked with me to allow the project to become a reality.”
She also credits Laura Sommer, Department Chair of Visual & Performing Arts, as being extremely supportive, even after graduation. “Dr. Sommer was a huge help just getting me through Daemen, but since the store opened, she has been in a number of times and she got me involved in doing a speech at Daemen (part of the Nancy Haberman Gacioch Lecture Series). I had a bunch of students come into the store after that.”
Tagliarino also notes Daemen faculty’s help with the OffBeat website www.OffbeatEmporium.com and branding. “There was huge input and direction from teachers.”
About halfway through her spring semester, Tagliarino said she and her partner found a few vacant storefronts along Elmwood and they began inquiries. “And so we found this place (507 Elmwood between W. Utica and Hodge). That’s when we decided that we were going to make it into a reality while I was still wrapping up my graphic design degree. It was a hectic semester.”
Tallau, a former architecture student who graduated in media study from the University at Buffalo, said they had noticed that there was no store that did the kind of furniture repurposing they did as opposed to just a secondhand or thrift store, or the reuse outlet where people can repurpose items themselves. “We were obviously nervous about starting a business but we thought that the concept was pretty solid and that there was nothing like it in this area,” he says. “We were pretty confident in our idea,” she adds.
When they started out, the stock was all their own work which they rushed to complete. “We thought we wanted to stay that way. But after meeting other people in the area who were doing similar things, now we have about 10 to 15 consignors whose pieces we feature here as well. Things we take on consignment include repurposed pieces, things that have been refinished, or local artwork. We’re not just taking someone else’s china cabinet. For example, we have paintings hanging from a Daemen student, Sarah Jurewicz, who graduated the same year as I did.”
They both have an appreciation for times past when furniture was well made. “We don’t limit it to a style. We found that each era has some unique pieces in it. We are always repurposing them or transforming them to be modern or something new and different,” Tagliarino relates.
The emporium is bursting with furniture and accessories in vivid two-tone colors or cool black and white, as customers stroll the snug aisles and the phone rings with inquiries.
Dressers and tall chests are the most popular furniture items “because people can use them for anything,” she says.
“We always try to keep staples in here like a couch, loveseat and dining room table. A lot of people come in for an accent piece, that finishing touch for a room. If we don’t happen to have it, we’ll take down their information and keep our eyes out. Just recently, someone was looking for a bed frame. We found one that was perfect so we bought it and then refinished it to her taste and she purchased it. So we’re willing to work with people on that level. We’re always willing to refinish one of our pieces toward your preferences, which always gives us that safety net. If it’s not what you’re looking for when it’s done, we can put it in our store and keep our eyes out for something else,” observes Tagliarino.
“I wasn’t looking at them so much before but now I have a real appreciation for buffets,” notes Tallau. “It’s a really interesting piece of furniture that you see everywhere but don’t really notice. There are just so many unique types of them.”
How does the pair find pieces waiting for new life? “The most common way is that people are actually contacting us,” says Tagliarino. “We get a number of calls and emails every day saying that either they’re combining households or moving and they’ll send pictures with what they’re looking to get rid of. We look at what our needs are and go from there. It’s always a case-by-case. We still do estate sales. Curbside finds are fun but they’re time-consuming to find.” Tallau agrees. “Generally, when people put them outside, there’s a ton of work involved.” Tagliarino nods. “A lot of times, those will become the repurposed pieces where you can take the drawers and turn them into shadowboxes, or completely dismantle them.”
Another business that is evolving from this entrepreneurial experience is a branding firm. “We would love to eventually get more involved with branding other companies the way we did with this one. We’ve seen first-hand with advertisers who come in here and tell us what will work. We’ve tried so many different things and can relate to things on a website that people really respond to on a local business level. We think we could really help people bring in more customers from a graphics point of view,” Tagliarino reasons.
The couple just finished filming a 60- second commercial for the store that debuted on their website and will appear soon on television. The action visually tells the story of the original orange dresser being refurbished that launched the concept and then shows shoppers looking for such items in the store.
After a year and a half, the OffBeat Movement is going places. “It’s definitely evolved as far as how many people know about us now and the types of things we sell. We do a lot more accessories. Now we feel that our concept is strong enough that it would work on a long-term basis. The idea is that we’ll be eventually looking to move into a larger space but would like to stay in the Elmwood Village,” Tagliarino relates.
Their house near the Buffalo-Cheektowaga border is full of pieces waiting to be refinished. “It’s typical of the shoemaker’s shoes—they’re all beat up,” laughs Tallau.
The commercial that features the orange dresser that they refurbished originally as a personal project, that has landed at last in their living room. “We finally have a completely restored piece for ourselves,” Tagliarino smiles as the phone at the counter rings again and another customer enters the emporium.
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