At Studio 29, six local businesses have come together to help you design or update your home.
In a world of big-box stores and online alternatives, Studio 29 stands apart as a refreshing anomaly. With six local businesses under one roof, it’s a one-stop shop—but in place of aisles of mass-produced merchandise, there are showrooms designed to excite the homeowner’s imagination. Each business embraces quality and high standards of customer care, rejecting the notion that customized work is less desired in today’s market. For them, it’s not a matter of what the customer can find, but what they can produce for the customer.
The building’s name is derived from its address: located on Route 29, it’s a short 10-minute drive from downtown Peoria. And while the businesses housed at Studio 29—Roecker Cabinets, Designer Tile & Stone by Leslie, Central Illinois Granite, SunGard Window Fashions, Stuber Land Design and AV Performance Innovations—appear busier than ever, their success hasn’t always come easily—a tough recession and poor housing market nearly put an end to the entire concept.
Weathering the Storm
The long history of Roecker Cabinets is as complicated as it is quintessentially American. In 1951, Emil and Adolf Roecker, brothers and immigrants from Germany, opened a cabinet shop in Morton, Illinois, with their business partner, Benjamin Rassi. Dedicated to exemplary service and high-quality craftsmanship, the company grew quickly, and soon, they found it necessary to incorporate additional business partners.
As the decades passed, the names on the company roster continued to grow, even as it became one of the most trusted cabinet factories in the Midwest—expanding further into the Chicago and St. Louis markets. In 2004, the company decided to relocate across the river to the old Foster & Gallagher building on Route 29 in Peoria. The move was a step up for Roecker Cabinets, which now had an 18,000-square-foot showroom as well as a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. And with the space to accommodate several other home-related businesses, Studio 29 was born.
But in 2008, disaster struck the U.S. economy, and like so many other businesses, Roecker Cabinets was not left unscathed. “Unfortunately, Roecker’s did not survive,” Don Osterman recalls. “The move from our Morton location to Studio 29 and the timing of the economic decline couldn’t have been worse… All of us were without jobs.” The other shops moved out as well, and for a brief period of time, it seemed that Studio 29 might never recover.
But Osterman, who started working at Roecker Cabinets in 1974, was convinced the company could right itself, and Kenny Rassi, grand-nephew of founding owner Benjamin Rassi, felt the same. “Roecker’s still had a good name,” Osterman recalls. “So, Kenny and I—along with investors—restarted the company.” Under their leadership, Roecker Cabinets reopened its doors on February 2, 2009. Soon, they were able to acquire the Studio 29 building, and as the economy improved, other businesses began to return to the space. Osterman and Rassi had managed to weather the storm.
Today, the Roecker Cabinets showroom is a testament to the ability to meet the ever-changing needs of their clientele, featuring everything from customizable pantries to master closets. “We have a competitive advantage,” Osterman notes. “In our industry, you usually go to a local showroom that carries different brands—but they are a showroom, not a manufacturer… We design it and build it in the same building. We are one company… and we found we can increase quality while still matching prices. That is what has sustained us for years.”
The quality advantage is clear from the moment a customer walks into the building. Roecker’s even mixes and creates its own stains in the factory, so customers can choose from a nearly endless array of colors for their custom work. “When I started here in the 1970s, every cabinet in a house was the same color,” Osterman notes. “Now every room is different… every room is a masterpiece.” Recently, Roecker’s created a coffee table with a stain to match the color of the birch trees in the customer’s backyard. “When you are in the room, it all flows seamlessly to the backyard,” he says. “We have some very talented craftsmen who can do amazing things!”
And this competitive advantage extends beyond customizable products; each business at Studio 29 brings a vast amount of industry experience to the table. Alishia Greene, who runs SunGard Window Fashions, started working at her parents’ business while she was still a full-time student at Illinois State University. “I have 18 years of experience and I’m fairly young—I started working here when I was only 20 years old,” she notes. “This is all I’ve ever known.”
A regional dealer for Hunter Douglas window blinds and coverings, SunGard offers everything from custom draperies to a programmable system that automatically opens and closes window shades based on the time of day. “A lot of window covering companies will sell customers what they really don’t need,” she explains. “It’s not a case of ‘one-size-fits-all’ for houses. When we go into a room, we cater to the décor. I’ll recommend something based on your aesthetics, how you use the room and what you need.”
And that flexibility is what helps make these businesses unique. With an obvious passion for what they do, Chris Scholl and Jesse Cochran of AV Performance Innovations thrive on new challenges. Their goal is to make technology work for their customers, eliminating the need for constant calls to some far-off tech support call center. “Our company name is really long,” Cochran laughs. “It’s ‘Audio-Video Performance and Innovation.’ Oftentimes, innovative thinkers aren’t good at completing their projects… When you get tech today, it doesn’t always work that well. We focus on ease of use for our clients.”
Scholl and Cochran have transformed their part of Studio 29 into a hub for home theater and music enthusiasts, catering needs that span from high-quality turntables to centralized vacuum systems. They got started at the worst part of the recession—which, Cochran notes, seems an impossible feat when he looks back on it. “When the big-box stores were going out of business, Chris and I faced significant salary cuts or leaving the A/V industry. People kept saying no one would spend money on quality electronics products… but we decided to go for it.”
The secret, he adds, was never turning down a request, but treating each challenge as a learning experience. “We really love serving our clients. We have young, dedicated employees who are incredibly passionate. They help us grow every facet of our business… and now we are the largest installation company of our kind south of Chicago.”
A Showcase for All
While AV Performance Innovations can easily fulfill the needs of a multi-million dollar project, it’s just as comfortable working with those who are simply looking for quality work at a competitive price. For Leslie Kierski of Designer Tile and Stone by Leslie, this has been key to her success over the years. Kierski, who runs her business alongside Central Illinois Granite, says the expertise found at Studio 29 is an indispensable resource.
“The problem at big-box stores is that no one can tell you if you are buying the right thing,” she offers, “and they can’t give you design help.” She says she often encounters customers who feel like this kind of expertise is too expensive—a myth she hopes to dispel. “I’m from Elmwood and I’ve lived here my entire life. I’m a normal person! I have tile that is $2 a square foot, and tile that is $55 a square foot. No matter what the job is—a small backsplash for a kitchen or a $100,000 bathroom remodel—we will treat you the same way,” she assures.
Osterman agrees, adding that Roecker’s offers semi-custom cabinetry for those who need a slightly lower price point. “People think that our work is outside of their budget,” he says. “Our showroom is designed to show people the capability of what our craftsmen can do… but we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that we can meet the needs of the average person.”
Dale Stuber of Stuber Land Design enjoys the idiosyncratic nature of custom work. Each customer, he says, brings a new artistic challenge, and the outcome is never quite the same. In recent years, the concept of “outdoor living” has exploded—along with the sale of outdoor kitchens, fire pits, outdoor furniture and even outdoor art. “We get to do some really exciting projects,” he explains. “People see design features in magazines and think it’s only for the rich and famous… They don’t realize it’s more affordable than they thought, when in fact, we can do it for them.”
Quality Over Quantity
While some of the businesses at Studio 29 have locations elsewhere, each is committed to the “one-stop shop” concept. “There are so many decisions you have to make when you own a home,” Greene notes. “Here, the businesses work together. We try to help the customer avoid going to several different places. Instead, we’re all here at one place.”
And because the businesses at Studio 29 spend so much time with each customer, they get to know them as friends. The fun lies in the challenge—even for the most unusual requests. “One client’s cat died and asked us to make a casket,” Rassi recalls. “We called it a cat-sket… and, of course, there were jokes about paw-bearers,” he adds with a smile.
Visitors to Studio 29 are often inspired to tackle new projects. “It’s that synergy that happens when you have other businesses there,” Stuber explains. “For us, if a customer is visiting another business, it gives them a perfect opportunity to hear about us, the services we provide, and the design capabilities they never dreamed could happen. If someone cares about their home, they will also care about the outside of their home.”
For many of them, simply having a Peoria location has allowed them to reach a much larger customer base. “It’s the ‘Illinois River factor’—the river is a big divider. People would say, ‘Gosh, you’re all the way in Morton!’” Kierski laughs. “They weren’t willing to drive that distance. But now we do business in Chillicothe—something we were never able to do before.”
Cochran, who loves to sit down with customers in the showroom and spin a few vinyl records, just loves showing customers what is available—even if it’s out of their price range. “I’ll show you our $200 speakers… but don’t be surprised when I show you our $14,000 speakers [too]. I’m not trying to sell them to you, but I promise if you like music, it will be fun!” he exclaims. “It’s not just about dollars. We find reward in customers who truly appreciate music like we do.”
Both Osterman and Rassi couldn’t be happier with the setup at Studio 29. “We’re so grateful to the Peoria community and all of our employees who stuck with us through hard times,” says Osterman. After a lifetime in the industry, they still meet new challenges and trends with a smile. And though it might be easier to sacrifice quality for quantity, both men insist that will never happen.
“It’s about quality and not wavering—even through the harder times,” Osterman states. “We can’t… That’s not who we are.” iBi
Visit Peoria's one-stop home design gallery at 6523 N. Galena Road or online at studio29peoria.com, or call (309) 691-2929 for more information.