Domo’s Frank Novembre swapped banking for furniture retailing through an accident of fate
Over twenty-five years ago the hunt for the perfect coffee table led Frank Novembre to move from merchant banking to furniture retailing. Today his company, Domo, is one of Australia’s most successful and respected retailers of prestigious European furniture brands.
Novembre had a passion for both renovating and quality products and was doing up an old Victorian house when he decided to take some classes at what was then called the Melbourne College of Decoration. Leafing through English House & Garden magazine one night the banker saw a coffee table that would be perfect for his new home. It was French and came from esteemed design house, Grange, which was, at the time, in negotiations to find a distributor for Australia.
“To cut a long story short,” says Frank, “those negotiations fell through and Grange still had my details from my initial, hand written, enquiry about that table. Many months later a representative from the company came to Australia and contacted me. He didn’t want me to buy a coffee table; he wanted me to become an agent.”
The path from then to today – when the original Grange business has evolved into Domo and Novembre oversees showrooms in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland – is a long and colourful one. Today Domo – Latin for ‘home’ – is a haven for furniture lovers interested in classically beautiful or stylishly directional pieces for indoor and outdoor living.
Grange, Ligne Roset, Dedon, Marchetti, Duresta and Felix Monge are just some of the brands the company presents in its own dedicated showrooms where highly original, carefully edited room-by-room settings provide customers with inspiration.
“It all nearly didn’t happen at the start,” remembers Novembre. His first shipment of Grange furniture – earmarked to debut at the Herald Home Improvement Show – got caught up in union strife at the docks and didn’t arrive until the second half of the exhibition. “We cut the catalogue up and stuck pictures on the walls,” says Novembre. “I’d invested in good carpet because I thought we could use it in the shop afterwards. People came in and enquired about that!”
The months following this time did not get any easier. Australia decided to float its dollar just after Novembre had placed his orders with France. “By the time we got our first order from David Jones we were losing about 20 per cent on each piece,” he says.
Nevertheless, resigning from his banking position, Novembre persisted and some of his original Home Show customers reappeared (one continues to buy from Domo today, as do his children). The company traded as Grange Furniture Australia for 19 years, adding retail to wholesale in 1994 and changing to the name Domo Collections in 2003.
Today all 11 brands sold through Domo are exclusive to the company. They vary greatly in style – from Ligne Roset’s remarkably visionary pieces to Duresta’s English country house look – but all are united in their superior quality and what Novembre describes as “the company’s stance behind its products”.
Novembre looks for companies who have “been around yet continue to evolve” and who “provide immediate support if there is ever a problem”. He takes the same approach at his end, going as far as running a private fleet of delivery vehicles so the furniture can be delivered and assembled as he envisages they should be – maintaining the Domo level of service. No wonder then that he has enjoyed over 25 years of repeat business from a client base made up of both design professionals and private buyers.
The furniture business has, in the long run, been kind to Frank Novembre. He met his wife, Jane, when she was shopping for the iconic Grange Sleigh bed and she is now Domo’s head of marketing. Together the pair has successfully forged exclusive distribution deals with some of the biggest names in European design and regularly they travel the world to visit with the families behind the brand names and to attend trade fairs in various markets.
Today the “Domo family” – as the staff is called – is made up of a group of passionate and highly trained staff. Input from these individuals is as important to Novembre as his own taste and instinct. As he says, “We know we’re on a winner if we put something on the floor and staff members are keen to buy it.”
Jane Novembre states her husband is also lucky he has married a customer. “I’m a little more flamboyant,” she concedes, “Frank’s taste is more refined. But we’ll put something classic like a Marchetti dining table in our home, surrounded by other eclectic items, and a number of my girlfriends will want one too. The great thing is that, because of our individuality, the same table will look entirely different in each person’s home. Just like our staff, we have to believe in and love the product and then the success follows.”