Crate and Barrel is a chain of retail stores that specialize in selling indoor and outdoor furniture, home accessories and hardware. If you've shopped at one of their outlets then you already know that they carry unique items that have a European flavor. The store has an interesting history and there are many things about it that the average occasional shopper doesn't know, so here are 20 things you probably didn't know about Crate and Barrel, but might enjoy hearing about.
1. They're a subsidiary of a larger parent company
Crate and Barrel is the business name that the store operates under. The real name of the company is Euromarket Designs Inc. It is completely owned by Otto GmbH. It was founded in 1962 in Chicago Illinois by Gordon and Carol Segal. It maintains its corporate headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois.
2. Crate and Barrel is a large retail chain
Crate and Barrel is a retailer that operates several small stores throughout the United States. The company is so large that they've even expanded their operations into Canada. There were 90 outlet stores in the United States and an additional 15 CB2 stores in Canada as of 2018. The company employs over 7,500 workers.
3. The founders were only 23 years old when they started the store
Crate and Barrel was founded by the Segals when they were just 23 years old. This is a fun and interesting fact about the store's early days. The couple had been on their honeymoon in the Caribbean and when they were there, they came across some shops that were selling European products that were different than what they had seen in the United States.
They were quite aesthetically pleasing and they had a sturdy and durable design. Carol also noticed that the prices were reasonable. When they returned to the US, the couple were inspired to begin their own business that dealt in European imports of this quality. It was the idea of two very young people who were newly married and had no previous experience in the retail industry, but look what they've accomplished.
4. The first store was in an old factory
You wouldn't think that an old reconditioned elevator factory would be a suitable venue to begin a European import store, but as it turned out, it was perfect for what the Segals had in mind. The space was 1,700 square foot and it was in poor condition and in the Old Town section of Chicago, Illinois. They made the necessary repairs to the interior but left it in somewhat rugged condition. While some retailers went for a more polished and sophisticated look, the rustic appearance of the first store gave it a unique appeal that would set the tone for the business for decades to come.
5. Crate and Barrel sells direct imports
You can count on the quality and the authenticity of the products that you purchase from Crate and Barrel as much today as you could when they first started up the business. The Segals made a special trip to Europe when they were first starting out. They were looking for unique pieces that were made by European artisans. They struck agreements with the shops themselves and arranged to make purchases for their new store. This is how Crate and Barrel still operates today. They've added a few extra lines though. They now offer European Mexican, Indian and Thai imports in all of their stores.
6. The brand name was changed before the store opened
When the Segals first came up with the name for their new business, they had originally wanted to call it Barrel and Crate. It was at the suggestion of a friend that they swapped the order and came up with Crate and Barrel. It seemed to flow more nicely and if their friend hadn't spoken up back then, we might all be shopping at Barrel and Crate instead.
7. The name describes the interior of the store
When you think about it, the name of the store is actually ingenious. It makes you think of something very rustic and that is precisely what they were going for thematically. They took this idea to the next level by creating displays for their goods literally out of crates and barrels. They were thrifty and saved money in the process. The Segals used the crates that the merchandise was shipped to them in and turned them over, stacked them in the appropriate configurations, strategically placed the packing wood excelsior from the crates to cushion the goods and used these to set up the attractive and rustic looking displays. This was a brilliant way to drive home the fact that the items really were direct imports that were fresh out of the packing crates.
8. Crate and Barrel moved ahead with a new marketing plan in 1966
The small company had been so successful that the Segals realized that it was time to expand, but they wanted to do it the right way. They took a trip to the Design Research store in Cambridge with designer Lon Habkirk to learn more about the approach they should take to retailing. They were looking for a formula that could be replicated to open more store locations and this trip influenced the way that they handled the expansion of the business to maintain the purism in their original store.
9. The second store opened in 1968
Just six years after the first Crate and Barrel was opened, the Segals were opening their second location. This one was in Wilmette, Illinois. By 1971, they had their third store in the emerging chain open in Oak Brook, Illinois. By 1977, another store opening followed in Boston and this was followed just two years later with a second store in Chicago. This coincided with the opening of a branch in Cambridge Massachusetts which was the second in that town also. They were well on their way to becoming the amazing and thriving business that they are today.
10. Crate and Barrel hit the Big Apple in 1995
It took 33 years from the time that Crate and Barrel opened its first store for them to reach it's first New York location. The first store was in Manhattan and it also happened to be the fifty-ninth Crate and Barrel store to open.
11. The Segals sold their share in 1998
In 1998, the store was thriving and the Segals decided that it was time to let somebody else take the reigns. A German company called the Otto Group started by buying a majority stake in the store. It was a mail order company and they were solid and able to take the company to yet greater heights of expansion. The Otto group purchased the rest of the shares in 2011 to become the sole owner of Crate and Barrel and they are still the total owners of the chain today.
12. Crate and Barrel went international
Up until September of 2008, Crate and Barrel only had locations open in the United States. Under the Otto Group, they made the bold step to expand into Canada. Their first Canadian store was a two-story operation located in Toronto, Ontario. The first store was a success, so Crate and Barrel continued expanding throughout Canada adding stores in Calgary, Edmonton, Alberta, in Quebec and in British Columbia. This was the first time that the company had taken their business outside of the borders of America.
13. Crate and Barrel added other countries to their international portfolio
The store was so popular throughout the United States and Canada that they decided to expand the business yet further beyond the borders of North America. In 2009, they made the announcement that they had signed a franchise agreement for a store to open in Dubai in 2010, with the Al Tayer Group.
14. Crate and Barrel expanded into Asia
The first store that the company opened in Asian was at Ion Orchard in Singapore. The two-floor retail outlet opened in January 2013. This was followed by a store in Taipei and one in Taichung in Taiwan, for a total of three stores throughout Asia.
15. Further international expansion
Crate and Barrel has continued to expand their international operations. After placing three stores in Asia, they moved forward and secured a spot at the Parque La Colina Mall after striking a franchise agreement with the popular retail store Falabella, in Bogota, Columbia. This location was officially opened in December of 2016. This was followed by a store in San Jose, Costa Rica within the Avenida Escazu mall in the city.
16. The Toronto store has their own style
The CB2 store that is located in Toronto has a different tone than most others. They still provide the same upmarket housewares that the rest of the outlets do, but they display them a bit differently. You would notice immediately that their displays are in "vignette" style groupings. They put items together as they might appear if they were arranged in a home.
17. Crate and Barrel has a kids and young adults store
The Crate and Barrel store that is catered specifically toward young adults and children's furnishings, home goods, and gift items. It's a CB2 store that is a sister brand of Crate and Barrel and the first of these stores opened in 2000. This was followed by fourteen additional stores in various locations throughout the United States and Canada.
18. The Land of Nod is now a Crate and Barrel brand
Crate and Barrel acquired The Land of Nod in 2001. It's a children's brand that previously operated on its own until it was purchased by Crate and Barrel. After the acquisition of the company, Crate and Barrel made the decision to phase out the Land of Nod and close all of the stores by the Spring of 2018. They plan to rename the company Crate & Kids which will be a brand under the umbrella of Crate and Barrel. They're estimating that 40 of these stores will be opened. There are also plans in place to launch an online store offering the Crate & Kids merchandise.
19. Crate and Barrel had a serious management problem and Gordon Segal saved the day
After the Segals sold their share of Crate and Barrel, The new CEO appointed was Barbara Turf who took the position in 2008. When Turf assumed the job, the revenue estimates for the Crate and Barrel chain was at $1.3 billion. In 2012, Turf retired and Sascha Bopp was her replacement. Within one year of being on the job, morale dropped among employees at significant levels.
The holiday season also showed poor performance. It was discovered that Bopp had made some poor management decisions along with staffing policies that were upsetting to the workers. She was terminated in the summer of 2014, but the company had no replacement in sight yet. When Segal was asked to come back and help get the company on its feet as an advisor, he was happy to help get the company culture restored and to bring up employee morale.
20. Crate and Barrel has not departed from its mission
From the first day that Crate and Barrel opened its doors in that small abandoned elevator factory, it's been true to its original mission. It's a simple goal and that is to sell high quality and authentic European housewares at reasonable prices. They import items that are unique and not readily available at other vendors in the United States.
They still offer products that fall within their original goals along with the addition of imported products from a few other countries. One thing that you can count on when you shop at Crate and Barrel is that you're going to find a large inventory of housewares that are unique an something that you won't find in most other stores. The prices are not cheap, but they're very reasonable. You can depend on the quality and durability of their products as Crate and Barrel has maintained this level of integrity.
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Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson