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Retail Profile: Zilli

Furniture World Magazine


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New concept store uses “zones” to reflect international trends and help consumers envision their personal fashion statements.

Early April, a brisk and sunny morning. “The red carpet marking the Grand Opening, handsome men opening the doors in their black suits and white gloves, the valet service, the jazz trio, champagne, the scarlet ribbon at the top of the stairs, the room filling with animated people and they just kept piling in, more than 150 of them!” For Natalie Papia, President and CEO of Zilli Home Interiors, that morning was her “personal dream come true.

“From childhood and throughout my university and business life, I envisioned a beautiful, fresh yet sophisticated retail destination store. I wanted to share my passion for home interiors and the good life with others, a place where people would love to shop and be inspired! I’m an entrepreneur, a wife, mother of three, a multi-tasking careerist, like many of my target demographic... and I’m a dedicated shopper!”

On Zilli’s website and in pre-opening media releases, Natalie asks the consumer “to imagine your favourite spa, then recreate that vision as an extraordinary new home furnishings shopping experience that delights every one of your five senses! Fun, exciting, interactive, Zilli embodies lifestyle beauty, fashion and excellence!”

After speeches and ribbon cutting, the crowd toured the facility. Zilli’s slogan, “Rooms to Inspire. Indulgences to Love.” integral to Natalie’s concept, comes to life in the strikingly fenestrated, lofty spaces of the elegant three-storey structure. Sunlight invades every corner, illuminating warm pomegranate and off-white walls, sparkling silver, pewter and chrome metalwork and accessories. There’s the sight and sound of water everywhere, from the pond and cascading waterfalls behind the central staircase to many interesting wall and floor units. (Several of the dazzled guests insisted on buying them on the spot!)

There are more than 50 coordinated, fully accessorized “Rooms to Inspire”. Cleverly, Natalie has created “zones” to reflect international trends and help consumers envision their personal fashion statements. Each zone is announced by a short, bang-on descriptive statement, wall-inscribed. The Zen Zone, “Cool minimalism, hot contrast. Be bodacious!” The Cozy Zone offers inviting “Down-to-earth. Lazy luxe.” Eazy Living, “celebrates family. Fun, fashion and function.” Zilli Classics, “for our time. Elegant sophistication.” KIDZ Corner, “it’s a small world after all!” (Contains some of the most enchanting, colourful children’s furniture imaginable, guarded by huge stuffed animals. And this is also play space for visiting kids.) The Z-Market, “One-of-a-kind affordables. Irresistible!” And there’s Zilli’s Theatre, a retreat furnished with lush scarlet leather seating for husbands or others accompanying avid shoppers to relax and watch “the game” on big screen TV. It’s dubbed, “Front row centre. Best seat in the house!” (Free cappuccino and Zilli water, of course.)

There are other surprises. The “Zest Zone”, perhaps one of the most advanced, yet friendly, twenty-first century demonstration kitchens in existence, dominates a magical area large enough to accommodate informative workshops for groups of consumers seeking culinary enlightenment. In this same space, seminars on design, colour and fashion will be held on a regular basis.

Close to the Zest Zone is the stunning Jane Lockhart Studio. Jane, a celebrity TV host and interior designer, captivated by Natalie’s vision, signed on to showcase at Zilli “wonderful furniture pieces I have personally selected and coordinated to create a unique and elegant style. Just some of my favourites from quality companies around the globe.”

Jane is an award-winning Ryerson University Interior Design graduate. An ARIDO member, she teaches part time, has successfully created remarkable retail, theatrical and residential environments, and received awards from IIDEX (International Interior Design Exposition). She collaborated with Benjamin Moore in the production of two best selling books, “Paint a Great Impression” and “Room Recipes – Cooking Up Style with Colour”. After establishing her own design firm, Jane Lockhart Design Communications, she took to the airwaves with “One House – Two Looks”, and now “Colour Confidential” on W (Women’s) Network.

Said Natalie, “Jane acted as visual merchandiser for Zilli and with beautiful results. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from her and really enjoy working with her and her team.”





Jane was one of the presenters at the glamorous Grand Opening. She commented, “It’s really interesting that Natalie is opening in a recession. It says a lot about her. She is presenting good product, and it’s never a bad time for good design. Also, Zilli is a solely owned Canadian entity, and Natalie is offering a lot of Canadian products. Zilli and Natalie can both be identified by their spirit of energy, excitement and fun, and this communicates with the consumer.

“Zilli’s interior features a fresh, bright open staircase, beautiful chandeliers for architectural emphasis; a respectful place, grand, but not intimidating. A cool space, and Natalie herself is cool, cool but graceful. A lovely, ethical person!”
There’s a special event upcoming. Jane will present an evening workshop/lecture at Zilli, designed for consumers to “Learn secrets of how to coordinate furniture pieces, put together a floor plan, coordinate colours and select must-have accessories”. The first of many such events. (For more about Jane, see www.janelockhart.com.)

Deborah Bonk Greenwood, President and CEO of the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce, addressed the gathering. In part, “I am not only impressed with the surroundings but with Natalie herself. She is a bright, articulate, young entrepreneur, dedicated mother and wife with a passion for not only her business, but how her business relates to life. She has incorporated many elements that you don’t find in most retail businesses, the kids and spouse zones, and, what attracted me the most, the Zest Zone. The name automatically invigorates life. It incorporates culinary delights, design features and fashion events, creating a unique experience that reflects Natalie’s approach and philosophy to both her business and life. In my opinion, this formula is bound to create success!”

The community’s leadership took notice of Zilli. Representatives from the City of Vaughan came and presented certificates from Mayor Lorna Jackson and Councilor Bernie DiVona, and another from the office of Joyce Frustaglio, “second to the Mayor”.

A three-day soft opening was staged almost a month prior to April’s brilliant affair. The facility is located in Woodbridge, part of the City of Vaughan, a prosperous and highly populated area north of multicultural Toronto. Zilli is perched very noticeably in the midst of a busy industrial and commercial district with hundreds of potential customers in the immediate area. All were invited, hand distributed invitations for the most part. An inflatable in Zilli colours soared above the building. Lunch was sold from The Zest Zone, two chef-trained ladies preparing “vast quantities of sandwiches and salads, the excitement in the air, music throughout the store, a projector showing Jane’s TV shows, the place was alive!” Sales were good, too. “Excellent response on indulgences, the gourmet food, jewelry, CDs, Zilli’s own private label soaps and lotions, books and, in the near future, much, much more.” (There are plans for a ”scent line, stemware and dinnerware, martini glasses, wine glasses, purses, entertaining trays, fondue sets, pillows, throws, candles, candelabras, vases!”) There will be ongoing promotions for “neighbours and friends”, invitations to events, greater use of e-mail, special incentives that will make regular visits to Zilli natural and rewarding happenings.

The “Indulgences to Love” were part of Natalie’s original inspiration. There is an area devoted to them, and pleasant “surprises” dotted around the store. One is reminded that Zilli is not “just a home furnishings store”, it is “an innovative new home décor concept” with the ambience of a fine spa... customers are told, “Don’t resist pampering yourself. With your busy life, you deserve it!”

Another event coup, this staged as a promotion for Mother’s Day. Yet another TV host, (TLN and The Food Network), a celebrity chef! Publicity reads, “ZILLI HOME presents DAVID ROCCO. Cucinando per la Mamma, a treat for Mothers Day, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., admission free!” Handsome David will sign and sell his most recent book, “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita”, and customers can have their pictures taken with the star! Added attraction, he will prepare “his famous Risotto in Zilli’s demonstration kitchen”.

After three seasons of his popular television series, David is one of Canada’s most popular celebrity cooks. Chosen as one of Flare magazine’s ”most stylish Canadians”, his popularity goes well beyond Canada, his show airing in 100 countries around the world. A proud Italian-Canadian, David’s love for food, cooking and preparing meals for friends and family is “part of his DNA”. Learn more about David and his adventures at www.davidrocco.com.

His traditions are close to Natalie’s heart. Her parents and grandparents are highly creative, hard working Italian-Canadians. Christina and Angelo Marzilli founded Décor-Rest Furniture, an international fabric and leather upholstery manufacture. Natalie and her younger brother, Angelo Junior, grew up in home furnishings’ immersion, aware of colour, texture, fabrics, leathers and the history and practice of design from infancy. And also the discipline necessary to grow a long-lasting business.

Natalie holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree, is fluent in English and Italian and functional in French. Her first job after graduation was as Territory Manager for Adams Brands, Warner-Lambert.

After a year, she returned to the fold as Décor-Rest’s Director of Sales. Natalie married Joe Papia, her high school sweetheart, now a vascular surgeon, and the couple have three children, Salvatore, age six, and the twins, Alessandra and Gian Franco, now four years old.

“Other than my parents, my guiding mentors were my grandparents. They were an important part of my life and in raising me, since my parents were often busy working. Their biggest teachings: the importance of tradition, culture, language and good ethics. And, of course, a love for Italy and all that it offers! At the same time, love of life and the appreciation of little things. To have a meal together, surrounded by family and love! I cherish those memories and aim to create new memories with my family. I’m fortunate to still have my maternal grandparents and continue to live these traditions with them”

Early in 2007, Natalie was ready to begin intensive research into consumer wants and needs, to consolidate her instincts with facts drawn from the marketplace. During preliminary discussion, it was remembered the word “Zilli” had been heard on a recent trip to the Far East. Part of the family name (Marzilli), the Chinese translation of “Zilli” was discovered to be “bold, enterprising, courageous”. Besides, it had a whimsical ring to it. And a final plus factor, there were no other “Zillis” in the North American or international home furnishings industry.

In-depth surveys revealed that consumers were eager for new shopping experiences. They wanted something more, “interesting, different, unique, even exotic, inspiring, uplifting, fun, beautiful, enticing”. They wanted to be “surprised”, to “escape, like going on vacation”. Price was a consideration but, in Natalie’s targeted demographic, not truly significant. A high proportion of respondents said environmental issues were very important to them, and they would pay more for eco-friendly products. And they would be “very impressed” with a store that expressed such values, “It’s where we have to go in the future!”

They universally loved the concept of a spa ambience, the workshops, the opportunity to learn more, the demonstration kitchen and opportunities to see and meet celebrities in design, fashion and the culinary arts.

Just the right building was found in the requisite busy location. Once a winery, the space was ample, but needed much renovation. Zilli required approximately 22,500 square feet and three floors were available. Architects waved magic wands, staircases, elevators, enormous windows, new walls, new flooring, accommodation for water features, exterior and interior signage, landscaping, and an extraordinary marketing strategy evolved. All of this hectic activity was steered and controlled by Natalie, the inexhaustible entrepreneur, holding tight to her vision!

It was during this period that Zilli’s environmental commitment was established. There’s a promise to “growing greener, stretching beyond accepted green parameters. Learning together how to execute green design principals, recognizing economic, ecological, aesthetic and social values.” Right now, a line of upholstery is available in recycled cotton, organic hemps or cottons with corn or soy based foams, as are tables and units of recycled woods or woods from sustainable forests, accessories of bamboo and similar green resources. In packaging, shopping bags are reusable canvas. Only recycled paper bears the Zilli logo, and deliveries are all blanket wrapped. In the Zest Zone, the demonstration kitchen, food composting and green bins are the order of the day. All paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and cans will be recycled, and a compactor unit in the receiving department will prepare all plastic wrap and cardboard for the recycling plant for processing. Motion sensor lighting is installed in Zilli’s lavish bathrooms, offices and kitchen, all compact fluorescent lamps. And 24-watt metal halide halogen lights instead of 100-watt incandescents.

Ceramic flooring was used wherever possible and appropriate. In the offices, Interface, 20 inch square carpeting has been installed. When replacement time rolls around, Interface recycles and reuses the material to make new flooring.

There’s a touch of Feng Shui. The pond and waterfalls “will energize the flow of chi, the yin and yang of calm and energy, and the promise of wealth and prosperity”. Traffic patterns are carefully orchestrated according to the Feng Shui “heart flow” path, and invigorate one’s trip through Zilli! Said Natalie, “Our vision is to incorporate environmental awareness and potentially full procedure in every element of the business. As we grow, so will our carbon footprint diminish, an ongoing process. And doesn’t it make you feel good to know you’re doing your best to preserve planet Earth for your children, grandchildren and yourself?!”

Zilli is a member of the SFC (Sustainable Furniture Council). And throughout the store, green signage and posters discuss environmentally friendly content of product lines.

Natalie’s first buying trip to High Point as a retailer was an eye-opener. Ideas and concepts developed over years of working within the industry, travelling all over the world, fell into place.

In preparation for the Grand Opening, media lists were researched, invitations, kits, releases, photography were designed and produced. Ads were devised for several appropriate magazines, a flyer to be inserted in The Toronto Star was assembled and distributed, 100,000 two Saturdays in a row following the Grand Opening.

A good gathering of media covered the Opening, television, radio, shelter magazines, local newspapers and publications, each individual receiving personal notes of thanks from Natalie. Those who could not attend were followed with post-opening releases. Remote radio was used effectively. All media will get updates and announcements of high profile events regularly.

A Newsletter is under construction to be used on Zilli’s website, for distribution at the store, to selected media, to local and provincial government offices and other important contacts. Shelter magazines have been approached for exposure of both Natalie as an up-and-coming entrepreneur and the facility as “the place to go” (Great feature coverage already in Style at Home magazine, July issue.)

Leading up to the Opening, work began on Zilli’s website. An ongoing process, it will offer substance and surprises to the hugely growing population of active Internet users. Content includes “The Zilli Story”, lots of colourful visuals of collections, indulgences and accessories, and action shots of Natalie’s delightful children! There’s updated environmental commentary, the opportunity to join the interactive “Inner Circle” inviting consumer commentary in addition to Zilli’s suggestion boxes and surveys. Incentives and promotions will be announced. The “newsletter” will offer hints and tips on design, news and trends, profiles of designers, artisans and chefs, ideas for entertaining and care of fine home furnishings. Soon a user-friendly room planner will be added to the mix. See for yourself at www.zillihome.com.

In-home and store consultations are offered by Zilli’s designer sales associates who work on “a combination of salary and commission”. There are special incentives for interior designers.

Natalie’s paternal grandfather, the original Angelo, was very precious to her and, on his death, she made the decision to dedicate her community philanthropic work to his memory. She will support children through donations of books to local schools; seniors, working with retirement and nursing homes, and health with the Vaughan Health Centre. Later, she will extend Zilli’s reach to international environmental concerns, women’s rights with micro-banking enterprises and, from this, feel-good products for Zilli’s customers.

“When we began formulating the Zilli plan, we certainly didn’t realize what type of economy we would be opening in. We had many great plans and were not going to let the economy stop us. Businesses that open in a bad economy usually do well; it will make us strong! We’re not afraid of a little bit of hard work!”

The culmination of a dream? Or the beginning of a new era? We promise an update, April 2019!

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.