Catering to clients with budgets of $3,000 to $300,000 out of their 95,000 sq. ft. store, Fraser ships the local and global market.
t’s surely appropriate that a single, long-stemmed red rose is Fraser Furniture’s fragrant signature. The beautifully designed direct mail pieces, received regularly by their 20,000 preferred customers, carry the rose’s dewy image and, whenever a home delivery is made, the driver presents a rose to the customer with Fraser’s compliments, a symbol of the company’s dedication to service. Somehow it’s a gallant, atavistic gesture with an air of chivalry about it.
Ross Fraser, the fourth generation to take the corporate helm, initiated the custom more than a decade ago. The concept would undoubtedly have met with the approval of his father, Ian, his grandfather, Brigadier Robert Fraser, and the founders, Ross’ great-grandfather and uncle, all men endowed with foresight, a sense of adventure and business savvy.
Back in 1880 on St. James Street in Old Montreal, Fraser Bros. Ltd. was a small company of general auctioneers and appraisers handling goods as diverse as real estate, machinery and livestock. The concept broadened over the years to include the retailing of used and antique furniture and house auctions of many of Montreal’s old and prestigious estate homes. In 1948, after WWII, Robert became president; he was joined five years later by his son, Ian.
A graduate of the Royal Military College and both McGill and Harvard, Ian proved to be the driving force in the firm’s growth and development. He introduced the idea of selling new furniture on a retail basis, a concept that attracted many new customers to Fraser’s door. Ian became one of the first to travel extensively in Europe and the United States in search of new sources of quality furniture, antique reproductions produced by traditional craftsmen. Under his stewardship, Fraser’s came to be recognized as Montreal’s most distinguished furniture retailer. It was the dawn of a new era.
At his “very intelligent father’s insistence, so I could make my mistakes elsewhere”, Ross, a Queen’s University commerce graduate, worked at Sears’ Canada for six years in various marketing management jobs. “My father was afraid I would learn just from him and would continue to do the same thing forever.”
Ross joined the family concern in 1984 at age 29. In 1986, after his father’s untimely death, Ross took over the leadership of his father’s “very experienced management team, a group of professionals, three of them 30 year veterans”. All have since retired and Ross has put together his own, “dynamic young team”.
Craig Palmer is Store Manager and Buyer, “phenomenally knowledgeable, tremendous experience in sales management and interior design. Randy De Vries is second generation Controller, following in his father’s capable footsteps. André Bérubé has worked for Fraser’s for 25 years although he’s only in his early forties. He’s a fantastically creative individual, runs all the creative team on the floor and handles our biggest outside clients. He has a natural flair! Robert Rochon is the Director of Services of our entire service team. He is a former delivery professional who has moved inside to run the show.”
Ross’ wife, Donna Fraser, is an MBA, a currency trader and the mother of their three children, the fifth generation. “Donna is in the office a day or two a week and works on special projects. She provides a very valuable woman’s perspective, analyzing and providing comments.
“Everyone is vital to our team,” said Ross. “This is not my business. Really, we are all working together for the customer, to develop the overall experience that creates a very satisfied customer relationship. It’s still very much a people-to-people business, even with the importance of electronics now.”
An “evolving, dynamic family business,” Fraser’s has occupied several premises over the years until, in 1987, the company bought its present 95,000 square foot facility on Devonshire Street, which enabled them to combine and expand several operations within the same premises. Said Ross, “It offered many exciting possibilities. One has been the growth of our showroom space to over 80,000 square feet in 2003. And, very important, now our team is only steps away from one another instead of being scattered about in several locations. Much greater efficiency and substantially reduced overhead.”
The facility is located south of the Trans-Canada Highway in the heart of the primary trading area that encompasses TMR, Outremont, Westmount, Hampstead and the West Island and is close to Dorval Airport where customers fly in from Toronto, New York, Florida, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Promotion, as one would expect, is also approached creatively. “Direct mail is extremely important to Fraser’s. Our preferred customer list is constantly growing.” Brochures and invitations are printed on heavy stock, the colourful visuals are engaging, the messages sophisticated and informative, warm and frequently witty.
“We use a lot of print, both in French and English, double the fun! We also advertise in magazines, one is Place des Armes, high-end readership, a full-page ad every month, plus, from time to time, various design magazines. And during sales and other promotions we run a heavy concentration of radio commercials, all 30 second rather than 60, for greater frequency. My father used to voice the commercials in English and I do that now. The text conveys that Fraser’s is a fun place to visit, an interesting shopping experience. We don’t do television.”
Events include the many celebrations over the decades of Fraser anniversaries, some of which have involved elaborate in-store demonstrations intended to educate and to enhance the appreciation of fine furniture as well as entertain. “It helps people to evaluate prices, to justify their investment.”
For example, the Fraser Design Team presented “Creating your own style for your home”. Barrymore, a Toronto upholstery firm, suppliers to Fraser’s for fifty years or more, addressed “The art of hand-upholstering chairs in fine fabrics.” Gibbard Furniture Shops of Napanee, also half-century plus suppliers, discussed “The hand-finishing and polishing of quality solid-wood pieces”. And Bashir Persian Rugs talked about their “Story of quality, hand-made rugs for your home”.
Just before leaving for Toronto’s Canadian Home Furnishings Market, Ross and the Team mounted their annual January Sale. “We have two big sales, one in January and one in August. Preferred customers are invited 10 days to two weeks before we advertise to the general public.”
Charity fund raising on premises is also important in Fraser’s event roster. One such beneficiary is “the society that provides funding for young musicians”. The corporate mission statement emphasizes the Team’s dedication to community interaction.
Business networking has its place, too. Ross’ father was President of the MXA, Montreal Executives Association, and Ross is Past President. “We’ve been members for 50 or 60 years.”
Fraser’s prides itself on offering a wide range of price points starting in the middle range. Said Ross, “Whether you have a $3,000 budget with which to add a dash of newness to your $300,000 home or a $300,000 budget to furnish your $3 million manor house, we’re prepared to welcome you to our showrooms!”
In fact, not long ago the owners of an elegant manor house in England, “after shopping around Europe”, determined that Fraser’s was “best equipped and stocked to meet their many requirements in the most satisfactory manner and at the most favourable price. They ordered three containers full of merchandise which were accompanied to the site by three of our designers who unpacked the goods and placed them in their home. They were bowled over!”
As well as their primary 150 mile radius of custom, Fraser ships overseas on a regular basis to destinations such as Haiti, Dubai, Tunisia, Greece, Israel, Syria and Egypt and, of course, the United States.
Service is key, a vital element of Fraser’s philosophy. Registered interior designers plus sales professionals, with years of experience, ensure personalized, complimentary service. Another group of experts are close behind them, unpacking every piece of merchandise received, checking it, making any small repairs that might be required, polishing and repacking for delivery to the customer.
“In the next 10 years I would like to see us get our name out there even more. We work very hard to get traffic into our stores to see our beautiful displays of furniture and accessories from all over the world. We will do our very best to develop strong, long term, loyal relationships with our clients.
“We are constantly trying to improve ourselves. As market leaders, we must always concentrate on moving up to the next level. And we are constantly looking for new product, beautiful, unusual, different, all in excellent quality, things that will last, global goods for our global customers.”
We talked about Leda Furniture’s striking, new Nottingham Cottage Collection, dining, bedroom and accent pieces with the look of English 16th-17th century artisan- crafted country. Ross said, “Some important trends are moving in that direction, back to really interesting traditional themes, unique looks
In the near term, business should be very strong with interest rates low and the U.S. economy picking up. There’s a very interesting market right here in Canada, too. We’re planning for a very strong period.”
The fluctuation of the Canadian and American dollars will “enable us to buy better in the United States and offer better prices on U.S. goods. But we are buying more in Europe, too. The jury is still out as to long term quality coming out of China.
“The combination of the right product and the right people leaves us well positioned to successfully maintain a strong and growing family business for many more generations to come.”
The three young Frasers? “They help out here at the store even now at their young age. I’ll do my best to expose them and hope for the best!”
At Fraser Furniture, we strive to be the leading retailer of fine furniture and accessories in every market that we serve. We strive for excellence in all activities.
All members of the Fraser team will sell and service our furniture with enthusiasm, energy for our jobs and respect for our customers.
We fully believe that the customer is the most important person to our company’s success. As a company, we seek to add value to our customers by providing them with:
1) The best selection of quality furniture styles and designs in the market.
2) A welcoming retail environment that ensures a pleasant and comfortable shopping experience.
3) Beautifully decorated store displays that show all furniture in an exciting and inspiring way.
4) The finest service in the industry: including sales, after-sales, delivery, problem-solving, etc.
5) Well trained and knowledgeable sales consultants to provide decorating solutions to help our valued clients turn their houses into homes.
6) superior products at favourable prices.
7) the most reputable name in the furniture business.
AS A COMPANY...
...we seek to build a strong and focused management group dedicated to developing a “Team” approach to running all aspects of our business.
...we seek to add value to our employees by providing them with employment that encourages personal growth and pride in their work. We work with them to develop their specific skills and opportunities through training (inside and outside, if necessary).
...we seek to add value to our community by providing taxes, charitable donations and community support.
...we seek to run a profitable business in order to provide the capital necessary for reinvestment in our company’s growth and in our people.