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McArthur's Furniture: Retail Profile

Furniture World Magazine


If your friends happen to live in a 45,000 square foot red brick manor house filled with distinctive upscale furnishings.

 "Going to McArthur’s is just like visiting friends fortunate enough to live in a large and beautiful colonial house. It’s so inviting you want to pack your bags and move in!” A sentiment echoed by many happy customers over the years but this time voiced by a sophisticated industry executive, enamoured of the marketing vision and acuity of Ken Sissons and his staff.

With an important anniversary on the horizon, and “With 65 years of proud history behind us, we’re planning an exciting future,” said Ken, CEO of McArthur’s Fine Furniture.

The landmark enterprise was founded in Stampede City, Calgary, Alberta, back in 1938 by Gerry (G.W.) McArthur. Ernest Sissons joined the firm in 1957 as Sales Manager. In 1960, Mr. McArthur made the decision to devote more of his time to playing golf. Three years later “Ernie” and his wife Caryl took over the company. By springtime 1972, the couple realized they’d not had a holiday for six years and, after much persuasion, they took off for San Diego. The night they arrived in California they received news that the store had burned to the ground.

Undaunted, Ernie and Caryl rebuilt the business and were soon joined by their two sons, Mike and Ken and later, daughter Theresa and son-in-law Ted Pound. Once again, McArthur’s prospered and, by 1981, exceeded capacity. The Sissons sold the property and intensive planning began for the imposing 45,000 square foot Georgian manor, still their landmark store.

“I wanted something that would be distinctive, even many years or decades from now,” said Ernie. And he got what he wanted. The red brick with white trim manor became reality with a real flourish, Dixieland band an all, in January of 1983. At McArthur’s 50th Anniversary celebration, Ernie was able to report that business had increased every single month since the two sets of massive double French doors opened to the public. His dream continues in the foyer with the spectacular five-foot Georgian light fixture and the wide, sweeping hand-carved staircase rising gently to the second storey.

They’d chosen the location well. In 1983, on Calgary’s west side away from downtown congestion, the property had plenty of customer parking. The fenced, 1.4 acre site is now surrounded by a four to five mile radius affluent residential area, ideal for their targeted clientele.

And they carry precisely the mid to upper end lines their demographic hungers for, Drexel Heritage, Stickley, Leda, American Leather, Ferguson Copeland, Durham and more. In-store traffic moves smoothly from one setting to another, coordinating style and colour. Angled walls that stop short of the ceiling are graced with specially moulded and carved cornices and period baseboards. Of course, all this is designed to provide shoppers with a visual representation of how their own décor might be enhanced. Settings are complete with quality area rugs, lighting, wall coverings and accessories.

The Leather Gallery has been made both cozy and imposing with a huge stone fireplace, a good place to pause and consider purchases on chilly winter days. The most recent addition to the McArthur mix is an enticing new studio that brings together, to quote the Sissons, “A world spanning collection of the finest 20th and 21st century furniture and accessories”. It’s a 5,000 square foot loft-like area on the lower level, clean, simple and minimalist and intended to attract the positive attention of the vital 25 to 40 demographic. There's also a recliner gallery on this lower level and an expansion of leather offerings. And this is where the clearance department can be found, 2,000 additional square feet.

To assist customers in bringing visions to reality, McArthur’s takes pride in its large and talented professional design staff. Jennifer McMurray is head honcho with 20 years of experience behind her. “It just sort of happened, I’ve grown up with McArthur’s, more and more as the years have gone by. The design staff works both in-store and in-home, and we carry our digital cameras to record actual rooms and situations within rooms we need to work with. Then we make presentations to the clients, complete storyboards, that incorporate rugs, fabrics, window coverings, lighting, wall colours, the whole picture. They’re just thrilled to see it all fall into shape. They really enjoy getting this kind of service.”

Ken told us about a new team member. Twenty-year old Emily has “just entered Mount Royal College for their four year design programme, a stiff competition, since only 40 of the 300 applicants got in. She genuinely loves the design part of the business and she’s just full of energy.” Emily will also help perpetuate the family dynasty since she is Ken’s daughter.

McArthur Casual Living & Patio, the family’s second Calgary store, offers 10,000 square feet of showroom space and around 12,000 square feet of warehousing. Here customers find more laid back settings in mid-priced living and dining room furniture, plenty of pieces for the patio and loads of accessories.

Marketing is key to all their operations, said Sissons. They advertise on a regular basis in The Calgary Herald, as well as magazines “Avenue”, directed to the younger set and “Western Living”, a well-respected glossy. Television is important in their media mix and they use frequent 15 and 30 second commercials around events, to introduce new lines and some image communication featuring the design service. Radio commercials, usually 30 second, come into play in the spring and summer for the Casual Living store and during the famous Calgary Stampede, said Sissons, with a “win a patio set” feature. Direct Mail to their 10,000 plus preferred customer list is a quarterly “must” and includes impressive catalogue/brochures, some supplier cooperatives, and invitations to special customer appreciation events. “We enjoy a 15 percent response rate from our direct mail.”

Community involvement is important, too. “We work with the Calgary Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, the National Kids Help Foundation, and a halfway house for single mothers.” And McArthur’s has strong identification with the artists and artisans of Calgary. To coincide with the 65th Anniversary happenings, Jennifer tells us, “Our customers are very interested in supporting local artists and The Western Lights Artists Group will stage their annual fall show and sale of original art from October 8th to 12th in our main store. They have given us their 1,000 name list to add to our preferred customers for invitations.”

Ken announced news of yet another event in October, a very busy month in their Calgary calendar. Francis Mayes, best selling author of “At Home in Tuscany”, a “recipe laced memoir”, will visit McArthur’s for the launch of Drexel Heritage’s Tuscany Collection. “This is right on the heels of the movie release, ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’.”

The McArthur Team is just as popular with suppliers as with clients. Marco Confalone, CEO of Leda Furniture, said “We enjoy a very open relationship with Ken and his staff. Ken’s a part of the family, a western Confalone! He is tremendously concerned with quality in woods and veneers and in finding just the right way to display fine furniture.”

Ken is high on the decades to come. He’s been working on a ten-year plan. There is “possibly another store” in the future. Record sales during the past two years, even with some pretty negative glitches like the outbreak of SARS and the MAD cow problem have confirmed his “cautiously optimistic” approach. “We’ll keep the momentum going. We’re fortunate to be in Calgary. It’s a great business town and people have tremendous spirit. Probably the most important factors are to be constantly aware and even slightly ahead of the times with fashion trends, and to stay in tune with our customers’ wants and needs. People are still in the mode of getting back to their home environments. And this, of course, bodes well for our industry in general."

Ken’s sister, Theresa Pound, is also his partner and shares his views. They’re supported by Jeff Johnson, controller, Janet Robinson, sales manager, Murray Bayley, Distribution Manager and “Radar”, a.k.a. Sheryl Wilcox, Ken’s “right hand. She’s always one step ahead of me!” confessed Ken.Learn more from their website, www.mcarthurfurniture.com. Or pack a bag and high tail it to Calgary, Canada’s Wild, Wild West!