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Barnaby's Fine Furniture - Retail Profile

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Family keeps close watch on company flourishing in fast growth area.


Barnaby’s Has A Very Low Turnover In Staff. As part of Joel’s commitment to customer service, staff does not operate on commission.


If you’re enlivening the dark days of winter dreaming about your summer escape, consider Moncton, New Brunswick and environs as a first option. History buffs will delight in the Moncton and Acadian Museums, Settlers’ Landing and the Monument Lefebvre. Those who seek mystery and adventure should investigate Pays de la Sagouine, “the island of legends”. Magnetic Hill could add an edge to your day as you’ll discover when you take your foot off your car’s brake pedal and gently coast uphill.

The kids (and you) can experience exotic wildlife from five continents at Magnetic Hill Zoo. Then watch the extraordinary Bay of Fundy Tidal Bore as it empties and refills the Petitcodiac River twice each day.

If none of the above excites you, there are beaches where you can walk for miles and not see anyone, and wonderful seafood to delight your palate. There is exceptional shopping at Champlain Place, the largest one story mall in the Maritimes and, of course, the Barnaby’s new premises on Mountain Road.

John Barnaby, the founder of the family dynasty, came to the region from Digby, Nova Scotia, more than a hundred years ago. He was a small farmer who lived from what he raised on his land, selling some of his produce to buy sugar, tea and other household staples. A frugal man, he had saved $1000 by the time he left Digby for greener pastures. His great-grandson, Bob, said “$1000 was a lot of money at that time. Family legend has it that he’d slowly accumulated the money by carrying cartloads of herring for use as fertilizer to nearby farms for a dollar a load”.

John was attracted by Moncton’s reputation as a booming industrial area with its mills and railway. He had an instinct for business and opened a retail and wholesale general store at Humphrey’s Mills near Lewisville. The community was growing by leaps and bounds and citizens needed a steady supply of groceries and feeds. He built a home nearby in 1901 on Pleasant Street that still stands today.

John retired after about 20 “good years” and, in 1927, his son, Fulton, opened a new, larger general store, also in Lewisville. His inventory was a bit more extensive than John’s, hardware and clothing as well as groceries. He added fuels, starting with coal and expanding into oil.

Bob recalled that candy was delivered to his grandfather’s store in large pails around Christmas time, then divided into small bags for sale. “As children we were allowed to eat as much of that candy as we wanted, often until it made us sick!”

The store was a gathering place for the community. “Men would come to the store at night after supper and the day’s work was done, and sit around and string wild yarns of hunting and fishing. We kids loved to listen to those stories. It was a different kind of lifestyle from what we have today, an unhurried lifestyle.”

Fulton faced major challenges in 1929 with the stock market crash and the coming of the Great Depression. “He owned a lot of land during the ‘30s so he acted as a contractor and hired people to build houses for him. He sold people groceries on credit and when they got into financial trouble extended that credit by getting them to work for it, helping to build more houses! Nobody could afford to rent the houses once they were built, but he did his best to keep the store going and help people make their way through the Depression with as much dignity as possible."

Fulton’s son, the second John Barnaby, known to most as Jack, assumed ownership of the family business. “He worked with grand-dad for awhile, then served in the Navy during World War II and took over the store when the War ended.” Bob’s Uncle Percy was killed in Italy in 1943.

The store really began to grow under Jack Barnaby’s eagle eye. “It was built close to the train station, so all the men who worked for CN (Canadian National Railway) would naturally stop on their way to work in the morning. We opened at 6:30 a.m. and often didn’t close until after nine o’clock at night.

“In those days, much of the shopping for the household was done by telephoning the grocery order to the store. It would be delivered to the house by truck, or horse and sleigh in the winter months.”

Bob officially began working in his father’s store in 1958. The next year, Jack converted the family general store to a large grocery outlet. It became the first Save-Easy supermarket in Atlantic Canada.

Father and son opted out after a few years; they decided they no longer enjoyed the business, so they sold to Atlantic Wholesalers. Bob worked as a shareholder of Lounsbury’s for a number of years, but his entrepreneurial spirit nagged at him and, in 1979, he opened his own wholesale furniture business in Moncton industrial park under the name Sure-Bob’s Wholesale Ltd. “I represented major Canadian and American furniture manufacturers here, selling and distributing furniture for those companies. It was cheaper for them to ship furniture to me in large amounts than to ship smaller numbers of pieces to various furniture stores in Atlantic Canada.”

Bob’s son, Joel, joined the business in 1982. Twelve years later they added a retail furniture division on St. George Street. “That’s when Barnaby and Company, as it’s known today, came into being. In 1998, Joel took over.”

Although he is by education and training an electrical engineer, Joel discovered that his talents blossomed in retail. “Because I’m part of a family business, I see myself as having a 10 year jump on anyone else. I have the knowledge and success of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather to build on.”

Said Bob, “Joel has had to be much more adaptable than I ever was. He spends lots of time at furniture shows to be aware of the newest styles and stay ahead of the competition. Business is tougher, but also more exciting.”

The most recent change was the move to the new two-level 24,000 square foot store on Moncton’s busy Mountain Street, a milestone for the family. “We simply ran out of space,” Joel told us. “We chose the location not only because of the residential and retail growth in that sector of the city, but also to be close to other furniture outlets. That makes it convenient for shoppers to travel from store to store.

“We don’t carry appliances. We prefer to focus on one market and try to do it better than anyone else. With three interior designers on staff to help customers select styles and colours to suit their existing décor and do home consultations as well, our purpose is to help customers in furniture-buying decisions.”

The store’s design is unique, following the Room by Room concept. All-inclusive furniture groupings occupy the lower level of the building, placed to appeal specifically to first time buyers or seniors downsizing from large family homes to more compact condominiums or apartments.

Said Joel, “A typical livingroom package could include coordinated sofa, loveseat, coffee table, end tables and lamps, quite possibly from several different companies, sized to fit an average-sized room, and the package provides a 20 percent saving over the purchase of the separate pieces. The concept is useful, too, in helping the consumer to visualize all the pieces together in their own setting.

“Living room packages are coordinated with dining room ensembles in a variety of styles from country to contemporary, each designed to blend with a neutral palette. Again, it’s a great help to the customer who is attempting to furnish several rooms at once.”

On the upper level, there’s a medley of higher end product lines. Companies represented are Gibbard, Durham, Concordian, La-Z-Boy, Nadeau, Brentwood and Marshall. “We’re geared for custom orders. Many pieces can be customized with a particular choice of wood, fabric or colour.

“Moncton is such a diversified area, a great mix of cultures, French and English, with the flavour of the two different societies. We are beginning to draw from all over the province of New Brunswick, from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Moncton can now be considered a major shopping destination.

“Although family owned, we’re part of the M.E.G.A. Group, 600 independent retailers who joined together to take advantage of group buying power. This allows us to stay competitive in price but still make all decisions locally so we can react quickly to changes in regional trends.”

Barnaby’s has a very low turnover in staff. As part of Joel’s commitment to customer service, staff does not operate on commission. “They are not driven by sale. When customers are spending a fair amount of money, they want assistance from knowledgeable people, so we ensure that our staff are the best trained in town.”

In keeping with family tradition, Joel treats his customers as he would want to be treated. “It’s a very competitive marketplace and customer service requires constant vigilance. There’s a Barnaby here pretty much all the time,” he laughs. “We make sure staff is kept aware of changes and upcoming trends. When they see us on the floor every day, putting our hearts and souls into the business, it encourages them to work hard for the business as well.”

He is proud of Barnaby’s delivery service which is “second to none. Our fellows are the very best around and we do it all ourselves with our own fleet of trucks.”

Bob retired, but still “keeps a close eye” on both the store and Joel’s activities. Dawne, Joel’s wife, whose training is in accounting, “runs the whole office and also does most of our advertising. And she has taken some very useful courses in design.”

Prospects for the future look good. Business has never been better in Moncton. The unemployment rate dropped six percent during the ‘90s, one of the largest percentage decreases in Canada. Aggregate personal income rose by 41.7 percent, well above the national average. Per capita income grew by over 20 percent during this time frame. Housing starts were up 32 percent in the year 2000 and retail sales have increased by some $400 million since 1991.
Dawne and Joel have two sons, Josh and Jesse. They have hopes that one or both will follow family tradition. “We’ll have to wait and see!”

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.