With the opening of the New flagship store, Crate and Barrel is playing to its strengths, establishing a fresh vision for the brand and putting distance between it and its competitors.
by Pamela N. Danziger, Unity Marketing
Crate & Barrel just opened a new flagship store in the Flatiron District’s historic Palace of Trade building. Set on two floors in a 23,000 sq. ft. space at 881 Broadway, the building’s neoclassical architectural elements serve as a perfect backdrop to showcase Crate & Barrel’s modern home furnishing designs.
It’s a store that demands to be seen, which anyone can do from the comfort of their home via a shoppable virtual store launched simultaneously with the physical store.
The opening marks the pinnacle to date of CEO Janet Hayes’ three-year journey transforming the Crate & Barrel brand and culture. It’s not that the company has been languishing—its U.S. revenues increased 23% in the most recent fiscal year – but the 61-year-old American home furnishings brand has struggled with its identity and CEO turnover since diversified German-based Otto Group acquired it in 2011.
In 2020, Hayes replaced Needa Montgomery as CEO, who took over for Doug Diemoz in 2017, who stepped into the role vacated by Sascha Bopp in 2014, after Barbara Turf, Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal’s handpicked successor, departed in 2012.
Hayes hailed from Williams Sonoma, which she left as president after a 12-year stint. Half of those 12 years were spent with Pottery Barn, a brand often compared to Crate & Barrel.
Both have a similar range of products. Both inhabit the upper-mid price range, offer complimentary design services and have a similar modern style aesthetic with a neutral color palette, though Crate & Barrel has a sharper, contemporary edge.
With the opening of the New York City flagship store, Crate & Barrel is playing to its strengths, establishing a fresh vision for the brand and putting distance between it and its competitors, of which there is a growing number, just as home furnishings retail is hitting a rough patch after growing so dramatically during the pandemic.
New Store Prototype
The company started to reimagine its store design and layout in trial runs in its Twelve Oaks, Michigan, and Walnut Creek, California stores. Now, the new flagship design has been fully realized in the New York City store.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we started building a new store prototype to make shopping as easy as possible and to put together destinations within the store for different categories of things people will want for their homes. We also brought forward services and hired certified interior designers to help customers create the home of their dreams,” Hayes shared with me.
“We’ve built a pull-down store prototype menu that we can use to refresh all of our store fleet reflecting this new store design,” she continued.
As the company rolls out its new store design, it’s sure to get customers to look at Crate & Barrel differently and find new purpose to bring the brand into their home, since “Building a Home with Purpose” is the brand’s new mission.
“Every product on display is there for a purpose and is spotlighted most purposefully in its carefully chosen space.”
Setting The Stage
The first thing to notice about the new store is how wide-open, clean and uncluttered it is, especially considering it’s just a stone’s throw from the packed-to-the-rafters ABC Carpet and Home store.
Every product on display is there for a purpose and is spotlighted most purposefully in its carefully chosen space. The displays are almost museum-like, allowing each to stand out and not get lost in the shuffle.
“Crate & Barrel has these beautiful enduring products that have been with the brand for 61 years, so we want to showcase them. There’s a fine line between a museum and a retail store, so we want to make sure that it’s shoppable, but we also want to spotlight the beautiful designs,” Hayes said.
Besides acting as a shoppable museum, it also functions as an interior design studio with three spaces devoted to design services. In the New York store, 30 designers are on staff.
And designers and their clients have a 50-foot wall in the cocoon-like downstairs to support them, displaying wood, rug and upholstery swatches. Ample seating is also provided for customers to ponder design inspirations.
In addition, the store offers a range of home renovation products not featured in other stores, such as bathroom vanities, faucets, cabinetry hardware and expanded lighting selections.
Downstairs is also where the dreamy Crate & Kids section is, the largest nursery and kid’s furnishings department in any store. Designer services are an important way the brand supports parents in outfitting the new baby’s nursery.
“Typically, when somebody has a baby, it’s the first time that they really start with an empty room. That makes it one of the hardest rooms for people to imagine. Our designers can help them,” she said.
“Typically, when someone has a baby, it’s the first time that they really start with an empty room. That makes it one of the hardest rooms for people to imagine. Our designers can help them.”
Across the brand’s 100 North American stores only about 30 have kids’ departments. With success, more may be in the offing.
A botanicals department has been added to the store to create dried or faux floral arrangements. And a wide range of gift items are available, from candles to small kitchen appliances, plus monogramming services to personalize anything in-store.
Crate & Barrel is distinctive in the home space because it covers the whole home, not just pieces of it. The new store design will showcase all of them, from the outdoors to the living room, bedroom, dining room and kitchen.
Hayes and her team are confident they have hit a home run with the new vision for the Crate & Barrel brand and how it comes to life in the new flagship store. The next step is to spread it across its fleet of stores.
“Ever since I came on board in 2020, the home industry has been on quite a roller coaster. We’ve done the work to reposition the brand and innovate our services. And despite the challenges we see in the current home retail slowdown, we are still on track with our expectations,” she said. The company is expecting a slowdown after several years of exceptionally high growth.
“Today, the customer has a harder time parting with their money; they’re more skittish and take more time to make a decision. We need to keep our inspiration high, our services forward, and our product quality exceptional. The customer is centered on quality, looking for less in their home, but for everything to mean more,” she continued.
“We are well positioned to attain our goals by wrapping our arms around the customer to help them make their decisions. That’s our superpower right now,” she concluded.
About Pamela Danziger: Pamela N. Danziger is an internationally recognized expert specializing in consumer insights for marketers targeting the affluent consumer segment. She is president of Unity Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting firm she founded in 1992. A prolific writer, she is the author of eight books including “Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success,“ written about and for independent retailers. She is a contributor to The Robin Report and Forbes.com. Pam is frequently called on to share new insights with audiences and business leaders all over the world. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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