Retailer institutes programs to create a destination shopping experience.
Furniture Trends by Janet Holt-Johnstone
To declare that Decorium’s philosophy is unique and far-reaching might be an understatement. Third generation Steve Forberg, now CEO, is convinced that, “Knowledge is key, and we can always learn something from someone else at any age and at any point in life”. It was in 1999 Steve attended a meeting that opened his consciousness to a well spring of information with an esteemed U.S. based performance and friendship group. It was his introduction to the concept of open intellectual exchange amongst his industry peers.
The only Canadian retailer in this exclusive furniture sector gathering, Steve asserts, “We all have the same issues, the same likes and dislikes. It’s so beneficial. We share information on everything, advertising, marketing, product lines, even our financials.
“The first half day we walk through the host city’s store and critique it, then provide feed back. It’s so worthwhile!” An annual event, Steve “spends three dinners, and two full days in the boardroom, all this time brainstorming non-stop with other furniture CEOs.
“There is another group devoted to the needs of sales managers, and an operations group that talks about warehousing and so forth. It’s well worth the investment in time and in money.”
Both retailers and manufacturers are involved, small and large.“The group was planning to come to Toronto on September 12, 2001. Obviously, it was necessary to postpone the meeting until October. Once here, they enjoyed their Canadian experience. We certainly learned from it, and we changed some things as a result of this visit. You can become complacent. You must be ready to change.”
Forty years ago, Steve’s grandfather came to Canada from Poland and made his start in the manufacturing business, Starchrome Furniture, “the largest metal furniture company in the country in the ‘40s, ‘50s and 60s”.
In 1976, his father, Joe, was selling in a retail furniture store when he decided to establish Furniture Plaza, his own business. His younger brother, Bill, joined him in the enterprise.
In the early ‘80s, they changed the name to Grand Design, and soon there were seven stores, “all over the GTA, the city of Toronto, Mississauga, Markham, two in North York, and west to London and Kitchener”. Decorium’s current location was the distribution centre at Supertest Road off Dufferin Street in near-north Toronto.
Later in the decade, North America was visited by a memorable recession, and the GST (goods and services tax) was imposed. The resilient Forberg’s “closed all our stores and liquidated the distribution centre. We had a small little store below our centre for the design trade, our product lines imported from Europe, Italy in particular. A boutique, really, and we called it Decorium, a combination of Décor and Emporium! We moved Decorium upstairs in ‘93-’94, and opened it to the public. At first it was 5,000 square feet, then, as business improved, 10,000 to 15,000 to 20,000 and, finally, our last big expansion to100,000 square feet, the whole distribution centre.
“I came into the business in 1996, just as things started to change. I had spent a couple of years as marketing director for Sports Authority, before pursuing our family business.
“Since 2007, the three of us, my father, my brother Howard, and me, have run Decorium. We’re big enough to bring the consumer great value and to move a lot of product, and small enough to grow! We offer a lot of style at every day prices, a little better store and a little better fashion. We’re a one store operation and we are very hands on, shipping all over the world.”
In the last few years, the forward-thinking Forbergs have structured an innovative corporate division, recognizing and applauding the enormous surge in Toronto condominium development. “We’ve created a furniture package with the Shane Baghai condo people, and recently furnished 200 units completely down to lamps and accessories, absolutely turn key. The buyers are mostly investors from Hong Kong and Dubai and they are renting them out furnished. In the case of local purchasers, when someone buys a condo, they receive from the builder a Decorium discount card, excellent exposure for us, of course.
“Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital runs a huge, fund-raising lottery every year, giving away large Tridel and Greenpark homes and condos. We furnish the model homes for them.
“Debbie Fernandez is the manager of the corporate division, and she devotes herself completely to this fascinating new challenge. She is a super talent.”
And there are today’s small space issues, down-sizers, first home couples, singles, and so to assist their visualization processes the perceptive Forbergs have devised a special model area within the store to show consumers graphically how they can get the most lifestyle elbow room from their available square footage. And with complementary in-store designer advice. “Twenty-five percent of our staffers are designers and they are in the upper one-third of performers. With good staff we have less turnover, and we develop our staff from within.
“We have our own design centre within Decorium and this helps to get the consumer engaged in colour coordinating. The Internet room planner is a great feature, too, both on the spot and on the web. Consumers can measure their spaces at home and spend time on their computers moving furniture about, then e-mail the result to our designers to pre-pick possible pieces, or bring the plans in with them when they visit.
“Decorium is a destination store; we don’t have many browsers because of our location. People come to us because we give them what they really want. Today’s consumer is different and we must all flex to change. They are a lot more educated and confident, and before they come to us they know (in many cases from the our website, from shelter magazines and television design programmes) what they are looking for, the style, the trends, where the product is made, the construction components of the pieces and they have a pretty good idea of pricing. They are much farther ahead in the buying process, stage four, not stage one. You have to adapt to each individual consumer. A degree in psychology would help!
“We collect information from the consumer both from our website and from a kiosk at the front door. They are asked to register with us, to provide their name, e-mail address, and so forth, thus helping us to build our database. Once they are registered with us we offer them a broad spectrum of opportunities, including our very popular $1,000 shopping spree.” No purchase is necessary, consumers can enter in store or online.
“Every month I broadcast an e-mail newsletter which incorporates four-day promotional incentives, news about trends, what’s happening in décor, an e-blast! The special incentives are not offered to the public at large.” Decorium currently lists 10,000 on-line consumers. “We do a lot online with banner advertising and word scan, Google search words.”
Steve, with a degree in Business Administration and a huge imagination, “does all the buying, all the advertising and oversees the operations end of things. Howard is in charge of sales for Decorium.
“Dad comes into the store three or four days a week when he’s at home and his input is invaluable. He spends winters now in Florida playing golf.”
About nine months ago, the Forbergs developed a new section within Decorium called “Surroundings”, an exciting 10,000 square foot gallery. “Very functional furniture, completely contemporary.” An outstanding, colourful insert was placed, in broad distribution, in Canada’s national newspaper, “The Globe & Mail”. The insert announced a four-day event, “Save up to 50% OFF storewide”. A very successful promotion. And a point of interest for visiting consumers.
For additional exposure, he has used Condo Life Magazine and Toronto Life. “And the teachers’ magazine. We run a special promotion for the teachers of Ontario to thank them for their efforts in shaping the minds of the future, giving back something to these special people.”
Just recently, Decorium added Universal Furniture/Better Homes and Gardens furniture line, the newly unveiled fourth collection, “traditional styling with transitional flair”, to their floor and their website’s promotional incentives at 20% off. Steve is high on Better Homes and Gardens’ huge readership of 40 million women, “the second best selling book in the world, second only to the Bible! The collections reflect what women want based on feedback from field editors that scout the country in search of their input.” Steve cited one accent piece, a night table that eliminates those untidy cords; one can plug in lamps, clock radios, whatever, right into the table.
Other suppliers are Bernhardt, Stanley, Magnussen, Pulaski, Broyhill, Décor-Rest, Lexington, Romano, Renwil, Brentwood and Palliser, among others.
“We are a very service oriented company, both pre and post sale. If a customer decides they really don’t like a fabric, for instance, we will work with them, find them a fabric they do like, and send the piece out to our upholsterer. Customization. They made the decision to come to you for their needs; we believe in giving the customer what they really want.
“Our best customers are those that have had service. We take care of anything, major or minor, large or small. We handle problems after the manufacturers’ warranties have expired. Business is about relationships and customer service.
“There are more channels for the consumer to purchase furniture than ever before. The big box stores, the super centres, even grocery stores, and consumers can be confused. We have to be first, and we have to be different, our merchandise, our service and display. So many retailers now are price driven, and we made the decision not to play in that game but instead operate in the upper middle market with style, value, selection and service.”
Steve is convinced that, “The industry must share information, not necessarily in their own trading area, but in general; we could all learn so much more.” Precisely the concept of the founders of Furniture World Magazine, more than a century ago.