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Frankel's Fine Furniture: Retail Profile

Furniture World Magazine


Design oriented retailer helps mid to upper-end consumers create rooms that make each of their homes a 'special place'.

More than any other industrial sector, home furnishings is and always has been a family affair. Based on creative entrepreneurial vision, dynasties have been founded and many have prospered. New generations treasure their history, and reinvest in the strengths of established tradition.

When European cabinetmaker Julius Frankel and his wife Frieda arrived in Montreal back in 1947, they shared a vision. In a short six months, the couple were operating a going concern on St. Lawrence Boulevard. Fifty years later, Peter and Rachelle Frankel are perpetuating the family legend at their 6,000 square foot Doncaster Avenue store at Thornhill, a prosperous residential suburb, part of the Greater Toronto Area. Young Noah, "the future furniture mogul", is the acknowledged heir apparent.

Repeat customers make up a large part of Peter and Rachelle's clientele. "When I opened my first store on Bathurst in 1977," said Peter, "people would drop in and ask if it was the same Frankel's Furniture they had dealt with in Montreal. Today we have clients who come in buying for their children, and their own parents were customers of my father's."

Even romance overlaps with business. Peter was introduced to Rachelle by customers. Her family also retailers, Rachelle brought her own background of expertise to the merger.

The family celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their shared enterprise last summer with a celebration that involved their community, especially targeting children. The "Tent Event" featured a bright blue, green, yellow and red "bouncer castle", a real hit with "the more active children and 1,000 patient fathers. Face painting, arts and crafts and raffles captured the attention of the less athletic. We helped the kids to create their own personalized placemats, then we laminated them. So, breakfast, lunch and dinner, Moms and Dads will see Frankel's name, address, phone and fax numbers! That way, nobody can forget us," smiled Shelli Belitti, a committed Frankel sales associate and party organizer.

Shelli believes in boosting their mailing list. "We offered a free drawing every hour for 'hot items' such as bean bag chairs. The teenagers were really thrilled! Our preferred customers are the first to be informed about sales, while the general public find out about it through advertising. Every so often we create a draw."

Once a Frankel customer, also a parent of young children, Shelli told us mid to high end Frankel's demographics range from age three to 93, and incomes from "careful" to "no restrictions. Our customers come from all over within a 200 kilometer radius. We ship to Israel and the United States, and we have furnished homes in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Moncton and Halifax.

"There's still very much a Montreal connection. Peter's sister, Yvonne, consults with her customers with an array of catalogues as we do here at Thornhill. We have a beautiful showroom, but sometimes a customer wants something extra. We also send or take people to Canada's Furniture Mart, in particular to Morigeau/ Lepine, A.P. Industries and Engelite Lighting. We regard the Mart as an extension of our showroom. And then we have relationships with local artisans who create hand painted pieces for us. Rachelle and I are constantly on the lookout for unusual hardware."

Frankel's has won Toronto's "City Parent" awards several years in a row for special creativity with children's decor. Said Shelli, "We've put together some really unique, whimsical designs, like the bedroom we designed to look like a safari enclosure, and we develop ways to make the room grow with the child."

According to Rachelle, "When parents invest in furniture for their children, they demand it stand the test of time both in terms of construction and style. We carry several lines of custom-designed furniture, made to our own specifications. For instance, because so many parents admire the styling of certain adult bedroom suites we carry, Peter has arranged with the manufacturers to supply a youth version made with the same look."

Peter adds, "There is a demand today for large desktops, spacious enough to act as a work station and house a computer. At trade shows I search for multi-function items like this. If I can't find them, I have them built to order." Storage is another key word when it comes to youth furniture, and Peter always has an eye open for new ideas. One such unit, available only at Frankel's, features shelving, clothing storage, a computer center and desk, and it can all be hidden away behind folding doors.

Rachelle's philosophy permits mixing and matching lines. She said, "We don't push the customer to buy all the pieces in a set. We help them select the items they need now and what will work with what they already have. Their rooms must be an expression of themselves, of their lifestyle."

Frankel's keeps an in-house decorator on staff who can help with room-planning and colors.
"It's fun to work with seniors who are scaling down from the family home to an apartment or town house. We work on floor plans with them, talk about things that will reduce clutter and maximize storage. And, very important, we discuss what they can bring with them from the old house to the new so they don't feel totally uprooted."

Shelli "Got into the furniture industry by accident, but a good accident!" She has degrees in anthropology and Near Eastern languages and culture, and has worked in window coverings and nursery furniture and then, through the Morigeau/Lepine representative, was recruited by Frankel, "a wonderful match".

"Life begins at 50!" they all chorus. We asked, what about the future? "We're going to keep on doing what we're doing. The secret of success is maintaining customer relations, creating great rapport with the customer, providing many choices for them. For 50 years we've had a commitment to our customers and we still feel the same way. We want to help the customer to make their home the way they want it to be, a children's room, an exquisite dining room, whatever. If we keep on doing what we're doing, we foresee another successful, happy 50 years ahead of us!"