Four store chain is piled to the rafters with merchandise beautifully displayed, cheerfully sold and creatively promoted.
If you've a passion for vertical merchandising, seventeen foot ceilings help. At Chintz & Company, goods are literally piled to the rafters. The 20,000 square foot seafront retail space on Store Street, once a machine works plant and warehouse, now consists of a series of boutiques featuring furniture, home accessories and interior design. Gillian Ley, Chintz's energetic table top manager, told us the area has become a destination for tourists as well as local residents seeking an experience that is "A little out of the ordinary. Lots of new stores are opening here. Right below us is another old structure which has been gutted and brought up to earthquake standards. It will soon become a pub brewery." Store Street opens into Victoria, British Columbia's inner harbor, and Chintz & Company was a pioneer in revitalization, right at the foot of the old city and China Town.
Twelve years ago, owner Nicole DeGoutiere, described by her staff as "incredibly talented", initiated the concept first at Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, a year later at Victoria and Vancouver. Originally dubbing her creation "Chintzy's", DeGoutiere focused on home decorating as a fine fabrics and sewing room, supplying custom made draperies, duvet covers and laces, trims, fringes and tassels. Four years later, the business expanded into wallpapers, home furnishings, accessories and fine china. In 1990, "Chintzy's" became Chintz & Company and there are now, in the four outlets, 70-plus sales associates and interior designers and 61 managers and support staff.
Sales associates at Chintz & Company all have a strong foundation in sales and marketing, business and the arts. "It takes a special kind of person to work here," Gillian told us, "artistic, outgoing, someone who cares about people, who has a pretty instinctive sense of how to approach customers. We're a friendly bunch. We get as excited as our customers when they're buying something. Interaction with them is not forced or phony, and people pick up on our sincerity and relaxed attitude."
Once hired, associates are trained on the stores' computer systems and in product knowledge. There are regular information sessions, all members of staff receive two design publication subscriptions to keep them au courant, and friendly in-house competitions offer trips to San Francisco and New York to visit key design establishments and art galleries.
It has been said that "walking into any one of Chintz & Company's four shops is like taking a brief cruise around the world." Luscious fabrics from England, wrought iron from Mexico, "nouveau antiques" from Indonesia, fine china and glassware from Europe, Chinese needlepoint, elegant down-filled sofas, dramatic canopy beds, lamps, baskets and extravagant mulberry paper flowers from Thailand and much, much, more comprise a wonderfully exciting, eclectic mix. Forty percent of inventory is in furniture, 40 percent textiles and 20 percent tabletop and accessories. DeGoutiere and her retail director, Meredith Durham, who oversees all four enterprises, travel the face of the earth maintaining their position on the cutting edge of international design, seeking inspiration and the truly unusual, then buying and shipping home their treasure trove.
Marketing is a hands-on process. Of course, regular advertising is scheduled in the glossy national shelter magazine, Canadian House & Home, plus Victoria's Times-Colonist daily newspaper and the local tourist publication, Where Victoria. And ads are, as to be expected, warm, creative and make-you-read-them intriguing. Take, for example, the recent ad for Nouveau Antiques. The copy reads, "Recycled hardwoods from old estate houses. Designed, stained and distressed to reproduce old world antiques. Sand cast brass hardware." And "Recycled woods from Java with antiqued hand-painted finishes." Wouldn't you just have to go see?
But certainly even more important to building strong customer relationships are the frequent and well thought out promotions. "Twice during the past year and a half, we have planned and staged Sanderson teas. We invite those of our very loyal and regular clientele who have upholstered and slipcovered furniture through us, to hear a speaker from Sanderson who talks about the company's prestigious history. A local tea company serves not only tea but all the accouterments on Chintz & Company china. Also invited are local interior designers and their clients. It's a lovely opportunity to relax with us in the afternoon."
In the planning stage, as we talked with Gillian, was an elegant evening bridal event. Two hundred guests, by invitation only, will be greeted at the doors by tuxedoed gentlemen. Gillian, Anne Bowen, the floral department manager, and one of the Chintz designers will speak and demonstrate, their topics ranging from center piece designs to custom designed ring bearer pillows and bridal bouquets. The event will be catered with marvelous hor d'oeuvres, wine tasting and champagne, and there will be musical entertainment. The entire store will be decorated in theme, chandeliers draped with silk ribbons and roses and a sumptuous bridal suite display in the center of the store embellished with white lace and embroidery. Door prizes are scheduled, a $500 shopping spree at Chintz, an evening for two with a seven course meal at a luxury resort, and a $350 studio portrait session. Invitation lists are drawn from brides, grooms and their wedding parties who have visited the store and completed information forms.
The project's value is extended through the Bridal Registry which not only serves Victoria but also the brides' and grooms' out of town guests from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, where local Chintz stores are supplied with faxed lists of their gift choices. And gift wrapping is free.
Gillian also described seminars scheduled for the gardening season. "Anne has already had huge success in this area, featuring statuary, fountains, outdoor teak and metal furniture, hanging lanterns, mosaic, colored glass, bird feeders and plantings for the home with moss and colored stones."
Sales associates in every department write thank you notes and make follow-up calls after every purchase. Their efforts are supported, too, by Chintz's glossy brochure which is distributed by mail to higher income neighborhoods, at tourist information centers and on the ferries that travel between Vancouver Island and the mainland. "Much of our business is word of mouth," said Gillian. "Our customers come from all demographic groups. Even hotel desk clerks direct people to Chintz."
Meredith Durham's experience includes the textile, retail, food and gift industries. Gillian talks of Meredith's "creativity and forward thinking", her motivational skills and positive influence on Chintz's staff.
Maureen Crowder, general manager of the Victoria store, has "high energy and infectious sparkle". Theressa Brailley, is her capable assistant manager, Elka Nowicka, Chintz's imaginative key merchandiser, and Catherine Fell the dynamic soft furnishings manager.
Gillian herself has been in interior design for 20 years and is also a professional water colourist, with a background of teaching both disciplines. In her own interior design business for five years, her talents are a balance ("Well, sometimes balanced!" she disclaims) of both creativity and business acumen. "I love what I'm doing. This is an amazing, stimulating, place to work, surrounded every day by beautiful things and using all my abilities."
Merchandise is constantly rearranged throughout the stores so there is "an ever-changing show of new products, and customers are encouraged to browse. We want people to see how they can replicate designs in their own homes. There is a tremendous turnover, everything sells." And Chintz's designers frequently visit customers in their homes to assist with color schemes, space planning and accessorizing.
Chintz is heavily involved in community work in each location. The Victoria store has zeroed in on the arts community, the Pacific Opera and The Art Gallery of Victoria. In Vancouver they support AIDS research, in Calgary the Children's Hospital and in Edmonton the KIDS HELP PHONE.
Recognized as Western Canada's Retailer of the Year, Chintz received high praise for originality and uniqueness, as well as visual presentation, business achievements, advertising and promotions, quality of nomination package and credit standing. The Awards have been organized for the past 22 years by the national Canadian Gift and Tableware Association and are judged from a field of 500 nominations by five industry experts. The CGTA represents more than 1,500 companies involved in manufacturing, distributing, importing and exporting.