Adam Goldberg is president of BouClair, Inc., Dorval, Quebec, Canada. His brother, Peter Goldberg, is president of BouClair.com. Together, they oversee a business plan that includes opening three or four new retail locations a year while expanding the company's full-fledged e-commerce Web site into even more ways sell, service and educate customers.
For BouClair, Inc. success is built on three principles, beginning with people first. "Great people make up our company," Adam Goldberg says. "We spend a lot of time at the front end in terms of who we decide to hire and the types of personalities and skill sets they have."
Next is investing—and re-investing—from the grassroots. "As we've grown, we've adopted this philosophy of building the infrastructure and developing the disciplines that are necessary to run what we consider now to be a mid-size business," he continues. "We've increased professionalism, job descriptions, planning and in the future we'll be investing a great deal of money in technology to enable us to get to where we want to be."
And, finally, comes sharp buying. "We do Asia a couple times a year, we're in Europe at the trade shows, and we'll go pretty much to any show that is out there to see what is new and what's exciting and find the latest, hottest print and the latest, hottest trend," Goldberg says. "We always have new products coming into our stores and we always try to have a little bit of a different look than everybody else. Buyers never get chastised here for trying something a little bit different."
WHERE THE ACTION IS
Trying something a little different is a reoccurring theme at BouClair. Founded in 1972 by Adam and Peter's father, Jerry Goldberg, BouClair began as an exclusively apparel fabric piece-goods shop. But times changed. Customers were not sewing apparel the way they used to and that part of the business was decreasing.
When Adam joined the company in 1975, one of his mandates was to build a home decorating business. "We consider that to be drapery fabrics, home furnishings, bed and bath items, stock window coverings and custom window coverings," he explains. By then the company had grown to 16 stores blanketing the Quebec and Ottawa markets, and its product line was shifting dramatically.
About three years ago Jerry Goldberg wanted to retire, leaving Adam and Peter as majority owners of the family business. Now with 54 stores, Adam and Peter wanted to expand BouClair throughout Canada. Again, something different was tried. BouClair, essentially, added a silent partner when it entered into an agreement with the U.S.-based JoAnn stores. The Goldbergs have had a personal relationship with JoAnn's chairman for several years. They offered JoAnn an equity position in BouClair and used the money to buy their father's share.
BouClair's offering was a strategic investment for JoAnn. "We are much more developed in the blind business and the drapery hardware business than they are," Goldberg explains. "They pick our brain whenever they can, and we've put them in touch with certain vendors we do business with. They help us build our business and turn us on to the different vendors they are using. They are there as coaches for us and mentors. Their interest is really one of a silent partner. You would not know from being in our organization that we have a partner."
That agreement also marks the beginning of BouClair's largest expansion: 17 stores, mostly in the Toronto market, in two-and-a-half years. "We decided to go west to Ontario based on the population, it's really the other major center of population in Canada," Goldberg explains. "We committed to opening up about six to eight stores a year over the next five to really solidify our position in that market."
A typical BouClair store is about 12,500-square-feet located in what Goldberg calls a "power strip," a strip mall with one or two anchor stores such as a Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Michael's. Goldberg prefers the customer traffic these anchor stores offer even though some may sell products similar to BouClair's.
"We have what we consider to be our own special niche. We are one of the only places you can go to have a truly comprehensive offering. You can decorate your home for $2,000 at BouClair or $20,000. We have both the stock and the custom. We offer better service, we think, than most of these other retailers who aren't really geared for high service," Goldberg says.
"We try to get where the action is. We are not intimidated by the bigger players in the market. We like competition because it brings everybody up a notch and raises the bar. We're all paying more attention to our business now," he adds.
BouClair, Inc. also is helped by virtue of the fact that it is a Canadian, not a U.S., company, and benefits by buying a lot of close-out and discontinued product lines. Most of BouClair's large, U.S. vendors will sell it goods left over from discontinued programs of major U.S. retailers who have a strong interest and desire not to see those products sold elsewhere in the United States. As a result, BouClair ends up with product that is excellent quality and can't be found anywhere else in Canada. "We've built a very good reputation for having off-price, first-quality product in our stores," Goldberg says.
A LITTLE XTRA
BouClair, Inc. is an aggressive marketer, typically running a new advertising campaign about every two weeks using newspapers, circulars and radio spots. "We've found that you need to be in all of them. There needs to be some type of multi-media campaign always. Just radio on its own does not work. Just newspapers does not work. When we put them together we typically have greater success," Goldberg says.
The circulars, or flyers, are mass produced pieces (several million copies are printed) inserted in newspapers to support one of eight major sales events scheduled throughout the year.
"We tried some television," Goldberg adds, "that was too costly." There is, of course, a language issue. In Quebec, everything is done in French and English, so all media campaigns have to be bought in two languages.
Marketing materials for all of BouClair's promotions are out-sourced, although Goldberg says they used to do it all themselves. "It's not our niche, and it's not what we know best. We guide the process, but the creative for the campaigns is coming from the agency now," he says.
BouClair also looks to non-traditional marketing methods. For example, its Xtra Card is offered to the company's best customers. In return for signing up, members have sales flyers mailed directly to their homes and receive coupons and special offerings that include discounts on products. At present the program is about a year old, but Goldberg intends on expanding it to include special events such as inviting Xtra Card members to private, after-hours sales.
BouClair's most visionary marketing investment is yet to come. It will be made to further develop its already extensive Web site, which goes beyond offering company information, e-mail contacts and store locations.
BRICKS AND CLICKS
BouClair offers true e-commerce for customers through its Web site: www.bouclair. com. It is part of the company's strategy to integrate its offline and online assets and to create a satisfying shopping experience for its customers wherever they may be. The site not only showcases a sampling of bedding, bath, blinds, draperies and home decorating accents, but visitors can search the site for specific products, manufacturers, styles, color, etc. and buy online.
BouClair.com makes full use of the new medium. It offers visitors a chance to win a $50 gift certificate by signing up with their names and e-mail addresses. Those who do can have coupons and flyers sent directly to their homes and can be advised via e-mail when sales are scheduled for the stores. "It's a nice feature because it saves on the cost of direct mail," Goldberg explains. The site also describes BouClair's free, in-home decorating service.
In the past BouClair has conducted mini-focus groups by posting surveys online. "It was a great way for us to understand and get information about what our customers like about our stores, don't like about our stores; product they would want us to have that we don't have . . . You get a pretty good feel for what the mood is out there on any given week in terms of what's going on in your stores."
One of the site's most popular features seems to be "Ask Diane." Although the link to this section features the likeness of an attractive and fashionable woman, Goldberg admits that there is no real "Diane."
"We're distributing all the e-mail that comes in on a daily basis to the people within the organization who can answer the questions," he says. "What we find is that many customers within this industry specifically like a print in a certain store and don't have the energy to go through the hassle of having that store manager call up 71 other stores. They just send an e-mail to Ask Diana asking where they can find the following print. We get it for them, and we sent it.
"Or they want to buy something in a store, they see it but we don't have it in the size they need. They go online and they can do a transfer right from our distribution center. It has been a really nice complement to our business, and we find that while we have new customers who are buying from all over the world—we've done orders from Venezuela, British Columbia, the U.S., wherever—we are also servicing our core customers by offering them an added feature."
Yet with all the Web site has to offer, Goldberg says it is not even half of what he knows it can be and plans for it to become. "We decided to be cautious in terms of the way we approach e-commerce. We did not, like some other companies, come out with a seven-figure budget and throw tons of money at this. We took a more conservative approach. So now we're out there, we're starting to learn as we go, and as we see business improve we'll start to invest more money in infrastructure and all of the things that are required to get us where we need to be.
"As an example, we can't currently sell custom window treatments online. That's going to be coming out this year. Our product offering is not complete yet. We also want to be doing things like chat rooms and spending more time educating our customers with things like tips of the week about our products. Based on our business plan it's truly not half of what we will have within the next six months."
Goldberg would not disclose all of BouClair's plans for its Internet site, but he promises they will be revolutionary to the industry.