Longevity in retail. It’s a rarity in such a fast-paced industry – one that seems to present its players with constant twists and turns that add to the complexities of the landscape every day. A dedication and commitment to the operation, focus on market changes and trends, ability to make shifts and pivots necessitated by economic forcing functions, and willingness to adapt and evolve are all elements required by any business seeking success over any length of time. To sustain similar results that span decades, however, seems to demand a whole host of qualities, both tangible and intangible. One such company that’s managed to achieve consistent success over an extended period of time is family-owned furniture store, The Chesterfield Shop. The retailer is on the verge of celebrating 75 years of operation. And, according to its President, Steve Freedman, the brand continues to adhere to the foundations of customer service and quality that it was built on nearly three quarters of a century ago.
“One of the most important things that we’ve done in order to sustain our success and reputation through the years is consistently ensuring that we’re operating with respect for our staff members, suppliers and our customers,” he says. “It’s a philosophy that drives just about everything we do. It ensures that everyone at the company is focused at keeping customer-service at the forefront of our operation. We’re currently serving third generation customers of the store – the result of ensuring constant focus on the customer’s needs and providing friendly, knowledgeable service from sales consultants, helping them find the piece of furniture that will compliment their home and their lifestyle. And, because we’ve always been a smaller hands-on company, it’s allowed us to adapt to changes in the marketplace and continuously evolve with changes in furniture fashion in order to consistently provide fresh product of the highest possible quality.”
The Chesterfield Shop operates six showroom locations throughout the Greater Toronto Area, specializing in an unsurpassed selection of seating products for the home, boasting items within a range of categories that include sofas, sofa-beds, sectionals, chairs, recliners, recliner furniture and theatre seating, in addition to a collection of accessories and accent pieces. Through dependable service and offering, the brand has been able to cultivate and nurture trust among its community of customers and a reciprocation of the respect that it prides itself on. It’s a focus that Freedman, who’s been running the business with his wife Pam for the better part of 40 years, believes is critical. And, he adds, part of that focus has included a need to digitize the business in order to remain relevant.
“There have been so many changes that we’ve experienced running the company through the years,” he recognizes. “But there have been more changes in the last couple of years than there were in the previous 36 or so years that I’ve been doing this. The advent and strength of things like social and digital marketing have been hugely impactful. The digitization of the world around us has forced so much evolution, and it continues to move at breakneck speed. It’s influenced us and others within the industry to make sure that we provide and constantly enhance our ecommerce capabilities and internet presence, and that we’re reaching and engaging our customers on the channels that they frequent. And, it’s also opened up opportunities to reach customers that might otherwise be unfamiliar with our store and the product that we offer.”
In addition to ensuring adaptability in order to shift and pivot in response to the latest changes in technology and other factors influencing the retail operation, the Freedman’s also need to constantly educate themselves with respect to the product that they offer, maintaining a deep understanding of the market and current trends. It’s a part of the process that Freedman says is challenging and constantly evolving, but adds that listening to the customer and keeping on top of all of the latest in furniture fashion allows the company to regularly ensure that it offers the latest styles and most relevant pieces available today.
“One thing that I realized when I took over the business was the fact that each one of our locations has a unique personality and client-base,” he says. “The products our customers are looking for in our Newmarket store differs from our downtown Toronto store, our Scarborough store and our Mississauga store. The styles that people are looking for are slightly different at each location. In order to properly address this, I rely heavily on my store managers. Together, supported by continuous communication, we’re able to stay attuned to the needs and preferences of our customers in each market and submarket that we serve. Ensuring this happens on a consistent basis requires a lot of effort and continuous education on our part.”
Managing the business and ensuring this kind of hands-on approach is something that presents challenges during the best of times. However, as is the case with most other things, the COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated these challenges while also presenting new ones. It’s been difficult to maintain buoyancy throughout the course of the past 18 months, admits Freedman. However, rather than succumb to the pressures of the situation that the business faced, it instead saw an opportunity to pivot and shift, enhancing elements of its offering and doubling down on the principles that have helped make The Chesterfield Shop what it is today.
“It’s been an extremely interesting time to be in business,” he says. “We were closed something like 240 days out of 410 during the various lockdowns. And every time we’d open up again, business would roar back. It’s been a bit like managing a roller-coaster, which has come with its own challenges. To address some of the challenges, we’ve pivoted in a number of different ways. We refreshed our website to be a little more interactive. We also decided to start doing in-store appointments in order to make customers feel a little more comfortable about visiting the store. And we also started doing virtual appointments during the lockdowns. Beyond these measures, which were meant to maintain our engagement with our customers, we became much more focused on our relationships with them.”
In addition to challenges presented by the pandemic, Freedman also recognizes further challenges on the horizon, including a current shortage of talented warehouse labour, continued lockdowns in regions and countries around the world, as well as a lack of skilled truckers within the trucking industry, impacting transportation and the flow and delivery of products. However, it’s the more holistic issues around the global supply chain that are most worrisome, he says, causing massive problems for retailers everywhere that depend on its reliability.
“There are shortages of raw materials that are resulting in tremendous price increases for offshore containers,” he asserts. “And, even though we don’t receive any finished product from offshore, a lot of the fabrics and furniture mechanisms that we need have been held up at ports. There are so many balls up in the air, causing a lot of disruption with respect to the supply chain today, resulting in stresses on the entire industry. In order to address these challenges, retailers have got to apply unique and thoughtful approaches to the issues that will enable them to continue offering the value and selection that customers have become used to.”
Despite the challenges of the past year-and-a-half, which continue to persist, Freedman is optimistic about the future and the opportunities that will be available to retailers and other businesses to engage with a returning consumer. He believes that a reopening of communities and economies, combined with a consumer who’s experiencing a pent-up desire for tangible interactions and experiences, will provide the perfect setting for success for many. And, with respect to the future of The Chesterfield Shop, he’s confident that, after nearly three quarters of a century of business, there remain plenty of areas for growth.
“With the type of company that we’ve built through the years, we have the opportunity to grow the business even further. We love what we do, and I certainly don’t want to lose the genuine and deep connection that we enjoy with our staff and customers. But there are some really great growth opportunities in markets that we don’t currently serve, like Barrie, Burlington, Kitchener-Waterloo, as well as other regions that might welcome one of our locations. Expanding in this sense means that we don’t need to stray too far from our home base, while broadening and extending our reach and presence. As long as we can continue to build our team with really great people, then anything is possible. Our staff is extremely important to us and the real driver behind the success of The Chesterfield Shop, and will continue to be critical in supporting our achievements going forward.”