Radical thinking is reinvigorating a 61-year-old brand with a high-profile new store design model and virtual store that changes up the customer experience and redefines Crate & Barrel’s position as a modern, forward-thinking brand. Crate & Barrel Holdings includes Crate & Barrel, CB2, Crate & Kids and Hudson Grace. In addition to Crate & Barrel’s reinvigoration, CB2’s refresh has been accelerated with new store openings and a more upscale, sophisticated product mix. It is expanding its product assortment and is fresh, dramatic, and different from its competitors…not to mention from Crate itself.
Crate & Barrel Holdings experienced a revenue increase in the U.S. and Canada of 14.6 percent (adjusted for exchange rates). The U.S. market was up 11.2 percent and contributed 19.2 percent to total Otto Group Revenues, owner of Crate and Barrel.
CEO Janet Hayes is a change maker. Her focus is on delivering a customer experience that matters. She says, “We are customer-centric with every decision. We know that our customers see their homes as a sanctuary and want fewer, more meaningful items around them. Our priority is to deliver the product, content, and inspiration they need to create lasting memories in their homes.”
The new Crate store in Union Square in New York City is in a signature location in a historic building, the old ABC Carpet store. The store is breathtaking as much an art installation of home goods as a market for the brand’s distinctive products. The sightlines on the first floor are dazzling with soaring ceilings punctuated by very tall Corinthian columns and a clear view of its blanc de blanc ode to dishware displayed on the back wall. The architecture informs the space and the bright, spare, refreshing environment makes the products the stars. It is in stark contrast to the venerable ABC Home store directly across the street with a nearly identical architectural footprint that continues to look like an eclectic, often eccentric, home bazaar.
Crate’s new look is a celebration of curated good taste and carefully controlled visual merchandising. The place is vast with a lower level with its own colonnade that meanders, full of home furnishings and décor and a kids’ section.
The opening is a high mark of Hayes’ three-year journey of transforming the Crate and Barrel brand and culture. Crate is undergoing a transformation. As Hayes shared with our reporter Pam Danziger, “Coming out of the pandemic, we started building a new store prototype to make shopping as easy as possible and to put together destinations within the store for different categories of things people will want for the homes. We also brought forward services and hired certified interior designers to help customers create the homes of their dreams. We’ve built a pull-down store prototype menu that we can use to refresh all our store fleet reflecting this new store design.”
Art and Science
With a multi-year investment focused on technology, talent, and infrastructure in what it calls ‘Bring It Home,’ the goal is to deliver a highly personalized customer experience with a digital-first operating model and a modern view of building out the company’s future. Hayes explains, “This year, we announced we are doubling the organization’s technology team over the next three years with over 200 new hires. We are currently in the process of hiring product managers, engineers, architects, data scientists, and technology leaders to spearhead future innovation and continued digital leadership to benefit our valued customers. This modernization will drive new operational excellence and productivity levels and allow for a more personalized and seamless customer experience.”
Crate supports its customers with an unconventional organizational approach to its tech infrastructure. It restructured its CRM operations to report to the CTO. With customer data and analytics housed under the CTO, Crate has a more integrated solution to leverage customer behavior and insights. Operations are also utilizing emerging tech; Crate is building new distribution centers including a photovoltaic system that offsets 100% of the building’s energy moving towards a net zero outcome.
Innovation at Work
Creating a culture of ongoing innovation and foresight is informed by what Hayes describes as a “Modern Mindset, grounded in the idea that today’s employee, investor, partner, and customer want a more authentic, human experience. I maintain an entrepreneurial spirit and empower my teams to lead with purpose, giving them the ability to be agile and adapt quickly and continue to innovate in the retail space. We also emphasize the deliberate and human over the transactional when it comes to the customer experience and reach customers where they are.
“Our team launched our first-ever virtual store last month, an immersive re-creation of our NYC flagship store. The fully shoppable virtual environment features interactive personalization tools that let customers visualize their own sofa and living room set and build their own bouquet, with more than 450 products and eight interactive room environments to choose from, we are just getting started.”
Being a Radical is a transformative role. Hayes says she is working on the unlimited growth opportunity for CBH unlocked by focusing on people – customers, employees, vendors, and partners. Hayes explains that exploring new markets and categories and expanding and growing the brands they have plus acquiring or creating new brands pushes her team forward. “We continue to invest in the company’s foundation — the customer experience, employee development, digital-first mindset, and modern supply chain.”
Hayes’ innovations are paying off a is her personal passion for sustainability and commitment to responsible commerce. “As we continue to meet and exceed customer expectations and industry sustainability standards, I am committed to CBH becoming a leader in this space.” CBH has seen more than 25 percent increase in customers shopping with CBH family of brands; double-digit growth on leading social channels across brands and significant growth in ecommerce business expansion and traffic.
Crate & Barrel Holdings experienced a revenue increase in the U.S. and Canada of 28.1 percent for 2022 (adjusted for unfavorable exchange rates the increase was 14.6 percent). The U.S. market was up 23.3 percent (11.2 percent adjusted for exchange rates) and contributed 19.2 percent to total Otto Group Revenues, owner of Crate & Barrel.
People are looking for more purpose in their everyday lives, and a more humble, purpose-driven leadership style aligns with that shift, says Hayes. “If you make commitments to your people, then adapt the workplace to be flexible and meet their needs.” Hayes says her work is inspired by her team, family, and travels. “When I am not living and breathing all things CBH, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, especially traveling with them! I am also focused on being involved in my community and making an impact through purposeful philanthropic efforts. I’ve encouraged our teams to do the same — we have a responsibility to give back, and together, we can all have a positive impact on the world and communities around us. I continue to look to build on our philanthropic commitments and further engrain them into the fabric of CBH’s culture.”
Radical thinking is what propels legacy brands. Hayes explains “Ever since I came on board in 2020, the home industry has been on quite a roller coaster. We’ve done the work to reposition the brand and innovate our services. And despite the challenges we see in the current home retail slowdown, we are still on track with our expectations.”
She says the most radical (and fun) idea is her team’s commitment to keep the company looking fresh and relevant after 61 years of business. “It takes vision and courage from everyone involved. Change is imperative. My personal mantra is “courage over comfort.”
She adds, ‘Today, the customer has a harder time parting with their money; they’re more skittish and take more time to make decisions. We need to keep our inspiration high, our services forward, and our product quality exceptional. The customer is centering on quality, looking for less in their home, but for everything to mean more. We are well-positioned to attain our goals by wrapping our arms around the customer to help them make their decisions. That’s our superpower right now.”
That’s not only a superpower, it’s also the brilliance of radical thinking.