Wicker Emporium, also referred to as WE, carries contemporary, modern and rustic solid wood furnishings and home décor of the highest quality. For forty-five years, WE has continued to expand its range of products as it spreads to markets across Canada.
Wicker Emporium was founded in 1972 by Chief Executive Officer Madan Kapahi, who moved from India to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1967 to practice law. By establishing Wicker Emporium, Kapahi was able to share a reminder of home in the form of traditional basketry and wicker furniture. Madan has now been joined by his son Raj Kapahi who serves as WE’s chief operating officer. Raj is ushering in a new era of growth for the retailer.
Wicker Emporium has over twenty locations, in fifteen cities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, PEI and Ontario. Paired with its online sales platform and affordable shipping rates, WE is helping customers across Canada and the U.S. to embrace a natural look in decorating and trend-setting décor without a designer price tag.
Wicker Emporium has successfully launched its e-commerce platform and now the retailer’s efforts are shifting once again, with plans to increase its presence in Ontario. It is taking advantage of untapped urban markets where the promise of growth is strongest.
Today, WE has moved away from the wicker that brought about its early success to offer contemporary, rustic and modern solid wood furniture collections. Though its offerings have changed, some things have remained the same: high quality and a customer-oriented experience.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not we rebrand the company as WE or WE Home or whether we drop the word wicker. What do we do from here?” said Raj Kapahi. “Pottery Barn doesn’t really sell pottery; they sell beautiful furniture and home décor. Restoration Hardware – I don’t really think hardware is really a big part of their assortment. Crate and Barrel doesn’t sell crates or barrels. So we’re debating it, and there are arguments for both sides,” he added.
While questioning the potential of rebranding, Wicker Emporium is strengthening its position in the market. “What we would actually like to do is, rather than open more stores, we’d like to reposition our stores into more urban markets where there’s a denser population as well as a younger millennial demographic,” Kapahi explained.
The company understands the limitations to growing in the rural areas it serves in Atlantic Canada. It is clear that Kapahi has a thorough knowledge of the customers Wicker Emporium serves and how to meet the needs of those various customers.
“We’re trying to get a little more focussed with who we are trying to sell to and who we are trying to be. I’ve found that being an Atlantic Canada-based company and having stores in a lot of smaller rural markets, and then expanding into Ontario and having stores in larger urban markets, there’s really quite a difference in those two markets.
“Instead of trying to be everything to everybody and trying to cater to the rural traditional market and also to the urban, more contemporary, more modern market, we’ve decided that we just wanted to stay focussed on a particular customer and eventually reposition our stores.
“Young people tend to move to urban markets, and the population in rural markets is aging. They tend to want to downsize, and they tend to get rid of material things as opposed to the young professional, new homeowner who wants to furnish their home and start a family,” said Kapahi.
“That really is our target demographic: the young professionals that have a good job. They have spending power. They want to be hip. They want to be cool. They want to be on trend, and they understand home fashion a little bit. They read the magazines; they watch HGTV, and they want to have those products in their houses.”
Kapahi also noted that the urban customer has far different expectations than those in rural areas, and a great deal of effort has been undertaken to reconcile these differences. This required a complete overhaul in Wicker Emporium’s approach to better reach the needs of its target demographic.
“The urban customer in Ontario is more discriminating than the Atlantic Canadian customer in terms of their taste levels and in terms of the level of sophistication of the retail experience that they are accustomed to. So, we’re going to have to up our game in order to be successful and compete in those markets,” Kapahi said.
“I really want to focus on a much more sophisticated in-store experience for the customer as we transition or relocate stores from Atlantic Canada to Ontario. I think that is going to be a big part of our strategy and an important part of the success of the company moving forward,” said Kapahi.
WE is taking a thoughtful approach to the appearance of its stores, moving away from dense, stacked furniture in favour of lifestyle room settings that are complete with lighting, fixtures and flooring to create an special in-store experience.
New features will include an in-store design centre for sales people help customers create the room of their dreams. Stores will be equipped with touchscreens and there will be the option of either home or in-store delivery.
To accommodate the changes in WE’s approach, additional investments will be required to develop infrastructure and logistics. A centrally-located distribution centre in Ontario would allow WE to serve customers across the continent far more affordably than it could from Atlantic Canada, given the domestic freight charges.
“We’re going to have to either set up a warehouse and distribution centre in Ontario or partner with a third-party logistics company where we can land our containers directly into their facility from Southeast Asia and distribute to our stores and to our e-commerce customers in Ontario and Western Canada,” said Kapahi.
“We still have stores in rural markets, so we’re still going to need to bring in some of that more traditional looking product—if not traditional then transitional—to cater to those markets, but I think what we find is those more traditional collections don’t really sell as well in those urban markets.”
Wicker Emporium has sought out developing furniture trends such as live-edge wood, pieces that incorporate industrial components, as well as hand-made, sustainable pieces constructed of reclaimed and recycled wood.
A great deal of research and networking is undertaken by the Kapahis to stay atop the latest styles. They work closely with designers and vendors, both large and small, across the world, to be able to scoop up the hottest designs and must-have collections.
Speaking with Kapahi, you quickly get a sense of what drives Wicker Emporium. “I have a passion for it. I love furniture, and I love design. I travel to all the shows in Asia and a lot of the shows in North America and Europe and I see the trends emerge.
“Sometimes, I work with the manufacturers on the design and tweak the design. I just really enjoy it. I find it a lot of fun to work on really cool and interesting products with really interesting people in these different countries. So it’s something I really enjoy doing and will continue doing for as long as I can,” he said.
Kapahi’s clear vision and plans for growth will surely enable WE to compete with designer home fashions from well-recognized retailers. Wicker Emporium, whether the word wicker stays in the name or not, is on a solid path to success.