Wicker Emporium has size on its side.
With a niche carved perfectly between “Mom and Pop” stores and the high mark-ups, and the cold big box stores where furniture is squeezed in beside fishing gear and pharmaceutical, Wicker Emporium has struck a fine balance between personal service and affordable price points.
Port city potential
For the past 38 years, Wicker Emporium has been traveling the world in search of unique and beautiful pieces to make a house a home. The company was founded in 1973 by Madan Kapahi, an Indian-born entrepreneur who, while studying at Dalhousie, realized the potential of living in a port city and having ties in Southeast Asia. Thus was born his company, which has since grown to 22 stores from Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Times have changed, and the company focuses less on the eponymous furniture, constantly staying on the cusp of new trends in all aspects of home décor.
Management has also changed in the 38 years, with COO Raj Kapahi (son of the President and CEO) taking over the importing duties in 2009. CBJ spoke to Kapahi about economics of scale, hitting critical mass and decorating Canada’s east coast.
“The company has evolved quite a bit,” agrees Kapahi. “Wicker is not as sought after as it was 30 years ago, for one. Now the bulk of our purchases are in exotic woods from Southeast Asia such as mango wood, mahogany, teak, acacia and recycled pine from Vietnam. We also bring in home textiles, curtains, cushions, table cloths, floor covering, lamps—everything to make a beautiful home.”
The expansion to 22 stores, says Kapahi, was “gradual”. To justify the increasingly large container sizes, “More space was needed. We ended up expanding in order to justify purchasing direct and to get the prices that buying direct entails.”
Customers get the buying power
By avoiding the middle man and the mark-ups associated, Wicker Emporium is able to pass along its buying power to its loyal customers, ranging from first-time home owners to the more established family.
Asked what he thought was the secret behind the appeal to multiple demographics, Kapahi said, “Because we are not a huge company with hundreds of stores, we can import from the small- to medium-sized factories or exporters in India, Indonesia, China, and Vietnam.
“These stores don’t have huge overhead; they offer better price point than some of the larger exporters. We have a niche in that we are not so big that we have to deal with big factories with massive production, we deal with smaller companies, and we are a little more versatile because of our size. We can get really great products for prices points that no one in the market can compete with.”
The family business gone big has always valued the interpersonal relationships it fosters with its customers, the communities in which it serves, and the team members who have helped grow the company. Since its beginnings, the company has prioritized quietly participating in charitable partnerships and job creation in its communities.
New week, new products
Every week, the beautiful Halifax harbour welcomes a new container from Southeast Asia filled with new products for Maritime homes. The influx of inventory is unheard of in big box stores, which typically see new products only once or twice a year.
“We have customers who visit the stores every week because there are always new lines. The products are always fresh and there is always something new.” Kapahi and his team attend trade shows frequently to make sure Wicker Emporium is always stocked with the latest in design and motif.
Wicker Emporium exemplifies the best of both the East coast and Southeast Asia; the downhome service from a business that is small enough to know its customers by name, with the beauty of the wares of a land not everyone is fortunate enough to visit.