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US furniture giant Crate & Barrel in London move

Crate & Barrel, the upmarket US furniture store, is to begin an autumn assault on the UK home furnishing market as it seeks to fill the space left by the collapse of Habitat.

The retailer, owned by German catalogue giant Otto Group, is searching for a London flagship store in what will be its first physical move into the UK market.

The Sunday Telegraph understands that Cushman & Wakefield, the property agents, are searching for a suitable property in the West End, with Regents Street and Tottenham Court Road pinpointed as two possible ideal locations.

It is thought that a decision on branding has yet to be taken, with the store to either focus on its premium Crate & Barrel brand, or its younger - and trendier – CB2 brand.

The company is also working on plans to launch mail-order and catalogue sales in the UK, using the financial and logistical firepower of Otto, which owns the Freemans and Grattan catalogue businesses.

It is known that through third-party agents, Crate & Barrel has already contacted online affiliate sites in the furnishings and retail space to help to build the brands awareness in the UK over the autumn.

Although British customers can access the retailer's products through its existing US website – and have them despatched internationally – it is understood that Crate & Barrel will be launching a stand-alone UK website, priced in sterling.

The retailer is intending to focus on a soft launch online, with the flagship store expected to be operating by the middle of next year.

If successful, it is thought Crate & Barrel will consider opening shops in a number of major city centres in prime locations.

The timing of the decision is interesting, given the recent collapse of Habitat, the majority of which was placed into administration earlier in the summer except for three shops and the brand which were sold to Home Retail Group, owner of Argos.

It also follows problems suffered by other well-known furnishing brands such as Lombok and The Pier.

While little known in the UK, Crate & Barrel is a by-word for designer chic among the US middle classes on both the east and west coasts.

The firm was founded by Gordon and Carole Segal in 1962 with just $17,000 of funds, including a loan from Mr Segal's father. The first shop was in the Old Town neighbourhood of Chicago.

The couple launched the business after their honeymoon in Europe and were inspired by the inexpensive home furnishings available across the Continent – only to realise they were not available back home.

Since then the business has grown to more than 170 shops in the US, through the Crate & Barrel and CB2 brands. The company has a third brand, The Land of Nod, which sells home furnishings and children's gifts.

In 2008, the firm opened its first shop outside the US in Canada, followed by a shop in Dubai last year.

Otto Group has owned a stake in Crate & Barrel since 1998, and today owns 96pc of the equity. Mr Segal still runs the business, however.

A spokesman for Cushman & Wakefield confirmed its appointment by Crate & Barrel.

Source : James Quinn – The Telegraph

27 August 2011
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