A History of Crate and Barrel
We first opened our doors in 1962 as a family business. Gordon and Carole Segal had just returned from their honeymoon in Europe where they had been amazed by all of the simple, well-designed and affordable things they had purchased for their home back in Chicago. Things like gorgeous handmade glassware, practical but very nice dinnerware and beautiful ceramic serving pieces. They realized that no store in the Midwest had these wonderful, affordable products for people like them who were just starting out. So being young risk-takers and passionate about all they had seen, they set out to introduce this exciting idea to Chicago.
That first store was in an old elevator factory on Wells Street, which was on the verge of becoming a very trendy street with stores, antique shops and restaurants. After taking six months to convince the occupants to move, the Segals had just two weeks to set up shop before the Christmas season began. All of their start-up funds had gone into inventory…so crating lumber was hammered over the battered plaster walls, shelves were covered with dyed burlap, and crates and barrels from the first shipments were turned over to become store fixtures. “Crate and Barrel” wasn’t just a clever name—it was a name based on necessity. Speaking of necessity, the only thing forgotten for opening day was, believe it or not, a cash register.
With a lot of enthusiasm and hard work, the store quickly became a place people were talking about. Gordon and Carole enjoyed getting to know their new customers and sharing firsthand knowledge of their products. Those relationships had a greater impact than any merchandising, display or advertising.
The year 1964 marked the first buying trip to Europe to discover out-of-the-way glass and ceramic factories and ateliers that could produce the unique, affordable merchandise Crate and Barrel customers could not find anywhere else. As the owners, designers and craftsmen became our new friends, each of their products became something more special to us. Each had a history. Each reflected a personality and a lifestyle. Now we could tell a customer not only how something was made and how to use it, but also why it was designed in the first place. And because we imported merchandise directly from European factories, we could pass the savings on to our customers.
It’s an understatement to say a lot has happened between those early days and now. Today, our homestores create an inspiring setting for not only our popular housewares, but also for our extensive furniture collection which we introduced more than 30 years ago. And while we still consider ourselves to be local shopkeepers, we’re now keeping shop in most major North American markets.
In 2008, we officially became an international destination with the opening of our Toronto homestore, since then followed by Calgary, Mississauga, Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver. Our retail passport even includes Dubai, Singapore and Mexico, with additional countries on the horizon. We’re global online, too, offering international shopping and shipping to our customers around the world.
All of this growth and expansion has been due in large part to the fact that we’ve remained loyal to our original mission of offering quality design at exceptional prices. But it’s been accelerated by our enthusiastic staff and the meaningful services we have added over the years to enhance our customers’ shopping experiences. Our catalogs are among the best in the industry and each new edition reaches millions of customers. Launched in 1999, crateandbarrel.com has dramatically increased our business and has been acknowledged by direct marketing leaders as one of the best e-commerce sites for presentation, ease of use and customer service. Our Wedding and Gift Registry serves more than 120,000 registrants annually in our stores and online, and has become a very important part of our business. Go to any wedding shower or housewarming and you’re sure to see our black and white boxes stacked high.
Today, Crate and Barrel is a privately held company owned by the Otto Group of Hamburg, Germany, the second largest online retailer worldwide. Our relationship with the Otto Group, which began in 1998, has enhanced our successful expansion across all channels.
CB2, our destination for the customer seeking affordable, modern furnishings, has been growing at an exciting pace since becoming a reality in 2000. With successful urban stores and robust online and catalog businesses, CB2 attracts new customers and generates an overwhelmingly positive response. In 2001, we partnered with The Land of Nod, a children’s furniture retailer whose creative merchandising is a wonderful complement to our own. The Land of Nod has been wholly owned by Crate and Barrel since 2010 and remains a particularly joyous place for customers as they begin their own families. To learn more about our family of brands, please visit www.cb2.com and www.landofnod.com.
After all of this successful expansion over the past 50 years, the original spirit of the first Crate and Barrel store has endured. Crate and Barrel is still known as a place where the staff is warm, friendly and well-informed. A place where the atmosphere is casual and where people feel comfortable. A place with thoughtful merchandise that enriches our every day. A place that both our associates and our customers are happy to call…home.