2018-05-16

Wicker Emporium closing Bridgewater store

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The Bridgewater store is among 13 Wicker Emporium outlets in Atlantic and Eastern Canada to be closed as the company downsizes and changes its business model.</p>

Wicker Emporium is closing its doors in Bridgewater after operating in the town for 30 years.

"We're unfortunately in a situation where we have to downsize and streamline our business," the president of the Halifax-based company, Raj Kapahi, told LighthouseNOW.

The family-owned company expects to close 13 of its 23 stores that extend throughout the Maritimes and as far west as Ontario.

In Nova Scotia, in addition to the Bridgewater location, Wicker Emporium will close two of its stores in Halifax, as well as its stores in New Minus and Sydney.

According to Kapahi, the company experienced "cash flow issues" last fall and winter and decided to streamline its business, choosing instead to focus on fewer locations where it sees the most potential for growth and where inventory is likely to sell the quickest.

"Unfortunately, you know Bridgewater is a really nice store. It's a nice market, but if you only have so many resources then you have to become very particular about where you choose to invest those resources." said Kapahi.

The company launched a liquidation sale at the Bridgewater store May 8, offering shoppers discounts of up to 80 per cent.

The Bridgewater closing means the loss of four jobs.

As well as closing more than half of its stores, the company is transitioning to a new business model whereby it will be eliminating the Halifax warehouse it has used as a central storage and distribution point.

"We're going to have all the stock arrive directly from overseas to the stores to try to further streamline our expenses and offer better value to our customers," said Kapahi.

He calculated that the cost to shunt a container to a store is much less than what the company pays for eight employees to unload the container in a warehouse and redistribute the goods, while shipping less than a trailer load to the stores.

"I expect the freight to be half what it is now, and we'll eliminate all of the local handling costs ... as well as the cost of the warehouse," said Kapahi.

Under the new model, the individual store managers will be entrusted to go over the stock lists of the company's vendors in India, Indonesia and Vietnam and order a broader variety of stock in limited numbers which they feel will sell well from their particular locations.

"The new model is going to be somewhat similar to the Winners-Home Sense experience where it's a real treasure hunt, where it's a very broad assortment and an ever-changing assortment of inventory," he explained.

"What you see is what you get. And if you like it and you don't buy it, chances are you're going to come back and it's going to be gone because it's very, very low quantities that are being ordered."

Rather than the business's online sales being run out of the company's warehouse in Halifax as they are now, each store will handle its own e-commerce orders using the internet platform Shopify and work with a local delivery company to move the products from the store to the customer's house.

According to Kapahi, the company had begun to feel the pinch of competition from stores such as Home Sense, Winners, IKEA, and Structube, as well as pressure from online retailers such as Wayfair and Article.

"The online is basically becoming really crowded. I think that the best way to compete with these online retailers is to offer an assortment that's so dynamic that there's no way that online can keep up with it," said Wicker Emporium's president.

Kapahi's father Madan started the company in 1972, establishing its first store in Halifax's Scotia Square Mall, then another in Dartmouth's MicMac Mall.

"We've been opening stores in Atlantic Canada and we've gone as far as Ottawa and Toronto markets as well," said Kapahi.

The company will retain its stores in Ottawa, Barrie and Niagara Falls.

In Nova Scotia, shoppers will still be able to find a Wicker Emporium at Bayer's Lake and Dartmouth Crossing.

Depending how quickly stock moves during the liquidation sales, the Bridgewater store could be closed by the end of the month, according to Kapahi.

But he's not ruling out opening up in the town again some day.

"I would have loved to stay in Bridgewater. And perhaps, after we fully transition to this new model and we regain stability, we might look at coming back," he said.

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