Inside Crate and Barrel CEO Gordon Segal's slow-but-steady expansion

The trees outside Crate and Barrel’s newest store were vibrant when Gordon Segal visited Cleveland in late October.
Segal was in Ohio to rally his troops for the store’s grand opening in a new outdoor mall called Legacy Village. A gorgeous view of intense crimsons, oranges, and yellows lined the back windows of the store, the company’s first in the state.
It was obviously autumn outside, but inside it was already looking like Christmas, as Segal, Crate and Barrel’s founder and CEO, points out.
“A month ago, this was all browns and oranges. Now it’s all reds and blacks,” says Segal, pointing to a display of Christmas throw pillows, stockings and dishes. “We have more and more collections of goods come in, so changeability of the store is very important.”
Crate and Barrel’s evolving store design has been crucial to the upscale housewares and furniture retail chain’s success. When it was founded in 1962, dishes, flatware and martini glasses were displayed on the packing crates and barrels in which they arrived. Today, merchandise is meticulously presented, with the highest attention to detail.
In the chain’s newest store, “vignettes” of drinking glasses, coffee cups and serving dishes are stacked on six-foot-high shelves and practically glow under track lighting. You’ll see design details like unfinished wood ceilings, white brick, cultured stone and corrugated metal wall panels.
“Every store is an evolution,” says Segal, seated on a clay-colored leather sofa in the store’s furniture collection. “We try and make the collections unique, and we try and make them different. At the same time, we want everything a consistent high quality and comfortable.”
Equal attention is given to where Crate and Barrel opens a new store. The chain has 123 stores in 23 markets, with an estimated $800 million in annual sales, although it doesn’t reveal exact figures.
The expansion over the chain’s 41-year-history is not as rapid as that of competitors like Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn or up-and-comer Restoration Hardware. But Segal, who privately owns the business with German mail-order company Otto Versand, isn’t interested in rapid growth at the cost of quality.
“We’ve always made profits, we’ve always done well, and we’ve kept the quality consistent,” he says. “Its very easy to open stores. It’s very hard to run them well.”