Contemporary Specialist DeBoer's to Close
Michael Knell -- Furniture Today, May 4, 2011
TORONTO - After 60 years as one of Canada's most influential contemporary furniture retailers, John De Boer has decided to retire and will shutter his five-unit operation over the coming 12 months or so.
De Boer, who recently turned 71, has been quietly transferring responsibility to his daughter, Suanne, the company's general manager, for the past few years with the goal of retiring into a consultant's role.
But about 18 months ago, a developer approached him with a proposal to purchase two of the retailer's most valuable locations - the flagship DeBoer's store on Yonge St. in the heart of uptown Toronto and the Mississauga store on Dundas Street West near the Erin Mills Parkway. He had been approached before, but this was the first time anyone offered all cash on closing, and he accepted.
Under the terms of the deal, both stores will continue to operate until the acquisition closes at the end of August.
After accepting the offer, the De Boers originally planned to consolidate its three Toronto stores (the third in College Park is in a retail complex in the heart of the city) and build a new 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot store. But in a year of research, the father-daughter team discovered that was no simple proposition.
"We did a feasibility study and looked at the furniture market in Toronto," John De Boer said, adding that there were a number of things they didn't want. For one: "We don't want to open on Sunday."
Ever since Ontario legalized Sunday shopping over a decade ago, DeBoer's has been one of a few furniture retailers that chose not to open that day. The company could compete in this environment because it had built a loyal following since it opened under the leadership of John De Boer's father, Anne, in 1950.
But when consolidating to one store, it would be unwise to not be open on Sunday, the De Boers concluded.
John De Boer said while the chain has been consistently profitable, consolidating to a single store would also require drastic revisions to its business model. De Boer was one of the first independent Canadian retailers to import furniture directly - which worked with a chain of several stores but could be cost-prohibitive for a single store.
However, father and daughter were confident they could devise a plan that would be true to DeBoer's historic product profile and market position, and would be profitable.
But they discovered it was almost impossible to secure a new location. While buildings are available in greater Toronto, Suanne De Boer said that whenever she found a suitable building, she couldn't get the zoning permission required to convert the premises to suit her needs.
In a year of searching, she found buildings of the right size and price in a good location with ample parking - but zoned for industrial use. "And the local authorities didn't want to erode their industrial space," she said.
Without that offer to buy the two key locations, the retailer probably would have kept going under Suanne De Boer's leadership.
"Neither of us wanted things to come to this; we both wanted to carry on," she said.
The shutdown of DeBoer's will take place gradually over the next few months. The College Park and Ottawa locations will close when their leases expire at the end of June. The Yonge Street and Mississauga stores will close when the property acquisition deal closes at the end of August.
After that, remaining inventory will be sent to the company's corporate head office and warehouse facility in the Toronto suburb of Vaughn. It's from this location that all remaining inventory will be sold.
John De Boer anticipates he will be in a position to sell the Vaughan facility in about a year.
An active member of Rotary International, he said he plans on becoming involved in a number of overseas projects with the service club, and will enjoy retirement.
Suanne De Boer will stay at the helm until the end. After that, she said with a laugh, "I just might have to look for job."