Home of the papasan chair, that hippie-chic classic
Name: Martin Bureau, regional manager at Pier 1 Imports, 4823 Sherbrooke St. W., 514-931-9128. www.pier1.com When I think of Pier 1, the first thing that comes to mind are those wicker papasan chairs.
The papasan chair is one of our icons. We sold over 150,000 just in 2007 and we’ve stocked them since we opened in 1962. We sell them in all our 1,200 stores across North America; that’s a lot of papasan chairs. How much do they cost?
The base is $99 for the chair and $249 for the love seat. Pillow tops range from $80 to $100. They look cozy, but whenever I’m sitting in one I feel like I’m about to tip out of it. Why isn’t the base attached to the seat?
The base doesn’t need to be attached to the seat because once you’re sitting in it your weight anchors you, so you can forget about tipping over. Rattan is more sturdy than you think. In Indonesia, when they build a skyscraper, they use scaffolding made from rattan. I can’t think of a more ringing endorsement for sturdiness. And if you want to talk about coziness, all I can say is that I often settle in to watch TV or read in my papasan chair and end up napping. It’s too comfortable to stay awake in. All right, but now that I think of it, I often see papasan chairs at garage sales. Are they more of a student or first-apartment type of purchase?
The fact that people resell them at garage sales just means they last a long time. They’re popular with people setting up their first apartments because they’re lightweight. The first Pier 1 Imports store opened in California in 1962. On your website it says the store catered to hippie baby boomers and featured incense and beanbag chairs. What of that original feeling remains?
Our eclectic home-decor style hasn’t changed; I think uniqueness is our trademark. I have to challenge you on that. You have some great pieces and unusual finds here, but I don’t think your wares are so unique. Others like Winners HomeSense, even Maxi and smaller shops like Folklore, down the street, now have very similar hippie-chic furnishings.
I know other stores try to replicate our style, but we are the original. We set the pace. I’ll be frank: We operate in the same world market as other stores, our buyers might travel the same paths as their buyers, but we do our best to stay true to Pier 1 style. There are trends that every store picks up on, but many of our products are oneof-a-kind. I mean, our pillows, for example: You won’t find the same pillow at another store. We design and manufacture them. I can’t guarantee that stores don’t copy our designs; no one can guarantee that. We’re not Zone, we’re not Folklore, down the street, we’re not Brault & Martineau or even IKEA. We have our own style. Fine, then. You probably pio- neered the eclectic globally inspired, funky home-furnishings look, but what makes you special now?
I think the biggest difference is that our staff aren’t just salespeople. They’re design-oriented individuals who know everything about our products. They can help with everything from design to delivery. So what’s the best bargain in store right now?
I think this rattan armchair has the best price-quality ratio. It’s not cheap – it’s $249 – but this is hand-woven rattan. At a certain point you have to think about that. It’s not made by a machine; there’s hand detailing in the weave. An armchair like this with a paisley pillow can really anchor a room. What’s the big trend in home decor now?
I’d say that the biggest thing right now is the mix-and-match look. People don’t buy sets anymore. We show dining tables with chairs, but people want to choose their own chairs. And they might even want two chairs like this and two like that; it’s a more dynamic way of decorating your home. Our customers spend an average of 50 minutes in our store. That’s much longer than an average store walkthrough. I’d like to think it’s because Pier 1 shopping is like going on a treasure hunt. So where are most of these treasures made?
Our buyers import goods from more than 50 countries in Europe and Asia. In many cases you must be dealing with suppliers in developing countries. Do you take any steps to make sure your products are produced in proper conditions?
Absolutely. We have tight contracts and inspectors who regularly make rounds. On your website, you claim to be a socially conscious company that conducts business with personal and professional integrity. It’s a nice thing to say, but how does it translate to real life here in the store?
We’re dedicated to supporting the international community; after all, that’s where we import most of our merchandise from. Since 1985, we’ve contributed more than $37 million to philanthropic organizations like UNICEF. It’s not just something we do to make ourselves feel better or look good, it’s actually important to us. And it’s important to our customers, too. All right, so you give to chari- ties. What about steps to safeguard or improve the environment?
We have a line of 100-per-cent recycled products made from reprocessed or waste materials; stuff like recycled newspaper baskets and glassware. And don’t forget that wicker made from bamboo and seagrass is a rapidly renewable resource; it grows faster than trees, so in a way it’s more eco friendly to buy a rattan chair than a wood chair. All this do-gooder stuff is what Pier 1 is all about. Don’t forget we grew up in the 1960s, with the beginning of the whole environmentally friendly hippie movement. Those ideals are part of our roots, even if we don’t have long hair and peace necklaces anymore.