Fry boutique builds own furniture
From the HGO Merchandiser
CHATHAM, Ontario – It’s not rare to see a manufacturing warehouse or a furniture boutique, but it’s a little more special to see a decidedly cozy two-in-one operation that’s run by a dedicated and creative couple (and one that often brings their one-year-old daughter to work, no less).
John and Rose Fry, the founders of JM Fry Furniture Design in Chatham, Ontario – not far from London – introduced their company, and John’s unique upholstery and design work, to the furniture world in 2013 (although they hosted their official grand opening event this past May).
Their boutique, complete with a cozy 600 square foot showroom, showcases a range of upholstered pieces created by John Fry, a Canadian-born upholsterer and furniture designer who spent much of his life in Australia (and still has the accent to prove it). The store, in which they both manufacture and sell, fills a niche in an industry that’s dominated by imports. It’s not well known but for the past several years, Canada has imported more upholstery than it manufactured domestically.
“We haven’t found any upholstery types like us, although there are a lot of companies that make wood,” says Rose Fry, adding their boutique-sized company works with a metalworker in Sarnia and a nearby woodworker to round out its offerings.
John, who is an upholsterer by trade, has been in the industry for some time. He co-founded LeftCoast Designs in 2003 after returning home from Australia and moving to Vancouver in 2001. Six years later, he founded ILK Furniture Designs.
“My background is an upholsterer by trade and I worked in various companies. I loved the design aspect rather than reupholstering and I loved the idea of designing my own furniture,” he says. “Rose’s background is in architecture. We started the business out of our home, but I wanted to get into design and we built a few pieces and stored them in the living room and then we looked into getting a store and here we are.”
The couple met in Vancouver when John was working and Rose was studying architecture. Eventually, Rose – who is originally from Ontario – went back to her home province to finish her degree at the University of Waterloo.
“Long story short, I ended up following her out here,” John says.
The couple moved to Chatham in 2011 and kicked off their home business.
“We’ve been running the store for a year but the business for four years. We wanted to be able to showcase John’s designs,” says Rose, adding the initial response to their unique operation has been overwhelmingly encouraging.
“It’s been fantastic,” John adds. “It was slow to begin with, but the response from people who came into the store was really positive. It takes a little bit of time for people to buy. They’ll have a chair at home that they want reupholstered and they keep our stuff in mind and come back. Word gets out. People come in saying they’ve heard about us.”
Their product selection is vast and varied. John – who is currently the chief designer but hopes to pass more design work onto Rose going forward – creates modular, contemporary, mixed-material sectionals that are ideal for a stylish living room or chic condo, all while breathing new life into comfortable, cozy pieces that just need the fabric equivalent of a ‘fresh coat of paint’. As for what pieces they fix and create, the couple says they do everything from sofas, chairs and sectionals to tables although wood pieces are typically outsourced as they don’t yet have space for a full wood shop.
They also re-upholster and design benches, ottomans and headboards.
Initially, the couple’s business was primarily driven by customers wanting their existing pieces re-upholstered. Now, they’ve achieved some balance between rejuvenating older pieces and selling their own original designs.
“Getting the word out took some time,” says Rose. “When we first opened the store, people didn’t know we were here. Now word of mouth is spreading. It’s been a big part of our business all along, especially in Chatham.”
Although news about the company has spread well through word of mouth, the business is active on social media – something most companies, especially newer ones are actively embracing at a time when people are more likely to consult Pinterest for ideas rather than magazines.
“We have web site and use Facebook and Instagram and that starts getting word around,” Rose remarks. “Once word gets out, people check out social media. It gives a more visual front for us. We’re putting more of our products online.”
While customers are free to browse the company’s offerings online, they have to visit the store to purchase them.
“Online is more browsing, we haven’t gotten to the point of selling online,” says John. “We have discussed it, but we do a lot of custom work. We have so many fabrics and leg styles and lots of options. We might eventually have staples you can purchase online, but we’ll always urge people to contact us for something more custom.”