In business as in life, there’s good timing and there’s bad timing. Guess which one describes Company C’s move to Storrs Street.
“We moved to a new location just as COVID hit, and now we are reopening in what I think has always been the slowest time of year in Concord, mid-summer,” said Walter Chapin.
Chapin and his wife, Christine, founded the home decor store and design studio in their Concord home in 1994 and have expanded nationally over the years. The company’s designs and products are sold through scores of independent and regional stores – including New England stalwarts such as Jordan’s Furniture, Boston Interiors and Circle Furniture – as well as its local store that opened more than a decade ago on Old Turnpike Road, chosen because there was room for both the store and warehouse.
“That’s an atypical retail location because retail was not our primary business. We were a designer, manufacturer and wholesaler of home furnishings,” said Chapin. “Most of our product is from India first, China second and U.S. third – a little bit in Europe. It’s all textiles-related; rugs, upholstery, bedding textiles, decorative pillows.”
Over the years, retail became more important for Company C and an attractive storefront in their home town became more important. “If people are visiting Concord they generally don’t stumble on Old Turnpike Road. We had been thinking about going downtown a long time.”
Last year the opportunity came to move into the former Concord Antiques store at 97 Storrs St. “The building needed some upgrading,” said Chapin. “We believe in paint and decorating. It’s much brighter and cleaner and fresh, particularly on the interior.”
They opened in early March, just in time to be closed down by COVID-19 along with the rest of the state. And like the rest of the state, they have been slowly reopening over the past two months, starting with limited hours and expanding as they feel their way into the pandemic world.
Company C – the name stands for “color” but also “creative” and Chapin and Concord – has an advantage over many retail businesses in that they have solid online business and handle those sales themselves, even the ones that come through online behemoth Amazon.
“The Company C website has done very well,” Chapin said. “For bricks and mortar (stores), business is still down because people don’t want to shop, although it’s tempered in positive directions because people are stuck at home and people want to paint and decorate.”
Business is doing well enough that they have created a warehouse in part of the former RIVCO building in Penacook, since there isn’t room downtown.
“We have dealers in every state and designers. It seems that people are at home, decorating, and we are seeing some of the benefits of that. It’s not making up for the dampening of the COVID effect but it’s helping,” said Chapin. The company’s focus on higher-end products helps, as does people’s reluctance to make decorating decisions through a computer screen.
“Homeowners in general are intimidated by the prospect of making a decorating mistake. They don’t have confidence in their own ability to pick anything that’s not beige, oatmeal or gray,” he said. “Giving advice, that’s harder to do online, give that one-on-one attention to push them out of their comfort zone to where they really want to go and help them coordinate projects.
“It’s our brand, that’s what is important,” said Chapin.
So far so good, but the question on everybody’s mind right now is what will be the long-term effects of COVID-19, a particularly important question if you’ve just made a big bet on Concord’s downtown area.
Company C has seen the result of the pandemic firsthand because of its sales channels.
“Our wholesale has been impacted. Small, independent stores have closed all around the country, although designers are less challenged,” he said.
Even so, Chapin says he’s optimistic.
“I still believe in the Concord downtown. (COVID-19) has definitely been a gut punch and it probably will take until next year to get better, but I’m bullish about it,” Chapin said.
New Hampshire’s capital city could even be poised for a renaissance.
“I think the big cities, the really congested ones – New York and Boston – are going to see the biggest change. My own feeling is that the next couple of years I think is going to increase demand for Concord, for small cities. Concord’s a very nice blend, it’s medium, you an still live where there’s room away from your neighbor, but there’s still a natural magnet to come downtown.”
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)