EQ3 opens flagship in old Sears store High-tech showroom could be model for other locations across North America for homegrown retailer
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2021 (575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It has stores in New York City, Montreal and San Francisco. But, when it comes to trying new things, EQ3 prefers to stay close to home — right here in Winnipeg.
As many close their brick-and-mortar shops, EQ3 has transformed the former Polo Park Sears into its largest retail space.
“This is like a lab,” Peter Tielmann, the Winnipeg-based furniture company’s founder, said two days before the store’s Friday opening.
It will be a place for creativity, he said.
Gone are the cosmetics counters and clothing racks of Sears — the department chain vacated in 2017. Now, living space setups (think couches paired with rugs, and dining tables set for dinner) occupy the 43,000-square-foot main floor.
Locally owned restaurant Deer + Almond has a spot, with a full kitchen and seating area, beside a design studio for textile perusal. Flora grows on a nearby live plant wall, while mounted screens flash EQ3 messaging and products.
“We want (this) to be more of an experience centre, showing a larger offering, giving people a lot of inspiration,” Tielmann said.
“We want (this) to be more of an experience centre, showing a larger offering, giving people a lot of inspiration.”–Peter Tielmann, EQ3
EQ3’s other 16 locations range between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet. The company worked on a new array of products, including a new concept called Palli Home and Company, kids furniture and a pets line, specifically for the Polo Park launch.
It signed a deal with CF Polo Park around 2018.
“When the pandemic hit, there were some worries,” Tielmann said. “Especially opening up a store like this at a time when, even before the pandemic… e-commerce is taking over.”
Roughly 30 per cent of EQ3’s sales are online, Tielmann said. Customers tend to browse the website, note what they want and visit a store.
“There is still the touch and feel component that’s important,” he said. “Our strategy now is to open large experience centres where the combination of bricks and clicks… can come together, and you have a seamless experience for the customer.”
Even if visitors don’t purchase a thing, they can take ideas, explore products’ customizable options and maybe spend some money on EQ3’s website, Tielmann said.
Customers often bring interior designers, he said. The store employs more than 50 staff; on-site designers, who are ready to help, are in the mix.
“It’s an emotional process to get your space done well,” Tielmann said. “How you feel in it is very important.”
He said the emotional component is a focus for the company — after all, EQ3 stands for “emotional quotient in the third dimension.”
“To say we’re going to go and open up a store this size is kind of crazy,” Tielmann said.
When the business began in 2001, it had about six employees and no physical location. It is a spin-off of Palliser Furniture, a furniture manufacturing company based in Winnipeg.
Tielmann recognized there were options for consumers wanting cheap furniture or high-end European imports, but there was a gap in the middle.
“The middle were people looking for quality, for more classic, modern products,” he said. “We thought (it) was an underserved market.”
So, EQ3 was born. Palliser employees poached designers from Europe and the United States for the new company, and soon, they were selling items to other dealers.
EQ3’s first store opened on St. James Street in 2002. Within a year or two, the company had relocated to a 10,000-square-foot building on the parking lot of CF Polo Park, near Portage Avenue. EQ3 collaborated with local architecture students to create the space, Tielmann said.
It continued to grow, adding stores across Canada and the United States, including a flagship in New York City in 2019. It boasts furniture that morphs to fit different spaces and comfort needs.
More than 700 people are now employees.
“Winnipeg is where our home is, so the prototypes always go here,” Tielmann said, adding it’s why EQ3’s first experiential store is in Polo Park mall.
He said moving into the mall likely wouldn’t have been possible in the past, but now, there’s an overabundance of retail space.
Malls were previously too expensive for large furniture retailers, according to Subbu Sivaramakrishnan, associate dean at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business.
“As department stores have started abandoning malls, that’s resulting in a lot of… unoccupied spaces,” Sivaramakrishnan said. “As a result, malls have actually lowered their rental rates, so having a store in a mall has actually become more affordable.”
EQ3 benefits from the new location, Sivaramakrishnan said. First, it will likely get more casual shoppers wandering in; stand-alone furniture stores tend to be a destination rather than a place to browse. Second, some people will travel through EQ3 when trekking from parking lot to mall.
‘In that sense, they actually get another two sources of customers… who might not be intentional furniture shoppers,” Sivaramakrishnan said. “Once they enter into your space, they’re a potential buyer.”
The belief that in-person shopping is dying is not necessarily true, Sivaramakrishnan said.
“Many people tend to think that online retailing is just replacing brick and mortar,” he said. “There’s a long way to go for that.”
Pre-pandemic, about 20 per cent of shopping was completed online, he said, adding it’s likely inflated since.
Brands such as EQ3, where the “see, touch and feel” component is high, need a physical presence, Sivaramakrishnan said. The furniture’s price range means folks will want to ensure quality before they buy, he added.
“CF is proud and excited to house EQ3’s first flagship location at CF Polo Park given it is a critical time to spark economic activity and accelerate business recovery,” Peter Haven, CF Polo Park’s general manager, said in a prepared statement.
Furniture has been a “strong retail category” during the pandemic, he noted.
Tielmann said EQ3 aligns with CF Polo Park’s vision for the future.
“We believe there will be these long-term surviving and thriving retail and urban living destinations, and Polo Park, they’re committed to turn theirs into one,” he said.
EQ3 will open more experiential sites if the Winnipeg location thrives, he said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.