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Crate & Barrel (Firm)



Gordon and Carole Browe Segal, the founders of Crate & Barrel, met as students at Northwestern University and took their degrees from the institution in 1960; Gordon with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the School of Business, and Carole with a Bachelor of Arts from the College of Liberal Arts.

The Segals, who married in June, 1961, opened their first Crate & Barrel store December 7, 1962, on North Wells Street in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, then on the verge of becoming a popular entertainment and shopping destination. With working capital of $17,000, the couple used $10,000 of that amount to purchase merchandise and applied the remaining funds toward furnishing their retail space, a former elevator factory. With a constrained budget and only a few weeks time to prepare their space for its public opening, the Segals hammered crating lumber over plaster walls, covered shelves with dyed burlap, and used the shipping containers that carried goods from their manufacturers as display fixtures. Selling products straight from their shipping crates and barrels gave the new store its name and a signature look.

Products sold by Crate & Barrel were imported mainly from Europe, with the Segals, during their buying trips, selecting the goods to be sold directly from small factories and manufacturers. They negotiated direct purchases, avoiding wholesaler markups, and were able to sell merchandise in the United States at competitive prices. By the mid-1960s, Crate & Barrel had developed a reputation for excellent customer relations, providing noteworthy personal service as well as background information on products new to the American market. Also, enlisting the help of Tom Shortlidge, an art director at Young & Rubicam, Crate & Barrel developed its first catalog. Shortlidge later took charge of the company’s advertising and subsequent catalog development and, with Gordon Segal, developed Crate & Barrel’s iconic black and white corporate logo.

With business success came opportunities for growth. The Segals opened a second Crate & Barrel store in Wilmette, Illinois, in 1968 and a third outlet in Oak Brook, Illinois, in 1971. Crate & Barrel had expanded outside of Illinois by the end of the decade and grew rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s. Store locations were chosen by Gordon Segal and a team of architects and contractors. Gordon Segal possessed an astute understanding of real estate and his approach to the effective location of new Crate & Barrel stores was effective. By the end of the 1980s the company had developed its own internal architecture department; the development and design of free-standing white steel and glass constructions became almost trademark look. Newer Crate & Barrel stores were large, some with three or more levels. Glassware, dinnerware, ceramic products and kitchenware were insufficient to fill the larger outlets and so there was opportunity to significantly expand product offerings to include furniture. The successful sale of furniture necessitated the expansion of some existing store locations.

Gordon Segal sold a majority stake of Crate & Barrel in 1998 to the Otto Group of Hamburg, Germany. The Otto Group eventually acquired 100 percent ownership of the company. Gordon Segal retired from active management of the company, as its chief executive officer, in 2008, succeeded by Barbara Turf. Turf, a longtime employee and executive at Crate & Barrel, herself retired in 2012. Crate & Barrel expanded its locations internationally during the early 2000s while also augmenting sales through significant e-commerce capabilities. The company developed parallel brands in the early 2000s: CB2 and Land of Nod. CB2 was inaugurated in 2000 as a home furnishings retailer geared to the needs of younger consumers. Land of Nod, acquired by Crate & Barrel in 2001, sold children’s furniture and furnishings through a limited number of retail stores. Land of Nod stores were closed in 2018 with its product line for children incorporated into Crate & Barrel stores and offered via e-commerce.

Outside their work with Crate & Barrel, the Segals have been involved deeply in other business, civic, and philanthropic organizations. Carole Segal, who left her regular employment with Crate & Barrel to raise her children, founded Foodstuffs, a gourmet food and catering business, in 1979. She also has been active on the boards of the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Bates College, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Chicago Theological Seminary, and Rush University Medical Center. Carole Segal has been a supporter and benefactor of Northwestern University, working with her husband to establish Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute. She has been a president of Northwestern’s Women’s Board, and a member of the Council of One Hundred, the Northwestern Alumni Association, the Board of Visitors of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and numerous other University-affiliated organizations. She received Northwestern’s Alumni Medal in 2008.

Gordon Segal has been a trustee and life trustee of Northwestern University and a chair of the Northwestern Board’s Educational Properties Committee. He has served on boards of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the University of Chicago Medical Center. Gordon Segal has been inducted into the World Retail Congress Hall of Fame, the Retailing Hall of Fame at Texas A&M University, and the American Furniture Hall of Fame. Together, the Segals have received recognition as the Marketing Salespeople of the Year from the Sales and Marketing Executives of Chicago Association (1992), the Lifetime Humanitarians Award from the Housewares Charity Foundation (2006), and the Entrepreneurial Creativity Award from the Brain Research Foundation (1996).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Records of Crate & Barrel

Identifier: 55/54

Crate & Barrel is an American home furnishings retailer with store chains throughout the United States, Canada, Dubai and Asia. It was founded in 1962 by Northwestern University alumni Gordon and Carole Segal. Crate and Barrel's corporate name is Euromarket Designs, Inc. and is based in Northbrook, Illinois. It has two sister brands, CB2 and Land of Nod/Crate & Kids. The company is privately held and since 2008 owned by the Otto Group of Hamburg, Germany.

Dates: 1961-2015