BARRELING AHEAD – SLOWLY
This year will be Crate & Barrel’s most aggressive ever, as husband-and-wife founders Gordon and Carole Segal open (drum roll, please) six new stores.

Six stores? That’s peanuts in retail. But for Crate & Barrel, gradual evolution, careful (some would say hypercautious) planning, and slow growth have spelled success.

Slow growth? How about glacial? The first Crate & Barrel sold its stylish mix of home merchandise for six years before the Segals opened another location, and it was another five years before their catalog launched. Crate & Barrel got into furniture through the 1971 purchase of a Boston store, but not immediately. A full decade later, the company assembled a furniture team, and, after noodling with products and displays for eight more years, added furniture to existing stores one by one.

Now more than 100 stores strong, the 40-year-old company plans to roll its newest concept — the hipper, less-expensive CB2 — beyond Chicago, where it’s been tested for two years. “Maybe another suburb of another city first, and then maybe even another city store,” CEO Gordon Segal says.

And Segal is watching carefully to ensure CB2 doesn’t cannibalize Crate & Barrel sales. He’s philosophical about taking things easy. “We expect to start some things and to sometimes fail. A retailer has to take chances,” he says. “When you can get into trouble is when you go too fast and try to do too much at one time. You can’t forget to do things like spending time being creative at merchandising.”