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Artemano sells atmosphere

Artemano sells atmosphere
Business
“In 2009, we did 12 containers (of imported furniture) a year,” said founder and co-owner Shimon Finkelstein. “This year, we’ll do 161.”

Finkelstein said what happened in 2009 is that, amid all the turbulence, people withdrew to the stability and comfort of their homes.

“When conditions get hard, people gather around the house. It’s where they relax. It can also be their escape. That’s where we come in. With our pieces, we love to create the sensation people get when they go to exotic places.”

Artemano’s stores are definitely different, combining shadow and light, old and contemporary. Ambience rules.

The furnishings themselves, mostly made with exotic or recycled woods from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and India, are unlike anything you’re likely to see at national chains. Most are designed to their specifications by more than two dozen overseas suppliers that they visit a couple of times each year.

Some pieces get finished and stained at a workshop/showroom in Laval, then they’re off to the stores for display and sale.

On the price spectrum, Artemano is “accessible to anyone who works,” Finkelstein said. Although some pieces can sell for as much as $10,000, the average purchase is $500.

“If we’d been very expensive, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. People today want value for their money. Some buy one piece at a time rather than a whole set, but that’s because they’d rather have something unique than ordinary. More isn’t necessarily better. Space also can be powerful.”

Finkelstein started Artemano in 2002, after visiting a furniture store in Zurich, Switzerland, owned by an acquaintance who became one of his early partners.

“It just clicked for me. I had goosebumps. I fell in love with the wood and decided this would become my business,” said the carpenter’s son from Israel who came to Canada in 1974 and graduated from Concordia University with a communications degree. Before branching into furniture, his business experience included selling jeans and running a puppet shop in Old Montreal.

Artemano’s first store was on Le Corbusier Blvd. in Laval.

“My partner from Switzerland paid for our first shipment, which came from India. I didn’t know anything about furniture, but I’m a curious person, and what I noticed from observing people is that they were affected by atmosphere more than one piece of furniture or accessory. So that became our product. We sell atmosphere. On the buying side, I treat it like I’m buying for my house, not the store,” Finkelstein said.

In 2005, he bought out his partners from Switzerland and Italy and enlisted a new one in Eyal Shoam, newly arrived from Israel after marrying a Montrealer.

They met at the home of one of Finkelstein’s neighbours, and felt an immediate rapport. Finkelstein invited him to tour the warehouse.

“I was about to open a store selling lifestyle products. I’d actually signed a lease. But Artemano gave me a chance to combine and use my experience in design and retail,” said Shoam, 45.

Finkelstein felt the business had reached a point where he needed an active partner to share the load, and Shoam’s strength in management and logistics was a good fit with his creative vision.

It has become a family business. Finkelstein’s wife Ellie is the company bookkeeper, while Shoam’s wife Meggie oversees the human resources department. Finkelstein’s son Tal is in charge of accounting.

Since teaming up, the partners have embarked on an expansion plan, setting up an e-commerce division and opening stores at Quartier Dix30 in Brossard in 2006, on St-Laurent Blvd. in 2010 and in Quebec City in 2011. The newest outlet, opened last year, is in Toronto.

“They all change decor every week. Most of our pieces are unique, so when a customer buys something, it comes off the floor and creates a space to redecorate,” Finkelstein said.

“Each store has a different vibe, each manager puts his own fingerprint,” Shoam added. “Some clients will visit more than one store to discover things they might not have noticed in other locations. They want to fall in love with a piece.”

Finkelstein visits weekly with his camera and sends the photos to all the managers, so they can see how their colleagues are presenting the wares.

The youth of the sales staff is another distinction.

“The average age is 24 to 26,” Finkelstein said. “Young people, once they understand the concept, are very powerful. If I can tell you in your 20s what it took me 62 years to learn, you’re ahead of the game. We never discuss how to make more sales. We discuss how to complete the process. It’s the process that matters. Sales are an outcome.”

While the chain’s next move is undecided, Finkelstein said he’s having more fun than ever.

“Every time I travel abroad, I discover something different, something magical. It’s not a business for me, it’s a way of life. We’re building a culture of our own, and that’s exciting.”
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