Buying a major appliance has never been a ton of fun.
But two entrepreneurs have come up with a different approach. Pirch is a new kind of retailer that lets you bake artisanal pizza in its ovens and flush its fancy toilets.
Today, the chain of seven Pirch stores across the country sells products for indoor and outdoor kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and floor care. It lets you interact with them on a personal level, while providing a staff of carefully trained salespeople, plus installation and service options. Pirch encourages customers to stop in and browse to see what’s available, not just rush in when their washing machine has died and they are in panic to replace it.
The concept was hatched in San Diego in 2009 when Jeffery Sears and Jim Stuart, two seasoned business executives and entrepreneurs, experienced bad karma trying to design kitchens and bathrooms as part of remodeling and home-building efforts. They decided there had to be a better way to shell out big bucks on large-appliance and plumbing purchases that have so much to do with function, convenience and family logistics in a home.
Pirch stores aren’t buried in gritty industrial parks; you’ll find them in high-end shopping emporiums next to Tiffany & Co. or Nordstrom.
The eighth Pirch opens in March alongside a Neiman Marcus at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J.; a Manhattan location, in SoHo, is slated for 2016. (Store executives are on the hunt for a Washington area site.) Inside Pirch, shoppers are greeted by a barista who will whip up a latte and put you in touch with an employee if you want help navigating the merchandise. Upscale brands such as Fisher & Paykel, Miele, Franke, La Cornue, Toto and Sub-Zero are displayed to show off the latest trends and materials. If you go to the ladies’ room, you’ll be able to test drive a Kohler toilet that has adjustable seat temperature and warm-water cleansing. Chefs will show you how to operate the ranges or bake you some gourmet mac and cheese. You can test the aromatherapy shower yourself in private — bathing suit optional.
Jeffery Sears, chief executive of Pirch, spoke with The Washington Post recently about the store concept and future plans.
What was your original notion for Pirch stores?
Jim and I had horrible experiences trying to buy plumbing and appliance products. People just start pushing boxes of stainless steel at you. They don’t ask you how you live or how you entertain. We wanted to create a place where people would be treated as we wanted to be treated, where you would have the ability to learn about products, and use them, and be educated.
Can you actually try the showers?
Yes. We have an area called the sanctuary. It’s a spa where you can try up to 38 shower heads, as well as steams and saunas and bathtubs.
You have professional chefs working in the stores.
We have full-time chefs in every store. They are there to teach. If you didn’t know about the steam convection oven, you will after they show you.
How would you describe your selection? Are you only high-end?
Our products start where Home Depot and Lowe’s end, with a bit of overlap. We have plumbing and appliances to serve the first-time home-buyer all the way to someone who says this is the last home they are going to build, their dream house.
Can you actually bring dirty clothes and wash them?
People can bring their laundry and see how the cycles work. We have had people bring their 800-thread-count sheets and cashmere sweaters.
You had a different name when you first opened.
Yes, we were called Fixtures Living. The name was confusing, and people thought we were in the lighting business. When we started opening in luxury shopping centers next to places such as Tumi or Gucci, we knew we needed to change. So we came up with Pirch, perch spelled with an i. Perching is like feathering your nest, roosting at home. It’s a feel-good name.
Is each store a bit different?
We like to incorporate local elements in the store design. In Texas, we have the kind of stone and brick that are frequently used there as building materials. In New York, we will be using vignettes that will speak to someone who has a house in the Hamptons as well as those that will relate to a person who lives in a modern 1,000-square-foot apartment.
Is it risky opening a brick-and-mortar chain when all the talk is of online sales?
I don’t believe bricks and mortar is on the decline with consumers. I think human beings want to go someplace to be inspired and gather with other human beings. If retail doesn’t find a way to inspire people, then why go? I want to touch things and understand them and be educated about them.
So Washington is on your radar?
Yes, Washington is on our list. We love the marketplace and we think the community would appreciate the store. But we have to wait for the right location to open up. We are in the process of looking at real estate. We expect to be there late in 2016 or in 2017.
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