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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Buddies develop ‘fresh’ home accessories

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It’s a question many shoppers face time and time again, what to give the person who has just about everything?

Adam Schachter, left, and Jon Levy

How about a “pet chateau – a really cool line of foldable, portable dog and cat houses,” perfect for the office or cottage.

Or “tissue bath mats” that feel so soft and comfortable it’s like walking on tissue paper.

Or foldable ottomans that double as a bench with a built-in tray.

Not your everyday sort of purchases, but it’s amazing what you end up needing when the product is an everyday home accessory that fills a specific niche.

Adam Schachter and Jon Levy have created a business that caters to an under-served market segment. Their company, Fresh Home Elements (FHE), specializes in lines of home accessories that are “fresh, cool, contemporary, fun.”

As well as affordable, notes Levy, who handles the back office part of the business – finance and logistics.

Schachter is more of the face of the company who deals with retailers and buyers. They work with a factory in China to make sure the finished products are up to their standards of quality and value.

FHE’s product lines includes portable shopping and storage baskets, a portable bench with a wood tabletop, a folding chair and a line of picture frames.

“I design a lot of it myself,” said Schachter. “I have a design director who works closely with me.”

He generates many of the ideas, but he’s also receptive to suggestions from people who have a keen eye on the market.

“I have such a strong enough relationship with retailers that they say, ‘Adam, there’s a hole in the market for this,’ and I develop it.”

The pet chateau is one product that came out of that creative process.

Schachter’s contacts come from many years spent in the housewares business, and they have proven receptive when he makes the pitch to carry the firm’s funky line of products. FHE merchandise can be found in Costco, as well as Costco’s U.S. and Mexican branches, in Home Outfitters, Zellers, The Bay, Black’s Photography, BINZ, T.J. Maxx in the United States and TK Maxx in Europe.

“We’re thrilled with the rapid growth our brand has seen,” said Schachter. “The success that has been generated here in Canada has leveraged us into the United States and beyond.”

Although they won’t be specific, Schachter and Levy say revenue after only one year in business is in the seven-figure range. They expect that number to double in 2011 as they expand into new international markets, including Japan and the United Kingdom. They’re already taking orders for next year’s back-to-school season for a storage system that’s perfect for university students living in dormitories.

Needless to say, running a new business is a major undertaking. Schachter estimates he puts in 80 hours a week and “I’m on my BlackBerry 24/7.”

Levy came to FHE with 10 years experience operating his own business, a DVD and entertainment firm that exported digital media. Schachter’s route to entrepreneurship was more circuitous.

He studied radio and television arts at Ryerson University before moving to California to work on a tabloid TV show.

Eventually though, “I kind of realized that my priorities changed. I always thought I’d be in a boy band and be a rock star in L.A.”

Instead, he got a job offer in Red Deer, Alta. At that point, he re-evaluated his career path and decided on a change with more stability.

Eight years ago, he returned to Toronto, put down roots and worked in the housewares industry. A little more than one year ago, he and Levy – they’d been friends since they were 10 – formed FHE.

“I’ve always been a sales guy at heart,” said Schachter, the company president.

Levy, the managing partner, is more comfortable behind the scenes. “I deal more with the business financials and logistics,” he said “I’m not flashy. Adam meets buyers, does sales and… is the face of the company.”

Starting the business proved challenging. They sunk their own money and that of private investors (about 10 per cent of the total) into the company, since banks don’t like to lend to firms without a track record. Before starting, “We had all our ducks in a row,” said Levy.

So far, they’re satisfied with the progress the business has made. They’re making money and planning expansion.

“If you have good products at a good price that are original and different, you can get them into stores,” Levy said.

“The key to us is to come up with original designs that people see as good value,” he added.

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