Schwartz and Company
When Rose Schwartz’s husband Abraham died in 1932, she discovered first-hand the importance of community. The widow was left with six children and sole ownership of Schwartz & Company Ltd., a clothing store founded by the couple in New Waterford in 1921.
The tightly knit community made sure that the company continued its successful rise, and ever since, the business has given back to the community.
Brian Purchase, co-owner and president since 2002, wouldn’t have it any other way. “Community involvement is a big, big part of our history, and I think a big differentiator for us,” he says.
In June, Schwartz & Company’s annual Golf for Dad raised $12,000 for cancer research, bringing the total funds raised to more than $75,000 since the event was established in 2003 to honour store manager Ron Sichky, who died of prostate cancer.
“He was a great guy, probably one of the best we’ve ever had,” says Purchase. “That was definitely the motivator for me to form this tournament, and it’s my proudest moment in business.”
Peter Cameron has been chief financial officer for Schwartz & Company since 2005, and in June, once again, he was on the links during Golf for Dad.
“Let’s just say we were one of the more honest teams,” Cameron says with a laugh. “We had fun.”
Charitable pursuits, staff loyalty and the diversity of the company’s holdings were among the attractions for Cameron, who joined Schwartz after working for several large firms in Halifax and Sydney.
Its longevity also played a role, says Cameron, who notes that during his tenure there have been several employees retire after 30-plus years with Schwartz.
And there’s no denying that Schwartz & Company has witnessed many proud moments since its inception: immediately popular, the store was expanded and moved to a new site in 1929. Chairman Irving Schwartz joined his mother in the firm in 1947, by which time it also had a small furniture department. The entrepreneurial Irving opened his first furniture store on the Esplanade in Sydney in 1957. There are now six corporate stores across Nova Scotia.
Although he was employed with a large accounting firm in Halifax at the time and had no plans to move back to his native Cape Breton, the chance to work with Irving Schwartz was too good to pass up, says Purchase, who joined the company in 1993.
“I always wanted to work for someone with a variety of businesses and get a lot of experience, and he offered me that challenge, to say the least,” Purchase says. “He’s a great financier, very entrepreneurial and fair. It was important for me to work with someone I could respect.”
The transition to co-owner and president has gone smoothly for Purchase and has coincided with even more growth for Schwartz & Company. The company now has two Brick franchises, in New Glasgow and Amherst, and a real-estate enterprise that will see it owning more of its own buildings. In the past seven years, it has also opened three Rent-Rite locations, providing furniture leasing options.
But its biggest news is an alliance formed in December 2008 with prosperous Dufresnes Furniture, a Canadian company with 22 stores in Ontario and Manitoba.
“They’re extremely successful, and they’re really growing, which is rare for independents these days,” says Purchase. “Schwartz is our foundation, and a lot of our focus is making sure that brand stays strong and continues to be able to compete against the big-box retailers. Dufresnes will help make Schwartz stronger.”
Such affiliations, he says, are imperative in this era of intense competition and challenging economy.
“You have to be stronger and smarter—and I’ve always been a much better tracer than I am a drawer, so to partner with these companies and learn from them will only make us stronger. And, hopefully, we’ll be in business for a long time to come.”
No doubt Purchase’s “phenomenal” 90-person staff is hoping the same thing. Luckily, he’s a people person. And for that reason he’s living and working in the right place.
“Nova Scotia is a beautiful place, no doubt about it. But it’s the people—that’s our brightest spot,” he says. “We’ve got the scenery, the beauty, the tranquility, and then we’ve got fantastic people. And when you’re in a people business like we are, how could you not be affected by that?”
Feature story written by Skana Gee