Williams-Sonoma, Inc., is an American publicly traded consumer retail company that sells kitchenwares and home furnishings. It is headquartered in San Francisco, California, United States. It is one of the largest e-commerce retailers in the U.S., and one of the biggest multi-channel specialty retailers in the world.
Founded in 1956, Williams-Sonoma Inc. operates more than 600 retail stores internationally under a portfolio of brands including Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen, Williams-Sonoma, Williams-Sonoma Home, West Elm, Mark and Graham, and Rejuvenation. Williams-Sonoma Inc. also operates through eight corresponding websites and gift registries.
In 1947, Charles E. (Chuck) Williams settled in Sonoma, California, and opened his first shop as a hardware store. In 1953, Williams took his first trip to France. He quickly fell in love with French kitchenware such as copper cookware, and is quoted as saying, "I knew this was something that wasn’t found in America, but thought people would want." Shortly after returning home, he formulated a plan to import French cooking and serving equipment into America and converted his store into a cookware shop in 1956. Williams-Sonoma was founded, selling professional and restaurant-quality kitchenware for home use, leading to founder Chuck Williams being recognized as one of the titans of the American food revolution.
In 1958, at the suggestion of customers, Williams relocated the store to San Francisco. The store quickly became a destination with culinary figures such as Julia Child and James Beard becoming customers of the flagship location. In 1972, along with—and at the suggestion of—regular customer Jackie Mallorca, Williams began publishing a mail order catalog to expand his business beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. At the suggestion of customer and friend Edward Marcus, of Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, Williams decided to expand the company and formed the corporation, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. in 1972.
The second Williams-Sonoma store opened on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills in 1973. The same year, Williams-Sonoma introduced the Cuisinart food processor to the American market through its stores and catalog. Williams decided to sell his share of the company in 1978 to W. Howard Lester, an Oklahoma entrepreneur, and businessman James McMahan. Williams maintained an ownership interest and guided the selection of merchandise and the production of the catalog. Lester took an active role as president and chief executive, while McMahan was the company director. At the time, Williams-Sonoma had revenues of $4 million.
Williams-Sonoma, Inc. had its initial public offering in July 1983. One million shares were offered on the OTC Market $23 a share. At end of 1985, the company was generating over $51 million in sales. In September 1986, Williams-Sonoma acquired Pottery Barn from Gap. The acquisition included Pottery Barn's 27 housewares stores located in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York for $6 million. The company's expansion led to the opening of its first distribution center in Memphis, Tennessee in 1984. Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is one of the largest proprietary distributors in the Memphis area with 3.5 million square feet of distribution space.
From 1986 to 1989, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. grew by an average of 12 stores per year, bringing the total locations to over 100 stores in the U.S. The company partnered with Time-Life Books in 1992 to release its first series of Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library cookbooks. It was listed on the New York Stock Exchange starting in 1998, while sales reached $1 billion for the first time.
The following year, Williams-Sonoma Inc. launched its e-commerce website and bridal registry. The company also launched Pottery Barn Kids, a spin-off of Pottery Barn that specializes in home furnishings for children.
The West Elm brand was launched in 2002 with the release of a catalog; the following year, the brand opened its first store. The Pottery Barn brand further expanded with the launch of PBteen in early 2003.
In 2004, Williams-Sonoma entered into an agreement with the CBS News weekday program The Early Show to broadcast a segment, "The 5-Minute Cooking School," which presented cooking techniques, styles, and recipes. The special weekly series was televised from Williams-Sonoma's East Coast flagship store at The Shops at Columbus Circle in New York City's Time Warner Center. This was followed by the debut of upscale Williams-Sonoma Home in 2005. Pottery Barn extended its merchandising with the introduction of the Pottery Barn Bed & Bath and Pottery Barn Kids in Manhattan.
By 2009, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. was operating 610 stores with an annual revenue of over $3 billion. In May 2010, Lester retired, and Laura Alber was named CEO of the umbrella organization. Previously, Alber joined the company in 1995. She was active in building the Pottery Barn catalog and the development and launch of Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen. In November 2011, the company acquired Portland, Oregon-based Rejuvenation, Inc., a manufacturer and direct marketer of light fixtures and hardware with stores in Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The company launched a lifestyle brand offering personalized products, Mark and Graham, in November 2012.
Williams-Sonoma opened a store at the site of its original location in Sonoma, California, in 2014. Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams celebrated his 99th birthday on the store's opening on October 2, 2014. The company's e-commerce sales were approximately 52 percent of Williams-Sonoma, Inc.'s revenue of the first quarter of 2015. The company maintains over 600 stores in North America, Australia, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom.
Through the West Elm brand, the company is launching West Elm Hotels. The joint venture will be done with DDK, which is a hospitality management and development company. The properties are projected to open in Q4 2018. Locations:
The company is expanding into this new market in light of 26 consecutive quarters of double digit comparative growth. The properties will reflect the local design elements and cuisine and culture from the region. Further, artwork for the common areas and rooms will be commissioned from local artists. In a twist, hotel patrons will be able to buy the furniture used in the hotels online. The West Elm Hotel brand will compete in the boutique hotel market, which the company says is what consumer are demanding. Customers want 'unique experiences' rather than 'standardization' from hotel operators. Boutique hotel management is DDK’s specialty and core competency. DDK's founding and current principals have developed and currently operate more than 70 properties globally. According to STR, a data and analytics company, there is room for growth in the boutique hotel market. Despite the market growing 24% over the past six years, the total number of boutique hotels only represent 2% of the total hotel room market supply. Employees were able to test out the rooms that will be built in the hotels in a Brooklyn warehouse. Cigarette butts and soda as well as other substances were dumped and tested on the fabrics to check for quality. The company will choose to use dim lighting in the hallway, as it has shown that people are quieter when it’s dark.
In October 2001, the company opened its first international stores in Toronto, Canada. The Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn stores in the Mink Mile occupied a combined 37,000 square feet of space at the retail podium of the 100 Bloor Street West condominium; these stores closed in 2017 after the landlord substantially raised rents in 2014.
In 2008, the company opened Pottery Barn and West Elm stores at Plaza Las Americas in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, a district of the capital San Juan.
In 2010, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. partnered with M.H. Alshaya Co. to launch Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids franchise operations in the Middle East. The first Williams-Sonoma brand store outside of North America opened in Kuwait in 2012, along with West Elm at The Avenues Mall, the largest shopping center in Kuwait. The company also opened four stores (Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and West Elm) in Australia as the first retail locations outside of North America owned and operated by Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
The company opened its first store in the United Kingdom in 2014 with the launch of its West Elm location in London. Williams-Sonoma signed a franchise agreement in 2014 to begin opening stores and operating its e-commerce sites for six of its brands in Mexico. In the same year, the company also opened Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids stores with a franchise partner in the Philippines.
Under the umbrella organization of Williams-Sonoma, Inc., the company's brands are:
Williams-Sonoma's stores and gift registries have been referenced to on television shows including Sex and the City (Season 1, Episode 3: "Bay of Married Pigs"), American Dad! (Season 2, Episode 16: "When a Stan Loves a Woman"), Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (Season 6, Episode 7: "Used Car"), Frasier, Mike Tyson Mysteries, and Friends.
Williams-Sonoma products have been featured numerous times on The Oprah Winfrey Show's Oprah's Favorite Things specials including Williams-Sonoma Home bedding (2004), Williams-Sonoma's croissants (2002, 2005, and 2010), Williams-Sonoma's melamine mixing bowls, measuring cups, and measuring spoons (2007), Perfect Ending Cupcakes and Breville's Ikon Panini Press (sold by Williams-Sonoma) (2007), and Williams-Sonoma's Waring Popcorn Maker (2014).
In the film The Muse, all the kitchen supplies used to manufacture the wives' cookies were purchased at Williams-Sonoma. In the musical Dear Edwina, one song references "Williams" and "Sonoma" as being people that sing along with the Fairy Forkmother to teach a chef how to set a table.
In 2012, PBteen announced a collaboration with Burton Snowboards. The collection included bedding, lighting, and decor.
The West Elm brand is active with the Clinton Global Initiative and in 2013 agreed to invest $35 million on hand made goods from U.S. and abroad to sell in its stores over the course of two years. The collaborations were aimed to positively impact over 4,000 artisan workers. Former President Bill Clinton visited a West Elm showroom after the company spent nearly that amount in the first year of the agreement. In 2015, the company made a pledge at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting to expand its Fair Trade Certified product offerings.
In 2015, Pottery Barn collaborated with designer Ken Fulk to introduce the company's first major designer produced collection. The collection includes 60 pieces of furniture, accessories, and tableware.
In August 2015, Williams-Sonoma hosted Kris Jenner at the grand re-opening of its store in The Commons at Calabasas. Jenner attended the event with daughter Khloe Kardashian and signed copies of her cookbook, In The Kitchen With Kris.