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Life of the party

Event planning business helps Toronto retailer promote furniture company

Andrew Bockner is not the kind of guy who enjoys idle time. "I consider myself a workaholic," he said.
     That's why, early on a crisp, fall Saturday morning in downtown Toronto, the owner of Andrew Richard Designs, a high-end wholesale and retail outdoor furniture business, is back in his showroom, rearranging chairs and scooting tables back into place mere hours after hosting a corporate event there the night before.
     Bockner launched his company in 2002 to serve a sophisticated, design-driven clientele. But somehow, along the way he got sidetracked and became one of the hottest event planners in Canada. It's the best thing that could have happened to his furniture business.

Andrew Richard Designs

Andrew Richard Designs owner Andrew Bockner says hosting corporate events in his store exposes more people to the furniture he designs. Many partygoers end up lounging on one of Bockner’s outdoor chairs or sofas

The second fl oor of Andrew Richard Designs store in downtown Toronto is cleared for parties. Bockner says its white walls and fl oors make the room a blank tapestry for party planners, photographers and even location scouts for television and fi lm.
The second fl oor

     "People ask me if furniture is my main thing or events," said Bockner, whose father, Don, and grandfather, Cecil, launched Cana-Foam Products, and whose brother, Richard, now runs Leisure Design. "I say I'm a furniture designer who's about creating beautiful outdoor living spaces in residential, commercial and hospitality environments. However, I really enjoy the events. I enjoy the connections we make."
     Bockner's lucrative tangent started back in 2005, when another outdoor furniture company that had been designing VIP lounges for the annual Toronto International Film Festival had to drop out. Festival organizers wanted a local replacement and liked what they saw in Bockner's slick yet accessible collection.
     "We created the lounges and it snowballed from there," Bockner said.
     The organizers of the Rogers Cup, an ATP tennis tournament held in Toronto, caught wind of Bockner's work and asked him to create players' and VIP lounges. That worked out well, too.
     "Brad Gilbert and Andre Agassi went on ESPN and said the tournament had the best player's lounge in the world," Bockner said. "That gave us leverage when the tournament organizers called and asked if we wanted to do it again. We've been doing that for seven years now. The players love it."
     So does Bockner.
     "We end up sponsoring events year after year with companies like Audi, BMW, Lexus and some of the big banks here," he said. "They're paying tons of money for these sponsorships. All they want from me is to create absolutely beautiful environments their VIPs and celebrities can enjoy, and we get the same kind of exposure."
     Meanwhile, Bockner got married in 2005 and decided to use his downtown showroom to host the whole thing. The night went off without a hitch, hatching the idea to use the showroom as an event space in the off -season.
     "We get maybe four or five months of good weather here," Bockner said. "Hosting events started as just a marketing ploy to get people into the building when they wouldn't normally come in here. I wanted to get people seeing what we do."

Since 2005, Bockner

Since 2005, Bockner has hosted more than 600 parties and events at his store, which more than compensates for the relatively short outdoor selling season in Toronto.
Actor Chris Noth speaks at a recent corporate event at Andrew Richard Designs. For Bockner, a side benefi t of his party hosting business is meeting a number of celebrities like Noth.

     The showroom has been the site of more than 600 parties and events held throughout the year, not just the off -season for casual furniture. Event planning is the engine that drives furniture sales. A recent party for a loft y Toronto law firm is a perfect example.
     "We had 250 lawyers from the highest-end law firm in the city who can all be furniture customers," he said. "We booked a personal party for one of the partners that night. That's what the event business has brought us. It keeps rolling. I have received a tangible event booking or furniture sale from almost every event we've hosted."
     People who attended product launches for Dell and Microsoft at the space have bought furniture. The DJ at a big party put on by Smirnoff vodka was so impressed he asked Bockner to design his terrace.
     The parties and events have also gotten major buzz on Twitter, Facebook and in more traditional outlets. To Bockner's surprise, he has become the go-to resource on party planning for the local media. But through it all, he hasn't forgotten why he does event planning in the first place.
     "All of this has really led to an overall brand awareness for the lifestyle we're targeting," he said.
     The wild success Bockner has enjoyed in Canada now has him eyeing the U.S. market.
     "I'm thinking of taking a showroom in Chicago," Bockner said. "I'm thinking of taking a showroom in Las Vegas. But I lived in New York and went to law school there. I would absolutely love to replicate this kind of thing in New York."
     Bockner says people already tell him his parties remind them of parties they attend in New York.
     "I guess that's a compliment," he said. "If people feel that way here, I know I could bring that to the U.S. We just have to get out there."
     If the last seven years have taught Bockner anything, it's how to do exactly that. Look out, America. The party is on its way south.

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