Making Walls TalkAuthor:Lindsey Shook
In the high-tech world, companies that began in a garage are legendary— think Amazon, Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard. Stories of luxury wallcovering companies founded in garages are less common. In fact, there’s only one: Phillip Jeffries. It started 42 years ago when Eric Bershad spotted a classified ad in the New York Times advertising the auction of the inventory of a wallpaper company that was closing its doors. “He was an entreprenuer, and he always dreamed of having his own company one day,” says his son, Philip Bershad. “He saw this as his opportunity.”
When Eric called his father-in-law for advice, his asked him how much money he had saved. “My father had $5,000 in the bank,” says Philip. “I was just a baby at the time, and my grandfather thought it was pretty risky to start a business with just $5,000 and with an infant at home, but he surprised my father by backing him with a loan for another $5,000.”
With his money doubled, Eric borrowed a friend’s avocado-green van, drove up from New Jersey to the Boston area and came back with a load of grasscloth he bought at auction. A couple of weeks later, he established his own wallcovering company in his garage. “At that time, he was still relatively new to the wallcovering market,” says Philip. “But what he did have was a lot of grit, a lot of passion and a lot of determination.”
He also had the ability to learn and make connections. He traveled overseas, where his wares were made, to get to know the business and establish relationships with the mills that manufactured the product. “Over the course of 20 or 30 years he developed a great eye and got to know the players and the companies that made the wallcoverings, and we developed partnerships with them,” says Philip. “Today, we have grasscloths from Japan, hand-woven raffias from Madagascar and silks from India.”
Back then, the company was called Wallpaper Imports, and it was growing, moving out of the garage and into a warehouse. It was a family business in every sense of the word. Philip and his brother Jeffrey cut small samples to share with customers; their mother, Susan, kept the books and helped with customer service; their grandmother, Mindy Bershad Fuerstman, worked in the retail store they eventually opened. How the company received its current name also involves one of Eric’s whims. While at a party, he told a fellow industry member that he was thinking of taking his company in a new direction: wholesale. When asked what he would call the company after the change, he responded with an amalgamation of his sons’ names: Phillip Jeffries.
But for a time, the company’s namesakes worked elsewhere. After college, they moved to Chicago where Philip worked at a Fortune 500 logistics company and Jeffrey worked for Ernst & Young. Like their father before them, they dreamed of opening their own company. They used to meet at a diner for breakfast to discuss the future, and during one of those meals, Philip exclaimed, “When will someday be today?” They decided to move back to the Garden State and join forces with their father.
“Dad has always told us it was important to take chances, but working in the wallcovering business in the early 2000s was rough,” Philip says. “But our father’s nickname for our family was the Bershad Bulldogs, because we do not give up so easily.” Together, the family worked to grow the business. They hired designers to create unique patterns and colors, and they expanded their markets and opened freestanding showrooms. Today, they stock roughly one million yards of wallpaper.
In 2009, Philip was named president and Jeffrey was appointed CEO of the company that bears their names. “Dad is in a better place now—Boca Raton, Florida,” Philip deadpans. Eric remains chairman of the board.
The company has come a long way since its days in the garage. In fact, for five of the last seven years they have won a Best of Year award for their wallcoverings, including this year. One of their creations—an abstract print on hemp called “Blur”— has been named wallcovering of the year by thousands of interior designer voters in Interior Design magazine. They continue to push the boundaries of new digital printing technologies and they have recently launched PJ Mash-Up, a service that allows designers to use thousands of Phillip Jeffries’ most popular elements, patterns and colors to create their own bespoke wallcovering.
The company may be larger, but they stick to many of the same values Eric developed in their family garage. “We work hard to have a great product, get it to designers quickly (often shipped the day they order it) and we treat our customers well,” Philip says. “Every morning, I wake up and I think about how I can make our wallcoverings more beautiful and delight our customers.”
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