Barbara Turf: The Ultimate Impact Merchant

HomeWorld Business featured its annual Impact Merchants report in the previous issue (July 21, 2014), recognizing influential housewares buyers and merchandise managers.

Sadly, just a few days later, the housewares industry would be saying goodbye to a merchant who has had a most profound impact on the business.

Human Resource

When Crate & Barrel icon Barbara Turf succumbed to pancreatic cancer in July, the tributes that poured in were bonded by a common theme: As creative, insightful and defining as Turf was as a merchant, it all started with the grace by which she engaged people.

The former teacher who took a part-time job at Crate’s Old Town Chicago store in 1967 never stopped teaching as she ascended the company ranks to CEO before retiring in 2012.

Turf’s people skills as a store manager persuaded Crate & Barrel co-founder Gordon Segal to bring her into the growing company’s headquarters in a human resources capacity that evolved into a broader management role that would capitalize on her unique eye for style.

“Barbara had a really good sense of people that attracted really good people,” Segal recalled. “The more I traveled with her and watched her interact with vendors and factories, the more I realized she was a special human being—  as engaging and thoughtful as any one I had ever met. She had a terrific eye for product, but much more an ability to work with a vast array of people. She treated vendors like family and people inside the company as family.”

Indelible Imprint

Turf’s compassionate legacy was on full display in 2011 as the housewares industry contributed at a record-setting rate when she received the Housewares Charity Foundation’s Lifetime Humanitarian award.

Turf’s imprint on housewares retailing is indelible, not just at Crate & Barrel but also across an entire home products trade that has learned much of what it touts about stylish, accessible merchandising from the formula created by Gordon and Carole Segal and refined by Turf.

Her charitable imprint will continue through the University of Chicago Initiative on Pancreatic Cancer, a research program inspired in part by Turf to cultivate earlier detection methods for a disease that often is incurable by the time symptoms surface.

Positive Mosaic

It is fitting to those who knew Turf that her positive influence on people’s lives should carry well beyond the way they cook, dine and entertain.

HomeWorld’s 2011 Housewares Show issue cover featured a full-page portrait of Turf, a mosaic constructed of hundreds of images of Crate & Barrel products.

Indeed, the whole of Barbara Turf’s legacy is greater than the sum of its parts. Her greatest impact as a merchant was her impact as a person.