It takes a lot for a business to last 100 years. H.H. Perkins Company President Ray DeFrancesco has seen many highs and lows, but he still loves what he does.
“If you enjoy what you do, time flies,” he says, “It’s different every day.”
This year marks the 100 years in business for the company, which sells basketweaving- and chair-caning supplies and window treatments, in addition to offering in-home furniture repair and restoration.
About 60 years ago, Ray’s father and three uncles purchased the company from the Perkins family. Ray has worked for the company, now located at 370 State Street in North Haven, since 1982. He says he initially had no intention to be with the company for the long haul.
He had graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in journalism that same year, and was working part-time at Perkins and interviewing for jobs in journalism and public relations. A major flood that caused severe damage to the company’s former Woodbridge location caused him to get really involved in the business.
He noticed the company didn’t have any computers, and kept client records on index cards. Ray set up the company’s first computer system, and he and his girlfriend Caryl (they’ve since married) transferred all the information from the index cards to the computers.
Ray and two cousins bought out his father and uncles in 1994. Until that point, the company only sold weaving material, but Ray decided to also start doing repairs and restorations.
“It really increased the business over the years,” he said.
He eventually bought out his cousins and brought Caryl in to the business. Ray makes it clear that Caryl, who is the vice-president of the company, is as important to the business as he is.
“I had to quickly learn how to do everything,” Caryl says.
She had to learn how to make baskets (including specialties like Nantucket baskets), to teach people, and to restore furniture. She won first prize in a contest for a Nantucket basket she submitted, and is one of only a few wicker repair weavers in the state.
“A lot of people won’t attack that job because it’s very difficult,” Ray says.
There are now three things that H.H. Perkins specializes in: basket weaving supplies, chair seat weaving supplies, and window treatments. The weaving supplies can be ordered and shipped worldwide, and the company does repairs, restorations, and window treatments for local clients.
“One of the most important aspects of our company that has helped us continue for 100 years is that we go out of our way to make every customer happy,” Ray says.
Both Ray and Caryl stress that customer service is paramount for their business. A recent customer visit proves the point: While Caryl and Ray were being interviewed for this story, a woman came in and wanted to use a $7.50 store credit that she received back when the company operated out of Woodbridge. Even though the company hadn’t been at that location in about 17 years, Ray and Caryl still honored the credit.
Even though he never got to officially use it, Ray says his journalism degree has helped him with the business in areas such as writing company and product descriptions on the company’s website and designing and laying out invoice templates. He recently redesigned the website, www.hhperkins.com, which took him about a year to completely finish.
Ray and Caryl have two children, a son and a daughter. Ray said that both had worked at the company over the years, but have different career aspirations in mind.
“I don’t think either one of them wants anything to do with it,” he says with a laugh.
Still, Ray says he and Caryl are plugging away every day, and are looking forward to a more years of continued success.
For more information about H.H. Perkins, visit www.hhperkins.com or call 203-787-1123.