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Business Observer Thursday, May 19, 2022 1 month ago

Functional yet fancy art gallery sets the table for expansion

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A business owner immersed in working with wealthy clients believes Naples is nudging a prominent — and affluent — Northeast enclave off its throne.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

At a dinner party in January 2020 someone asked new-to-Florida business owner Mitchell Siegel how he thought his gallery of handcrafted furniture and home décor pieces would do when it opened on ritzy Fifth Avenue South in Naples the next day.

The store, Cocoon Gallery, uses imported exotic wood from Southeast Asia for its creations — pieces that cost up to $60,000 and count a bevy of well-heeled people as clients, including business titans and sports celebrities. Its products adorn fancy establishments, from rotating through Saks Fifth Avenue stores to the Hotel Clinique in Anguilla to the tony J House Hotel in Greenwich, Connecticut. Siegel opened the original Cocoon in Greenwich in 2009, and the Fifth Avenue store in Naples in early 2020 was the second location. Confidence was high.

“I told him what I thought we would do” Siegel recalls, “and then said ‘if we don’t hit that number I’m going to go in a corner and cry.’”

There were no tears. By midday he’d already sold 50 pieces, and by February the store, Siegel says, was 60% to 70% sold out. That boom lasted for the next six weeks or so, right up to the pandemic. After an initial pandemic slowdown, sales, of late, are back to growing 30% a month, Siegel says.

Cocoon also recently executed a seismic change: it totally gave up its presence in the Nutmeg State to make the Sunshine State its permanent home. The company, through a business partner’s acquisition, moved into a 25,000-square-foot woodworking facility in the Naples Design District, near the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Goodlette-Frank Road, late last year. The shop includes a new kiln, custom-made from a shipping container with side doors, in addition to climate-controlled, sealed rooms. Inside, artists work from wood slabs ranging from 18 to 300 feet long.  

Courtesy/Tina Sargeant. Cocoon Gallery opened a showroom on Fifth Avenue Naples in early 2020.

Then, in February, it closed its Greenwich shop. It rebranded under Cocoon Gallery from Cocoon Naples, both to reflect statewide growth plans — possibly to the east coast and north of Naples — and, Siegel says, to reflect its functional yet artistic pieces. Dining tables manufactured by Cocoon Gallery run from $18,000 to $60,000, while Geode coffee tables go from $48,000 to $50,000. Bowls, objects and figurines start at $200.

Siegel, 63, says the move to totally shutter Connecticut operations was based largely on demographics, saying, in an email after an interview, that there’s a “small amount of wealth in Greenwich compared to Naples.”

“We have all these retirement communities (in Naples) and they come empty-handed, without their belongings, and want to refresh, restart,” Siegel says. “People here are also older, know where they’re at, know what they can buy. (Their) kids are out of the house and self-sufficient.”

Courtesy. Cocoon Gallery opened a showroom on Fifth Avenue Naples in early 2020.

“The Cocoon team believes the Naples address speaks volumes about quality to discerning buyers around the world,” Siegel adds in a press release. “Plus, it is an ideal base for Cocoon to expand elsewhere in Florida.”

Siegel declines to disclose the specific investment in relocating to Florida, only to say it “was very, very large,” and the company is well capitalized to fuel expansion. The Cocoon Gallery woodworking building, at 1095 5th Ave. N., is owned by the Fareri 2021 Family Trust, which lists an address in Collier County Property records in Greenwich. The last purchase of the building, county records show, was in January 2021 for $1.6 million. John Fareri, CEO of Greenwich-based commercial, industrial and residential real estate developer Fareri Associates, is listed in Florida Department of State records as the managing partner of Cocoon Naples LLC.

Siegel has been in décor-related businesses for decades, first in textiles. It was in that industry, on trips to Southeast Asia, where he discovered the exotic woods that planted the seed for Cocoon Gallery. “I saw some pretty cool stuff that not many people were doing,” he says. “It really intrigued me.”

The business grew at first, he says, through “blood, sweat and tears.” It soon picked up word-of-mouth momentum, which Siegel says comes from the team of Cocoon Galley artists, who are now based in Naples. They are the ones who make the gallery’s live-edge mirrors, sculptures, wall art and other décor sourced from rocks such as obsidian, geodes and quartz, in addition to the wood.

“We’re not tearing down the tree and putting some wax on it,” he says. “We’re perfectionists. We’re scientists. There’s a real science to making these things and we’re second to none. We take a lot of pride in what we do. No one can do this like we do it.”

Stefania Pifferi. The team of furniture makers at Cocoon Gallery have an artist- like and perfectionist approach to their work.

The full-time Florida operations include about 20 employees. Growing that employee base, Siegel says, is his biggest challenge. Not a surprise considering the labor shortage, but it’s exacerbated by the exacting work done at Cocoon Gallery. “We keep trying until we hit on one or two,” he says. “But we don’t just open the door and give people sandpaper.”

Outside the employees who do the work, Siegel says it’s the exotic woods that give Cocoon Gallery its competitive advantage in the high-end home décor marketplace. The wood, for one, is sustainably harvested; a tree is planted for each tree harvested for the company. And a barrier to entry, Siegel says, is he has a license for importing the wood, which has become “next to impossible to get.”

Once that wood is turned into a Cocoon Gallery piece, the rest of the business, says Siegel speaks for itself. “We hear so many times that ‘this is my favorite thing in the house, you made my house,’” he says. “We constantly hear that. It gives me the personal drive to move forward with this business.”

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