In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike, Cracker Jacks and Tootsie Rolls were first introduced and Philip and Frank Fitterer opened Fitterer Brother’s Furniture in Ellensburg, WA. Prior to opening their own home furnishings store, Philip and Frank managed a popular Ellensburg Hotel, the Horton House. Once the hotel closed in 1896, the brothers realized they had a considerable amount of furniture and household goods on their hands. They decided to open their own furniture business to dispose of the excess goods.
The business was an immediate success, and Philip and Frank began to acquire more furniture from traveling salesmen and catalogs. When the Milwaukee railroad finished with their most northern line, Philip and Frank purchased the surplus of furniture. Eventually, the road to Seattle and Tacoma was completed, which provided Fitterer’s Furniture access to many more products. In 1909, Fitterer’s Furniture moved to its current location at the corner of Fourth and Main streets in downtown Ellensburg.
Today, the fourth generation of the Fitterer family continues to operate the store. Cousins Jon and Brad Fitterer are co-owners and continue to place emphasis and respect on their family history and traditions. “One thing our family has instilled in us is the pride that you have as a family-owned business,” Jon said. “The honesty and integrity that the family has was instilled by my great grandfather. Those are historic and enviable qualities that a family can have. We are a pretty unique furniture business.”
Fitterer’s attention to honesty and integrity is apparent in every aspect of their business, from their welcoming store environment, to home staging and delivery. Their attention to the customer is also evident through the generations of family members that visit the store.
A Welcoming Environment
The first thing you will notice when you walk through the doors of Fitterer’s Furniture is the sound of two parakeets. As the guardians of the store, their pleasant chirp often attracts the attention of children and adults. “If you came in and you had your children with you, that is the fist place they would focus on and it creates a bond that would start an immediate friendship with the birds and the store,” Jon said.
To make customers feel more welcomed in the store, everyone is greeted and offered refreshments and an Otis Spunkmeyer cookie. Customers can either sit down and enjoy their refreshments or start their journey through three-stories of furniture. “Our store is a lovely 1907 brick building that has a lot of unique character involved in it including a second floor that is suspended by steel rods. We have gallerized and individually roomed that area so it spider webs you through very desirable bedding and dining rooms,” said Jon. “We have done a focus on our third floor — which is by no means an attic — that is our sleep area. We have very subtle lighting which casts a nice, relaxing ambience on the area. When you come into our sleep area, it is developed for relaxation.”
Through creating different experiences throughout the store, Jon and Brad have tried to create a store atmosphere that is sensitive to the needs of the customer. They focus on what the customer will see, feel and hear throughout the experience and address these components to make it the best shopping experience for customers. Even the customer’s interaction with Fitterer’s employees is sensitive to the customer’s feelings and needs. By taking the time to learn about each customer’s life, employees develop relationships with each customer and are able to understand and address their wishes.
Free Delivery Anywhere within Washington
Fitterer’s Furniture offers customers free delivery anywhere within the state of Washington. This service has become a helpful tool in closing sales and creating loyal customers.
In order to provide this service free of charge with today’s high gas prices, Fitterer’s batches their orders dependent on where it will be delivered. “We don’t just deliver to the Seattle area, which is 150 miles away, every day,” Jon said. “What we have done is batch things so we can go to Western Washington and then go North on one day. The next we will go to Western Washington and go South.”
By batching their orders, they are able to deliver items all in one trip. Jon also makes sure each trip out to Western Washington is worthwhile by picking up items from their suppliers that are located in the region. “We have learned to make sure the truck that is coming back [from Western Washington] comes back with a back haul on it from three of our warehouse suppliers,” he said. “We will bring our freight back with us, so that offsets our fuel costs because we are picking up the freight ourselves. It is a big selling point and a huge closer for many customers.”
Fitterer’s Furniture offers home staging which assists their customers in selling their homes more quickly, while also getting the Fitterer’s store name and products out to a new audience. Since only 10 percent of home buyers are able to visualize the potential of a new home without any furniture, home staging has become an important aspect of the sale. Recently, Fitterer’s in-house interior designer, Amanda Johnson, staged multiple homes for a large company in the area, “Amanda just finished one of the most accomplished home stagings that we have ever done. Rather than staging the home and charging the company on a monthly basis, the business actually bought all of the furniture,” Jon said.
Occasionally the new home buyer will want to purchase the furniture that the home has been staged with. When Fitterer’s Furniture staged a preview home in the Suncadia Resort in Eastern Washington, they were delighted that one of the buyers purchased a large amount of their furniture as well and it added a little extra to their bottom line.
The Legacy of Fitterer’s Furniture
Through the 112 years in business, Fitterer’s Furniture hasn’t faced anything as tough as the next challenge Jon and Brad face — finding a successor of the business. With no family members interested in taking it over, that is the tough task the two will be focusing on in the next few years. “Both Brad and I are maturing, and we don’t have a family representative that appears to want to take over the business,” Jon said. “So that is where our goals are set, to see what the future is for Fitterer’s Furniture and make sure that we plan a succession. I don’t think either of us wants to see this business closed and the assets sold.”
No matter what happens with the future of Fitterer’s Furniture, their great family history and legacy of being respectable, honest people will remain in Ellensburg for generations to come.
By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer Managing Editor
Originally published in 2007.