Fitterer’s Furniture

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.”

Home Staging
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.

Furniture West — La Grande, OR

Nineteen years ago, Gene DeMeerleer graduated from college with a degree in business finance and a financial job lined up in San Diego, CA. Little did he know at that time that he would turn down his job in the finance industry to start his own home furnishings business.

Having grown up in a small Idaho town, Gene was familiar with the family business. His dad, Jim DeMeerleer still owns and operates two furniture stores, Furniture Center in Moscow, ID and Furniture West in Moses Lake, WA. During Gene’s college years, Jim was buying and liquidating other furniture stores and occasionally asked Gene to help him run liquidation sales. Once Gene graduated college, he was given an opportunity to open a new store and if he successfully ran the store for a year, he could purchase it from his dad. Gene was intrigued by the opportunity for sole ownership of the store and decided to stay in the family business.

Together, Gene and Jim opened Furniture West in La Grande, OR in 1990, and since 1991, Gene has been the sole owner of the store. “My dad mentored me a little bit, but really it was a trial and error process when I began,” he said. “I mirrored his image as far as running a financially conservative business.”

Today, Furniture West is a successful furniture store that has grown and evolved as much as Gene. With nine employees, including Gene and his wife Velma, Furniture West has become a well-run and successful home furnishings business. This has been accomplished by creating a welcoming environment for customers, listening to great advice, finding new ways to motivate and train employees and keeping family first.

A Welcoming Experience
When customers enter the newly remodeled Furniture West showroom, they are greeted by fresh colors on the wall and consumer friendly displays. “We pride ourselves on keeping our showroom easy to shop and maximizing our selling opportunities,” Gene said.

One way of making the customer feel welcomed and comfortable in the store is by inviting them to visit the Welcome Center, which offers fresh baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, coffee, bottled water and balloons for customers’ children. “We want to become their friend and earn the right to sell them furniture before we ask. You want to make them feel welcomed,” said Gene. “We want the customer’s experience to be an excellent one, from the time you walk in and are welcomed to our store, to when our delivery service delivers your furniture and gives you their card and thanks you for doing business with us.”

Another way of creating a welcoming, no pressure environment is by paying salespeople a salary instead of commission. “Our no pressure environment is fueled by a salary paid sales force. We do have an UP system, and my sales personnel are expected to meet close-ratios and add-on sales minimum standards, but it is more of a team environment and less of a cut-throat, high pressure environment. We get comments all the time on how nice it is to shop in our environment! It is relaxing to the customer,” Gene said.

While Gene doesn’t pay employees a commission, he still uses sales incentives to keep them motivated to sell and improve their performance. The combination of a comfortable salary coupled with incentives, spiffs and bonuses has helped Gene have a low employee turnover.

Pick Gene’s Pockets
This year, Gene started a new program to motivate his employees called Pick Gene’s Pockets. Gene puts an assortment of money — $1, $5, and $10 bills — into a box and when an employee exceeds certain expectations or does something well, they get to pick something out of the box. “Brad Huisken suggested the idea during the last WHFA conference and I thought it was great,” Gene said. “It is a great reward for promoting the efficiency of your employees. Recognition and immediate gratification are powerful motivators.”

Staying Conservative
Over the years, Gene’s received a lot of great advice, but the advice that has and continues to pay steady dividends came from his dad, “Dad always preached that in the long haul the best course of action was to stay financially conservative. Do not extend yourself further than your comfort level. You’ll live longer! In today’s market, that advice is priceless.”

Even during this current economic downturn, staying conservative has helped Furniture West remain profitable. “We are not in a financial vice, we have the freedom to breath and ride through these tough economical times,” he said.

Family First
Gene considers his entire business and community a part of his family and has always stressed the importance of it. “You get one family in a lifetime — embrace it for what it is,” he said. “Everyone’s family is different as well as the relationships within.”

Gene has always welcomed and encouraged his employees to take time off for family functions. “Never get between an employee and their family. You will lose every time! A happy employee is a productive employee,” Gene said.

He uses this rule with his own family as well. While Gene is very active in the local community and with his business, he remembers that his family is first. “My philosophy is to always give back to the community you do business in,” he said. “But I have to keep it in check, because family is first and spending time with my family is the No. 1 priority. I give as much time as I can to the business community without jeopardizing my quality of life with my family and store.”

One way he is able to do both is by coaching his son’s sports teams. Gene is currently coaching his son’s soccer team, which allows him to spend more time with him. When Gene isn’t in his store or coaching soccer, he finds time to be an active member of the local chamber of commerce, the Rotary, the local search and rescue team, Boy Scouts Eagle Board, hospital foundation board and a lifetime booster of the Eastern Oregon University and La Grande High School.

The Future
In the future, Gene would like to see his company continue to grow and be progressive. He feels that the next hurdle for Furniture West is to be more proficient on the Internet. “This electronic super highway has changed the way we communicate and do business. I’ve been slow at adapting to this change. My website, my communication with my customers through email and my advertisements need to be improved. I’m putting forth a lot of time and money to catch up,” he said.

Gene sees Furniture West being present for many years to come, “Our future looks good. I’d like to say we’re on track for continued success. I’ve got to stay optimistic, this store is ultimately responsible for support eight families and in my world, my son and daughter will be attending college soon,” Gene said.

By staying financially conservative and being progressive to change, Gene is sure to be taking care of the Furniture West family for generations to come.

By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer Managing Editor
Originally published in 2007.

C.S. Wo & Sons

For almost 100 years, C.S. Wo & Sons has been furnishing the homes of Hawaiian residents with beautiful furniture and creating events and ads that catch the customer’s attention. In 1909, Ching Sing Wo (C.S. Wo) opened a general merchandise store in downtown Honolulu. While Ching’s son, Robert, was attending college at Stanford University, he window shopped for furniture every weekend and developed a passion for it. After graduating, Robert returned to Hawaii and re-focused the company on selling furniture. Soon, the company acquired their largest competitor and began an island-wide expansion which would lead to C.S. Wo & Sons becoming the state’s largest home furnishings retailer for over 50 years.

As the 1990s approached, new competition and industry trends convinced the third generation of “the Wo Sons” to restructure their company into smaller, lifestyle oriented stores. Today, there are six divisions of stores, each selling different product levels. The names for the different divisions are: C.S. Wo & Sons, HomeWorld, Room Stores Hawaii, DeZign Home, La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries and SlumberWorld.

By dividing the company into different divisions, C.S. Wo & Sons has been able to remain a dominate player in the Hawaiian furniture industry and provide their customers various product levels. “Part of our strength is that we are able to divide and conquer through the different segments that we address,” said Brad Harris, division manager of C.S. Wo & Sons.

Representing the high-end of the furniture market, C.S. Wo & Sons has created welcoming store environments in their Honolulu, Kona and new Costa Mesa, CA stores. When customers first walk through the doors, a greeter welcomes them to the store and finds out if it is their first visit. If it is, the greeter will hand them a brochure showing the layout of the showroom floor and invite them to enjoy fresh baked cookies and cappuccino. If it is a returning customer and they are ready to shop, the greeter will set them up with a designer. “I think the best compliment that we have ever had in all of our stores has been that people really don’t want to leave,” Brad said. “Once they purchase their furniture, they are enjoying our fresh baked cookies and cappuccino and they feel at home.”

Advertising with a Twist
To promote their stores C.S. Wo & Sons relies on print advertising, with a twist. Most of their ads can be found in local and high-end magazines and newspapers but instead of focusing on low prices or sales, C.S. Wo & Sons focuses on a beautiful room setting and a catchy phrase. “Our phrases are usually very cleaver and short but thought-provoking,” Brad said.

With intriguing ads that say, “Apparently, you can buy good taste,” and “You live on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. Decorate accordingly,” customers have been noticing the ads and visiting the store. “We ran similar ads for our new California store, and I was surprised at how many people came in off of them saying that they had to find out what the store was about. We stood out from the other stores because we didn’t say 50 to 60 percent off, and we intrigued them,” said Brad.

That is the purpose of their ads — to get people in through the doors. Once customers have gotten through the doors, it is the C.S. Wo & Sons shopping experience that will sell them.

Customer Appreciation Events
C.S. Wo & Sons recognizes the importance of their loyal customers, so every year they hold two gala events, a Chinese New Year’s celebration and Home for the Holidays, to celebrate and say thank-you to their customers.

During the Chinese New Year’s event, attendees enjoy complementary food and champagne while lounging in the showroom. Each event also has a lion dance, calligraphers and fortune tellers to help attendees celebrate the occasion. “We wine and dine them to say thank-you to the customers that have been faithful to us through the years. We also have fun activities for customers to take part in such as the very popular lion dance,” said Brad.

When customers aren’t participating in the lion dance or having their fortunes told, they can often view art from local artists or informal fashion shows. “Every year is different, but this year’s event featured a fashion designer out of San Francisco. She brought in about 80 outfits and did an informal fashion show throughout the evening,” Brad added.

This invitation only event has become so popular with C.S. Wo & Sons’ clientele that they now have a second celebration the following day. “Over the years the Chinese New Year’s celebration has grown in such stature that people have to be turned away, but that is also why we now have the second event,” Brad said. “If it fills up with 1,000 people, which is pretty much the capacity of our store, we can invite them to our event the next day. We really want to be able to say thank-you to everyone.”

A week prior to Thanksgiving, the C.S. Wo & Sons showroom transforms into a holiday wonderland for the Home for the Holidays gala event. C.S. Wo & Sons partners with Neiman Marcus to give customers holiday display and entertaining ideas. “The highlight of the holiday event is that Neiman Marcus decorates all of our dining tables in their best china and crystal, and they do themed tables for the holidays that are very extravagant,” Brad added.

While business is normally not conducted during these events, they often lead to future sales. “These evenings are purely for fun,” Brad said. “It gets people into the store, and although it is not intended for sales, we do find that there is a spike in sales afterwards.”

“Both of our events go back to our mission statement the focuses on four key areas of importance: customers, co-workers, company profitability and community,” said Brad. “We feel that we have been established for so long in the community that we want to give back to it and enrich the community that we live in.”

The Future
With their first leap to the mainland in early 2007, C.S. Wo & Sons is looking for future opportunities outside of the islands. “The Costa Mesa store has been fairly successful, especially considering the economy and challenging times that we are facing,” said Brad. “No matter how the economy is doing, we have the staying power and focus that will allow us to continue to expand on the mainland.”

Whatever the future holds, you can be sure that C.S. Wo & Sons will be able to weather the storm. With their intriguing ads and appreciation for their customers, C.S. Wo & Sons is sure to be furnishing homes in Hawaii and the mainland for another 100 years.

By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer Managing Editor.
Originally published in 2007.

Beds for Less — Medford, OR

About 20 years ago, Brent Loogman was growing tired of his career in helicopter logging and decided that it was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He decided to go to college and ended up at Chico State to study business. Once he was in town, he headed to a local furniture store to buy a new mattress. “I went in to buy a mattress and in the process, the store owner offered me a job,” Brent said. “I was a typical college student who was new in town and needed a bed and a job, so I took the job. The owner helped me get started in the industry. I didn’t end up going through college to earn a degree, but I found a new direction in my life. This is where I met my wife Rochelle and great business partner,” said Brent.

After working in the store for a year and a half, Brent moved to Medford, OR to start his first business venture: Beds For Less. With a $20,000 loan from his parents, he opened up a 1,400 square foot store in 1990. “The business just moved forward from there, and we were really successful. You work seven days a week and any kind of profit you make, you put back into the business.”

By working hard and putting all of his profit back into his business, Brent was able to eventually move to a larger showroom and open up another location. Today the Beds for Less empire includes two Beds for Less locations and two Ashley Furniture HomeStores. “Over the years, I think I have evolved just as much as the business. I have matured a lot, learned more about the industry and have become more familiar with the retail environment and how it is constantly changing,” said Brent. “The product has to constantly change or your store grows stale. That is what is fun about this job — you are constantly changing. If you do the same thing over and over, it can become a little boring but if you get to mix it up, then it becomes fun.”

Fun is an important word to Brent and his business. When it comes to motivating his salespeople, Brent and the store’s managers often like to hold games and contests to help them boost their sales. “Selling can become repetitious, so if you make it a game and do fun things like contests, it is not as boring. Just anything that helps you focus on what you would like to do better in your business,” he said. “Sometimes we play games that are as simple as giving away ice cream coupons — the prize doesn’t have to be much as long as they are having fun.” Brent believes that the first motivator in sales is the fun factor and the second is money.

While fun is an important part in motivating the Beds For Less staff, Brent believes that continuous training for his 97 employees is key to keeping the business a success. One source of their training comes from attending market seminars. “When I attend market, I take between two to eight managers with me,” he said. “We attend market and the seminars, come back and then orchestrate a company-wide meeting and each department will work on the areas and ideas that they learned about while at market.”

With all of the training and motivational games and contests that they play, the Beds For Less employees have a clean and inviting store atmosphere for customers. “Anybody can sell furniture, and anybody can put furniture in a store,” he said. “You need to have the right product mix so that when the customer comes into the store, you hear them say, ‘Wow,’ and they are excited about being there. I think one thing that our store does well is that we have a very clean operation. Our stores are neat, tidy and priced well. Our sales and service staff are well educated and looking sharp.”

Even with the store’s success and strength in all areas of business, Brent believes there is always room for growth and motivates his team to aggressively “play the game” and improve store efficiencies.

“One thing that separates our stores from the competition is that we are always playing the game,” Brent said. “We are not in the first quarter thinking we have all four quarters of the game to carry out our goals. The first quarter is as important as the fourth quarter. We are aggressive and playing the game.”
One area of business where they have successfully played the game is with their store promotions. Beds For Less is almost always holding a store promotion to get the community excited about visiting their store. “We won’t always have a big sale but we often try and throw themes and games into our promotions to create excitement. One idea that we have done in the past is that if you buy over a certain amount of furniture from our store during the weekend, you will be entered into a drawing to win all of that furniture for free,” said Brent.

Since the community has been a large part of the store’s success, Brent believes it is important to give back to it. Last year alone, Beds For Less gave away $87,000 in donations. Recently they helped a young girl who has a kidney disease and her family was going broke due to medical bills — they didn’t even have furniture in their house. “A donor came into our store and said that he wanted to buy furniture for the family, so we turned around and matched what the donor was giving. We were able to deliver truckloads of furniture to the young girl’s school graduation,” Brent said. “It was pretty cool. We are very fortunate, so when you see things like that you want to help.”

With all of Brent’s success in business, he still believes his family is his largest success. “My greatest success is my wife Rochelle and my two children Brooke and Skyler. The entire Beds for Less, Inc. staff is a part of our extended family and we appreciate it every day,” he said.

In the future, Brent would like to continue his good fortune and, “Run a tighter ship, play the game stronger and look for more opportunities for growth.”

With his future goals in mind, Brent always remembers this advice that he once received, “to be successful, you don’t ever rest. You have to be aggressive and find something you are passionate about and do well with. Pursue it with all of your heart because if you don’t, you are only going to get half of the results.” It is clear that Brent’s passion for the furniture industry and local community has led to his tremendous success and he and Beds For Less will continue to be successful for years to come.

Michael Alan Furnishings & Interior Designs

The difference is attitude. For over 26 years, Michael Alan Furnishings and Interior Design in Lake Havasu City, AZ, has been showing their customers the Michael Alan Difference, and it’s this difference that has led to their success. The difference can be seen in their styles, service, quality and attitude. With the attitude of satisfying every customer’s needs being their No. 1 priority, every employee is dedicated to ensuring that customers have a positive experience whenever they visit the store.

The idea for Michael Alan Furnishings originated in 1981, when Ab and Shirley Schultz took a land sale promotional flight from their hometown in Ontario, Canada to warm Lake Havasu City, AZ. Falling in love with Lake Havasu City, Ab and Shirley decided to move their family to Arizona. Both Ab and Shirley owned their own businesses in Canada, and Shirley had a background in interior design, so they decided to venture into the home furnishings market and opened Michael Alan Furnishings.

Eleven years later, Ab and Shirley’s daughters, Chris Ehgoetz and Carrie Hemme, purchased the business from them and continued the family legacy. “We didn’t plan on ever working in this business. We both started helping out with the little things — I was helping with the books and Carrie was helping with sales,” Chris said. “This industry just gets into your blood, so we decided to purchase the store.”

After purchasing the store from their parents, Chris and Carrie continued to present remarkable customer service and quality furniture and accessories at the best possible prices. Today customers walk under an awning that states, “Through these doors walk the greatest people… our customers!” and into a 20,000 square foot showroom that is catered to them and their needs.

The 30 Michael Alan employees are a close knit family and are there to create a positive experience for the customer. “Customer service is our No. 1 priority,” Chris said. “Without our customers, none of us have a job. We also work really hard before, during and after the sale for our customer.”

One important part of Michael Alan’s after the sale process is sending out a thank-you card to every customer, even to past customers who have needed a repair. “We write thank-you letters to our customers if they have had a repair problem. We will go out and take care of it, and then send them a letter thanking them for letting us know there was a problem,” said Chris. Along with the thank-you letters, Michael Alan attaches a survey card for the customers to fill out.

Because repeat customers are their best customers, Chris and Carrie believe that it is important to target this group with three direct mailings a year that offer store discounts and a special event just for existing customers, the Anniversary Sale. “We do our Anniversary Sale once a year, and it is truly for preferred and existing customers,” said Chris. “We close the store all day to re-price every item and open the doors at 5 p.m. Before we open the doors, we have a tailgate party with a live jazz band in our parking lot, and we have the event fully catered. There is usually about 100 to 150 people waiting outside for us to open, and we probably write about 16 percent of our business during that month.”

Another part of the Michael Alan Difference is their complementary design services. A qualified interior designer will go to a customer’s home and assist in creating a unique look tailored to the needs of the individual customer. In addition to furnishing their customer’s homes, Michael Alan furnishes many area businesses including banks, physicians’ offices and hotels. The Michael Alan design staff also works with local builders and contractors to furnish model homes with the special Michael Alan touch. Chris and Carrie encourage their customers to visit the local model homes by providing maps showing each location that they have furnished. “It’s a great way to enjoy a weekend drive and get some terrific decorating ideas too,” Carrie said.

With the success of their first location in Lake Havasu City, Chris and Carrie opened their second location in May 2007 in Mojave Valley. The new location is 10,000 square feet dedicated to providing the Mojave Valley community with the Michael Alan Difference.

Since the Lake Havasu City and Mojave Valley communities are vital to the success of Michael Alan Furnishings, Chris and Carrie are dedicated to giving back to the communities they serve. “We are very involved with the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Soroptimist, Humane Society, Hospice and Kiwanis,” Chris said.

Because of this dedication to the community, the home furnishings industry and their outstanding customer service, Michael Alan Furnishings was awarded the Arizona Retailer of the Year award in 2005 by the Arizona Home Furnishings Representatives Association.

In the future, Chris and Carrie would like to continue to see their business thrive. “Our goals for the next few years are to build a new warehouse, continue to grow and be successful in our two locations and help our staff prosper,” Chris said.

“My sister and I have fun in this business because we enjoy design and love this industry,” said Chris. With the industry in their blood and their passion for design and attentive customer service, the future is sure to be prosperous.

By Melissa Dressler, Managing Editor, Western Retailer