And the nominees are….

Take a look at the nominees for the HFA’s annual awards.

They come from all across the country. Big cities and little. Top 100 retailers and small family stores. If there’s a single trait these companies share it’s their passion to succeed. Take a look at this year’s nominees for the Home Furnishings Association’s Retailers of the Year and two new awards: Emerging Star and Trailblazer.

Retailer of the Year nominees are HFA members who represent exceptional examples of the following criteria: philanthropy, technology, customer experience, mentoring, sustainability and store design/merchandising.

$10 Million-Plus Nominees

Badcock & More Home Furniture, Mulberry, Fla.

Rob Burnette

It’s safe to say Badcock Furniture has grown from the tiny general store Henry Badcock started in 1904. Today the company has 216 dealer stores and 107 corporate stores. But one constant remains: No matter how big Badcock has grown, the company still follows the vision of its founder, who insisted on offering value and variety to consumers on a daily basis.

It was Wogan Badcock, Henry’s son, who eventually created the framework for the store’s dealership model that is still strong and vibrant today. Initially calling them “route-men,” Wogan Badcock began to consign merchandise to his collectors in an effort to help boost sales while collecting a little bit of money along the way. The men would receive a small percentage of what they collected and the birth of Badcock Furniture’s core business model was underway.

Badcock’s unique differentiating factor includes its flexible credit offers and the small-town feel of its stores. Officials are committed to providing a style variety that will help customers turn their houses into homes and do so with the ease of in-house credit offerings.

 

Darvin Furniture, Orland Park, Ill.

Steve and Marty Darvin

For almost a century the Darvin family has sold furniture, starting when Louis Darvin immigrated to the United States and, using only a catalog, sold furniture door to door.

But make no mistake: Darvin Furniture is anything but old-fashioned. Louis Darvin’s grandsons, Steve and Marty Darvin, are implementing new and exciting uses of technology to improve the shopping and sales experience for customers both instore and online in 2017.

Within the first half of this year, all Darvin sales associates will use notebooks on the showroom floor. From looking up inventory to entering the sale, scheduling delivery and taking payment this will allow for a more fluid purchasing process for the customer. The sales staff will also be working with apps to better track their customers and initiate a quicker follow-up. The use of these apps also allows for sales managers to monitor their sales staff and provide training and coaching. Darvin will also be launching online sales on their website in the first quarter of 2017.

The success of Darvin Furniture stems from the family’s passion for the furniture business, their commitment to employees and customers and giving back to the community.  Darvin’s two main charities are City of Hope and the Jewish Foundation. The family also participates in local charities and fund-raising efforts, as well as providing furniture and mattress donations to disadvantaged families and nonprofit agencies that help those in need.

 

Hudson’s Furniture, Sanford, Fla.

Josh Hudson

Facing crushing real estate debt, Hudson’s Furniture filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 hoping for a chance to restructure that debt. Those dark, uncertain times only make today all the more remarkable for the chain of 17 furniture and mattress stores throughout Florida.

Today Hudson’s Furniture is not only surviving but thriving in one of the nation’s most competitive regions for home furnishings retailers. Owner Josh Hudson likes to think his company’s success in the past seven years can provide inspiration to other retailers. “I think I represent hope for other retailers out there that may not be confident in their future,” he says. “Our culture and innovation are two key components that have turned us around and make us the best in the industry.”

It starts with a customer-first philosophy that’s infused in everyone who works at Hudson’s. “Our employees are driven to be the best they can be,” says Hudson, who took over the company his father Fred started. “They believe in what we’re doing and how we can have positive impacts on our clients and associates. They also understand that Hudson’s is the most financially rewarding place to be among the competition.”

Hudson stands out among its competitors for the large amount of in-home design work it generates. Hudson believes that personal service is his company’s trademark. “We embrace custom options and creating a space for clients in their home that is unique to them,” Hudson says. “We encourage interaction with our design associate and full-time designer. The team combination with both parties engaged on the needs of the client opens up the door for an unparalleled experience.”

 

Naturwood Home Furnishings, Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Virginia and Lisa Keyes

Virginia and Lisa Keyes have a philosophy about their family home furnishings store: There are many stores in the Sacramento area where shoppers can buy furniture, but only one where you can invest in furniture.

That philosophy has stood the test of time—68 years, in fact. Lisa Keyes was thrust into the family business when her father died unexpectedly 10 years ago, but along with her mother Virginia, the two continue to grow and evolve Naturwood into a thriving company.

Probably the most significant change to Naturwood has been the store’s commitment to mine and leverage big data. “As big data is appended to our extensive customer data base we are actively revealing an extraordinary amount of information about our current customers,” Lisa Keyes says. “As a result, we’re rewriting and improving many of our marketing strategies as we learn more about not just who are customers are and their proximities, but more about what is important to them and how we can better serve them.”

That use of technology is also on display in the showroom where the Keyes continue to enhance floor displays with several point-of-purchase videos that portray quality and options that can now be more easily visualized by in-store customers. “We’re committed to using every piece of technology we have access to towards improving the experience of our customers and our relationship with them,” says Keyes.

 

Interiors Home, Lancaster, Pa.

Greg and Todd Lehman

Interiors Home was founded in 1969 as a small design shop in Lancaster, Pa., featuring contemporary furniture and interior design. Forty-eight years and 79 employees later, it’s safe to say there’s nothing small about the store.

Todd and Gregg Lehman took over the family business in 1985. Over the next 32 years, the company expanded and improved its Lancaster showroom three times to its current size of 70,000 square feet while also added a 35,000-square-foot warehouse.

In 2009 the company opened a second location in Harrisburg and in July of 2015 they relocated the Harrisburg operation to a new and improved 34,000-square-foot location in nearby Camp Hill, Pa.

Interiors Home has grown top line sales over 32 percent over the last four years with annual sales falling in the $15 to $20 million range.

Gregg and Todd have committed themselves to constantly growing their knowledge of the furniture business and industry, as well as contributing whatever skills and perspectives they could. From positioning Interiors Home as a design-oriented, better quality furniture store in a religiously conservative community of Lancaster County (known primarily for the Amish communities), to being an early adopter of “galleries,” to their current initiatives in developing e-commerce and social media, the Lehmans strive to be at the forefront of what’s trending in the both furniture styles and the way business will be done.

 

$10 Million-and-Under Nominees

Flamingo Furniture, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jonathan Mitrani

Flamingo has been selling furniture and accessories in New York City ever since Cuban immigrant Albert Mitrani opened the store in 1976. These days Mitrani’s son, Jonathan, runs the store, but little has changed. Flamingo Furniture still sells a vast assortment of furniture by several manufacturers from around the world.

Since its founding, the company has adhered to the same overall vision: To bring in new customers and maintain relationships with its existing customers. Flamingo does this by focusing on assuring consumers that the furniture they’re buying has value, and maintaining transparency with the company.

“Big-box stores tend to disguise value with display and certain name brands, and we see right through that,” Jonathan Mitrani says. “Today, we have an impeccable reputation for acting with high integrity and appropriate business ethnics that starts from the top and trickles down.”

 

Garrison’s Home Furnishings, Medford, Ore.

Brian Garrison

Brian Garrison was 29 years old when he decided to open his own home furnishings store—just young enough and crazy to think he could pull it off. It was 2007 and the country was about to slip into the recession. He had no experience running a store. He’d never even bought a piece of new furniture.

What he did have was 16 months working for his father’s furniture store and an unwavering determination to succeed.

Today, those first few years of sluggish growth seem like a distant memory. These days Garrison’s is thriving in southern Oregon thanks to the value it offers its customers backed by Disney-like customer service. “If you asked all 50 of our employees why we’ve been able to nearly double sales in three years, every one of them would tell you because of our customer service,” he says. “Every employee lives our mantra: We are not a furniture company that excels at customer service. We are a customer service company that excels at furniture.”

Garrison’s also succeeds because its message of giving back to the community resonates with its shoppers. In the 10 years since Garrison’s opened its doors the store has given back nearly $750,000 in donations to area charities and civic clubs.

 

Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture, Dallas

David Schweig

In a previous life, David Schweig sold high-end jewelry. Today he sells outdoor furniture, but little has changed. As owner of Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture in Dallas, Schweig is still racking up sales.

Both jewelry and outdoor furniture are products consumers purchase with discretionary income. They aren’t something a shopper needs, but rather wants. “This desire for wanting has enabled me to successfully overcome one of the biggest obstacles in retail selling,” Schweig says. “Customers want to shop with me, but they don’t have to. My focus for the past four decades has been to make sure the customer has an exceptional shopping experience.”

Back in the 1980s, Sunnyland was one of the first patio stores in the country to create lifestyle vignettes. In 2003, Schweig nearly doubled his showroom space from 21,000 to 35,000 square feet. Sunnyland also connected with outside partners including a pool builder, a landscape architect, a deck builder, a stamped floor décor company and a putting green company to create true synergy with realistic outdoor rooms and vignettes.

“This gave the partnering companies an outlet to bring their customers to show their products in a true-to-life setting,” says Schweig. It also allowed Sunnyland to show off its furniture.  “All of the outside partners complemented our product mix and each other with related products or services, but were also competing for the same customer and their discretionary dollar “wants.” It was a win-win for everyone,” he says.

Sunnyland has been winning ever since. Says Schweig, “In this challenging world of brick-and-mortar retail, I believe our foundation, business model, core values, business ethics, and integrity are the foundation that enables Sunnyland to continue to be profitable and to be successful for our family’s next generation and for the years to come.”

 

Swann’s Furniture & Design, Tyler, Texas

Elam and Franklin Swann

Swann’s Furniture & Design has served the residents of Tyler, Texas, for more than 120 years. In the early days, furniture would arrive at the store by rail car and leave for the customer’s home by horse- and mule-drawn carts.

Delivery by animal is now part of the company’s charming history, but what remains unchanged is Swann’s commitment to offering its customers the highest quality home furnishings at a fair price.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon for customers to walk in and regularly share stories with staff of furniture they purchased decades ago still going (and showing) strong in their homes.

The father-son team of Elam and Franklin Swann believe in making their success, not waiting for it to come to them. In 2012, when many home furnishings companies were trying to find their way through the recession, the Swanns were boldly moving into a new, bigger store in a different part of town.

Elam Swann says that philosophy of flowing while others ebb was imparted on him by a close business friend. “During our more challenging times,” he says, “we can gain market share with an aggressive business strategy.”

The new showroom in the center of Tyler’s fastest growing area is expected to keep Swann’s strong and relevant for another generation and then some. “This move will pave the way for the next 30 years and secure a future for my grandson, Elam Franklin Swann V, if he chooses to follow in his dad’s footsteps,’’ Elam Swann says. “We have no idea what challenges we may face 30 years out, but we do know the next generation will be an essential ingredient.”

 

Emerging Star

Emerging Star nominees are HFA members who’ve been in business for 3-5 years and stand out in one or more of the following criteria: philanthropy, technology, customer experience, mentoring, sustainability or store design/merchandising.

 

Bend UpStyle, Bend, Ore.

Andy and Keri Elliott

Andy Elliott has been his own boss since he was 19 years young. It’s all he’s ever known. Well, that and success. He started Bend UpStyle four years ago. At the time, Elliott’s inventory consisted entirely of older items or items that could be converted given a new purpose, or “upcycled.” After the first 18 months, the store was struggling. “We were on the ropes and heading out of business,” he says.

So, Andy and his wife Keri did what any successful retailer does: Recognized the need to change and put a plan in place. They shifted their focus to quality used furniture. From there they added new furniture and decor. The mix of new and used proved to be perfect for Bend. Since the change, the Elliotts have added a second retail location, a large assembly, and distribution facility and a dozen employees to the Bend UpStyle team.

Bend UpStyle knows the importance of appearances. The Elliotts designate stagers to change the look of the sales floor two or three times a week. “Shoppers love coming in to see the new look and often find pieces they previously didn’t notice,” Andy says.

The Elliotts believe in giving back to their community, too. In four short years, they’ve taught about 60 classes to community members on how to build and grow a business. “We’ve also taught at a local high school,” Andy says. “I work with our staff to learn each piece of our business so they can be in a position to start their own furniture store in another city or help us franchise.”

 

Furniture Divano, San Diego, Calif.

Alexandra and Codrin Coroama

It didn’t take long for Alexandra and Codrin Coroama’s impact to be felt at Furniture Divano. The couple began working at the store in 2015 with Alexandra handling the office work, customer service and all communication with the store’s partners while Codrin managed the store.

“Soon, we started to change things around, because we all know, change is good,” says Alexandra.  “We changed the store’s look, the overall style of product we sell, we looked for new manufacturers, signed new contracts and started fresh and exciting partnerships.”

The results were slow but steady. Today Furniture Divano has a loyal customer base and continues to grow in sales. The store specializes in selling American and European furniture and accessories to those who are looking for quality and affordability.

The store’s showroom is constantly changing as the result of a team effort. After main pieces are ordered and set, Furniture Divano’s team gathers and picks accessories to make a vignette whole or, as Alexandra puts it, “to give a sofa or sectional heart and soul.”

Alexandra says she doesn’t believe luck or secrets are part of success. “We believe in hard work, strong work ethics, and persistence. We believe in being honest and reasonable,” she says, “We also believe in being the best and try to reach that every day.”

 

Suburban Sit, Hudson, Ohio

Phil and Sherrie Bearden

Someone forgot to tell Suburban Sit a new home furnishings store needs to crawl before it walks because owners Phil and Sherrie Bearden have it all backwards. The Hudson, Ohio, store has only been open three short years and has already been recognized for its unique designs and furniture.

Phil Bearden says the community has embraced the store’s eclectic cross between Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, but it’s not just style that sets Suburban Sit apart from its competition.

The Bearden’s are big believers in leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience. Suburban Sit’s website is designed with the customer in mind. From store information to current products and trends, the site helps the customer get a better feel for the store’s unique style with the goal to drive them to the physical location.

Suburban Sit invests heavily in social media to stay connected with current customers and attract new ones from its target audience. Social media is another huge component they use to connect with their target audience. “Technology is one of our favorite ways to not only reach current and potential customers,” Phil Bearden says, “but it is also a wonderful approach to make the shopper experience easier and more enjoyable.”

 

Contemporary Living, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Cynthia Heathcoe

There was a time for Cynthia Heathcoe that life that could go either way—that is, forward or not at all. She was homeless and a single mother of six children with a newborn barely less than a month old.

“I was mentally, financially and emotionally broke with zero self-esteem or self-worth,” says Heathcoe. “It sounds like a made-for-TV drama, but sadly it was my reality.”

Eighteen years later, that time of uncertainty in Heathcoe’s life seems all the more remarkable given the success she now enjoys. Her store, Contemporary Living in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., continues to grow with each passing year as her reputation for quality contemporary furniture with old-fashioned customer service wins over more and more South Florida shoppers.

“Throughout my career in furniture retail I’ve witnessed the profits-first mentality which is a fundamental part of staying in business,” says Heathcoe. “But those companies often lack the social side of business. The human side of doing business will ensure that clients return year after year to a place they feel like family, a place they can trust and a place they feel at home.”

 

Habitation Furnishing + Design, St. Louis Park, Minn.

Greg Rich

Habitation Furnishing + Design likes to do things differently. While the industry, in general, has moved towards larger and larger footprints, Habitation, under founder Gregory Rich, believes the consumer has been looking for something different.

“In the 1980s, Banana Republic sowed the seeds that would eventually destroy the Department Store model,” says Rich. “Consumers had less and less time to wade through endless racks of merchandise that didn’t intrigue them. They wanted a more carefully curated selection of products that fit their lifestyle and offered them style and comfort with an assurance that they would be on-trend.”

Taking that line of thought, Habitation created a 7,500-square-foot footprint and brought in on-trend, functional merchandise that consumers knew reflected where the industry was going and what they wanted in their homes. But Habitation didn’t stop there. Rich integrated technology to expand its offerings beyond anything a big-box furniture store could offer.

He placed tablets around the store that linked to the store’s website and the store’s suppliers. Then he connected the tablets wirelessly to a pair of 65-inch monitors in the store’s design center. “Customers could zero in on particular products that they liked and work with one of our designers to open a literal world of options online,” says Rich.

Habitation’s innovation expands beyond the showroom. One of the most successful undertakings has been the development of “Habitats” or “Satellite Showrooms” in local apartment and condominium buildings. Habitation sells or leases entire apartments to management at deep product discounts but requires a substantial amount of marketing information to be displayed in each unit. Thus, a stream of consumers, who are actively looking for new homes, are exposed to Habitation products without ever entering the showroom.

 

Trailblazer

Trailblazer nominees are HFA members who’ve been in business for 20+ years and stand out in one or more of the following criteria: philanthropy, technology, customer experience, mentoring, sustainability or store design/merchandising.

Everton Mattress and Furniture, Twin Falls, Idaho

Steve Everton

In some ways, Everton Mattress and Furniture has undergone a sea of change in its business. In other ways, it remains the same. Steve Everton’s store continues to grow and serve its customers throughout Twin Falls and southern Idaho. But the company’s roots, while deep, have never spread far. Everton’s great-grandfather started the business in the Twin Falls Valley in 1925 and it slowly became a household name.

Everton is proud of the years of service his store has provided local shoppers, and even more, he appreciates how his community supports the store. That’s why Everton focuses a large amount of the store’s philanthropic donations to local organizations. It’s not just money Everton Mattress and Furniture invests in its community, but time, too.

Everton is the chief volunteer officer at the Twin Falls YMCA. He’s also the president of the Twin Falls Tennis Association and helps teach children how to play tennis. He’s an advisor for the Snake River Chapter of DeMolay, a youth organization for young men that emphasizes community service, and teaches members about patriotism. And the company is a major contributor to the College of Southern Idaho’s athletic department, the Twin Falls Humane Society, and other local organizations.

That type of involvement in the community doesn’t go unnoticed. “Fifty percent of our business is still word of mouth and referrals,” says Everton. “I think that means we’re doing something right.”

 

American Furniture Warehouse, Englewood, Colo.

Jake Jabs

Jake Jabs and his American Furniture Warehouse success story has been well-documented. Perhaps less well known is the commitment Jabs and his staff has towards helping all home furnishings retailers succeed. Jabs believes in the importance of being a good citizen of the furniture industry. That’s why he belongs to many industry associations, including the Home Furnishings Association.

Over the years, Jabs has worked with other retailers in round-table groups to discuss and share industry best practices. Every year he shares his wisdom at industry conferences around the country.

AFW hosts many tours of its facilities annually to industry partners and interested groups. Recent visits include the senior leadership team at Ashley Furniture Industries, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and the Next Generation Now members participating in the HFA’s Leadership Immersion Plan.

Jabs believes that giving back to education is one of the most important things that AFW does. Whether at the high school or the college level, he sets aside two or three days each month to meet with students and talk about entrepreneurship, marketing, and leadership. His gifts of both time and money have benefited hundreds of young adults from Colorado to Montana and Arizona.