Back from the Brink

June 2017—

Josh Hudson took over the family business when it was on its last leg. These days, Hudson’s Furniture is running strong.

It’s 4:30 in the morning and the alarm on Josh Hudson’s phone by his bed goes off. Actually, it’s not an alarm. This morning it’s Tim Ferriss filling the darkness with insights into taking risks. Hudson is a fan of motivational speakers like Ferriss. On any given morning, he’ll wake up to them, speakers like Ferriss, Rich Roll, Craig Groeschel and others, but that’s not the point. While the rest of the Hudson family sleeps, he’ll read a few chapters of the Bible over breakfast before slipping out to the gym. But that’s not the point either.

Hudson is a CrossFit fanatic. He loves the rigorous workouts, the competition against fellow CrossFit addicts to see who makes the most progress that morning. There is a primal magic in going physically all-out in the small hours of a local gym with a dozen or so other people like you. It’s not just a sense of accomplishment, says Hudson. It’s almost like a victory, the way you feel when your team beats the other team. And wrapped within that early-morning victory is gratitude.

“There’s something about that competition every morning, every week that changes you,” says Hudson. “When I leave the gym, I’m in the frame of mind that there’s nothing I can’t do because look at what I’ve already done.”

And therein lies the point: By the time Josh Hudson returns home to help feed the kids and take them to school, he’s ready for his day as president of Hudson’s Furniture, a company that has undergone its own rigorous transformation in recent years. CrossFit isn’t just for the body, says Hudson. It’s for the mind, too. “There’s nothing you think you can’t accomplish,” says Hudson, the HFA’s Retailer of the Year for stores with annual sales of more than $10 million, “because the sun isn’t even up yet and look at what you’ve done so far.”

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In the spring of 2011, Hudson’s was in trouble. Sales were shrinking and the list of creditors was growing. Looking back, there were signs. Sofas and bedroom suites aren’t exactly hot commodities in a recession, and three months earlier the company closed its only North Carolina store. Before that, Hudson’s shuttered its four Atlanta stores. So it was hardly surprising when Hudson’s turned to the courts to seek protection and give the family business a chance to reorganize. But on the same day Hudson’s president Fred Hudson announced the company was seeking protection, he also announced Josh, his 28-year-old son, was taking over as company president.

Looking back, Josh Hudson can only laugh. “It was a crazy day,” he says. “Here we are telling the public and our employees we’re filing for protection and in the same breath we’re saying ‘Oh, by the way, this 28-year-old kid is our new president.’ ”

Josh Hudson remembers attending market in High Point shortly after the announcement. “The only people who wanted to be around us were liquidation companies,” he recalled. “It was that bad.”

To say Josh was a little anxious in his new job is putting it mildly. It wasn’t just that Hudson held the fate to all of the company’s employees in his hands, but the fate of the company as well. Hudson’s mother, Cathy, started the family business in Ormond Beach, Fla., in 1981 and it took off. At one point there were nearly two dozen Hudson’s in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. “This was their dream and now it was in my hands,” Josh Hudson recalls. “I wanted to be known as the guy who rebuilt the company, not the guy who let it fall. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do that.”

Turns out Josh Hudson was ready. He may not have known it at the time, but he was ready. He’d already interned at City Furniture, where he was the top sales associate during his 14 weeks there. Not the top intern, the top sales associate.

He’d already helped implement a delivery program at Hudson’s that ensured timely deliveries to Hudson’s newer, far-flung stores on Florida’s west coast without having to build a warehouse there. He’d already opened a distribution center in North Carolina in preparation for the company’s expansion in Atlanta.

Looking back, Hudson says there was no time to let doubt or panic seep in. “There was too much to do to think about the consequences,” he says. With the help of a consultant, Hudson went to work—sometimes 16 hours a day.

First, he scrapped his family’s long-time relationship with Broyhill. Hudson’s was once known as Broyhill by Hudson’s, a brand the company had spent years cultivating with its clientele. The company still sells Broyhill today, but Josh Hudson said he wanted to leverage the currency the family name had throughout central Florida.

Hudson’s Furniture was born and its new president was just getting started. Hudson added a new program to the company called Value Plus, which focused on three services: free delivery, a free protection plan and a hassle-free exchange policy.

Hudson says the three-pronged approach to Value Plus was to help assuage some shoppers’ fears about the store. “People were nervous shopping at a store that just filed for bankruptcy,” he says. “At the time there was a lot of commotion out there and we wanted to do what we could to settle folks’ fears.”

Hudson also pushed for more accountability throughout the chain, from the moment the customers walked into the store to their interaction with sales associates to final delivery. Everything was tracked and measured.

Hudson is something of a tech geek. He’s never far from his Samsung Note 5. When he and his twin brother Adam, the vice president of Hudson’s, tour their 17 stores throughout Florida they do so in a chauffeur-driven van that allows them to work in the back on their laptops. He’s used technology to monitor traffic counts and patterns, purchases, deliveries—and tries to see the macro and micro picture of his business from the culled data. “It’s something that has always fascinated me, the collecting of the data and then trying to connect the dots,” says Hudson. “I don’t think furniture stores do enough of this and it’s so prevalent in other areas of retail.”

Hudson implemented a new sales process with each store responsible for incremental sales growth, but he didn’t stop there. With expectations in place, he went out and recruited more sales people, selling them on the idea that Hudson’s was a business where you could make a career—not just a temporary gig until the right sales job came along. He backed that pitch by offering additional training to his sales staff.

Store managers became store coaches, helping develop not just their sales staff, but everyone in every department. “If you are a Hudson’s employee you know what the minimal expectations are and that our managers know they’ll be held accountable,” says Hudson. “Some people were turned off by that and left, but most embraced our way of thinking and have really thrived.”

The new Hudson’s leverages a matrix system to track each store’s growth. Nothing is left to chance. The company now measures everything from total sales volume to sales in individual product categories—even a sales associate’s closing percentage.

The company also tracks measurements from the customer’s perspective, which Hudson says can be more revealing than any of the other measurements.
From sales growth to customer service performance, Hudson’s breaks down each aspect of its retail experience from the customer’s point of view. Here’s how it’s done:

After every delivery, Hudson’s asks its customers to complete a short survey. They save the most important question for last: “Would you buy from Hudson’s Furniture again?” When a customer says ‘no’, the company reviews the survey to tease out what went wrong and determine if there’s a pattern in the company’s system that needs to be addressed.

Hudson says many times the negative responses can be attributed to poor communication on the company’s part. These days Hudson’s employees “over-communicate” to clients, says Hudson.

The ‘yes’ responses are seen as satisfied customers. For the ‘no’ responses, Hudson’s breaks down the individual questions to discern any commonalities that resulted in a less-than-desirable experience and moves to improve the breakdown.

“When you think about all the employees a customer comes in contact with at a furniture store—especially on a special order—there’s a lot of opportunities for a breakdown on our end,” says Hudson. “We look for those different spots in the journey where the communication could break down and make sure they are taken care of.”

The new system is winning over new customers every day. A year after filing for protection with the courts, Hudson’s saw a 20 percent increase in sales. Granted the bar was low that first year given Hudson’s weak position, but the company has since tripled the size of its business.

“We’re in a good place now,” Josh says, only to have his CrossFit mentality kick in. “But you know what? We can always do a little better tomorrow.”

Hudson no longer works those 16-hour days. Not with four kids at home. He runs a lot—especially triathlons—and enjoys motocross with his oldest son. “There’s an adrenaline rush you get on a bike that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s a nice feeling.”
And the feeling of saving the family business?

“Not quite the same as running or riding,” he says. “It don’t know about the adrenaline rush, but after every day it’s just as satisfying.”

What HFA Means to Me

We love to share ideas and connect with other people in our industry and the Home Furnishings Association allows us to do that through its education programs, the Retailer Resource Centers in High Point and Las Vegas and the Networking Conference. The HFA motivates everyone who takes advantage of its services and sends us to work charged up.

Josh Hudson
Hudson’s Furniture, Sanford, Fla.

Josh Hudson is the 2017 HFA Retailer of the Year in the over $10 million in sales category.