Where failure is alien
Growing up, Bill Glenn always wanted to be a pilot. Fifty-one years later he’s still selling furniture—and loving it.
This is a story about Bill Glenn and his family-run furniture store in Roswell, N.M. At least it will be after we acknowledge the elephant in the room: Flying saucers. This is Roswell, after all, and no story about Roswell is complete without mentioning the crash.
Glenn is 68 and has spent all 68 of those years in Roswell. He was born in 1949, two years after a surreal headline appeared on the front page of The Roswell Daily Record newspaper. It said the military had captured a “flying saucer” on a ranch outside of town. The next day the Army abruptly corrected itself. Turns out a weather balloon had crashed, the Army claimed, not a flying disc.
Except it was too late. No longer would the sleepy little town of Roswell be known simply as the dairy capital of the Southwest. Driving home from his store, Glenn’s Furniture, Glenn himself wonders what happened on that summer night 70 years ago. A few years back he saw lights falling from the night sky and figured they were flares being shot out of a helicopter. Except a few minutes later those same lights rose from the desert floor.
“So, I guess I’m one of the believers,” says Glenn. “After the crash, airmen sifted through the dirt collecting all the debris they could for three days—three days! That’s a whole lot of trouble for a weather balloon. There’s just too many things that go on and have gone on not to think something’s up out there.”
The longer Glenn lives in Roswell, the harder it becomes to avoid trying to answer the question: Did an alien spacecraft really crash to earth all those years ago? Are we all alone in the universe? Does any of this even matter if aliens aren’t in the market for a sectional?
Fortunately, Glenn is too busy these days to ponder such otherworldly questions. Glenn and his sister Pat are co-owners of Roswell’s oldest furniture store. There are many reasons humans in Roswell can shop elsewhere—cities much larger and more cosmopolitan are not far away and there’s always the internet—but much like those alien rumors, Glenn’s Furniture isn’t going anywhere.
“I think people keep coming back to us because we’re dependable and we know what we’re talking about,” says Glenn. “We’ve been doing this for a while so we must be doing something right.”
Glenn never planned on selling furniture for a living—that was his father’s work. Glenn’s first love was flying. He earned his pilot’s license when he was 15 and hoped to one day fly commercial airliners. He was 17 and a freshman at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell when his father, Bill Sr., was killed in a trucking accident. His mother Gloria was badly injured and would remain in the hospital for two years.
Glenn had no choice. He dropped out of school to run the family store. A teenager running the store? Glenn’s 30 employees were skeptical at best; after all, his previous experience at the store was cleaning the showroom and bathrooms. But, as Glenn tells it, he wasn’t just mopping, he was multitasking.
“I was watching and listening whenever I was cleaning,” Glenn recalls. “I saw how my dad and a manager bought furniture. I listened as guys sold from the floor, I kind of knew how things worked in the warehouse. I wasn’t as inexperienced as some people might have thought.”
Glenn relied heavily on the company’s accountants to help him. He had some employees who tried to take advantage of his youth and inexperience, but he never let that deter him. “I got a lot of college education during that time, he says today, joking. “If you want to learn how to sell furniture, getting tossed into the fire like I was is the best way, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Glenn’s Furniture sold televisions, appliances and carpet along with furniture for its first 26 years before focusing solely on furniture in 1979. At the time, big box appliance and electronics stores were starting to make a presence nationally. “Everyone was selling electronics and the margins just didn’t work for us anymore,” he says. “When we moved to furniture it was the best move we ever made.”
Today Glenn’s Furniture sells “middle- to middle-high end” furniture as Glenn describes it. That means anything from Steve Silver to Largo, Legends to Bassett. Even though Glenn’s workforce has been reduced from 30 employees to five over the years, Glenn is convinced it’s the right five. In addition to himself, there’s his sister Pat, his daughter Melanie and two drivers.
Don’t let its small staff fool you. Glenn’s Furniture continues to furnish Roswell and nearby smaller towns. Glenn says many of those residents will drive to larger towns like Albuquerque or El Paso where there are three or four times as many furniture stores, but here’s the thing: Most usually come back to Glenn’s.
Maybe that’s because Glenn learned a long time ago it’s not so much the number of lines you carry, but the depth of the few you carry. Glenn’s Furniture has nearly 50 dining room sets and 30 recliners and loveseats.
“You can go to a bigger city and drop into three or four stores, add up all you see there and still not see as many recliners as we have here,” says Glenn, a hint of pride in his voice. “I think we make it worth your while to buy closer to home. But we don’t tell people that. They figure that out on their own.”
Unlike other stores in bigger cities, Glenn’s Furniture still clings to old-school advertising strategies. Glenn doesn’t use digital advertising or newspapers. He buys a little time on television and a lot on radio. The latter, he says, is his go-to advertising medium of choice. “You can tell when we’re on the radio because the front doors are opening and closing all day,” he says. “I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for us just fine.”
Glenn and his sister had worked as equals in the store for years until they brought in a new employee, Glenn’s daughter Melanie. Neither detected Melanie’s interest until a trip to Las Vegas Market. For years, Bill and Pat never attended a market until Glenn decided to go in 2010. “The more we talked about it the more we decided to make a week of it,” he says. “so, we closed the store and let everyone have the week off.”
Bill, Pat and Melanie spent the week at market. Melanie watched Bill meet with manufacturers and work his deals. Somewhere outside Winslow, Ariz., on the way home, Melanie popped the question: Would he mind if she gave the family business a shot?
“It made me proud hearing those words from her,” Glenn says. It also made him look smart when he gave her a chance.
Glenn says Melanie is a natural-born saleswoman. “You could tell she was listening to the manufacturers at market,” Glenn says. “When she talks to the customers she’s telling them everything she’ heard from the manufactures. She’s the most intelligent sales person I know. Customers want that knowledge, they want to be educated on what they’re buying and Melanie does that better than anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
That’s saying a lot for a man entering his 51st year selling furniture.
The addition of Melanie to the staff has not only improved sales at Glenn’s Furniture, it’s improved Bill Glenn himself. He says he’s able to get out more and do things away from his store. A few years ago, he was shopping in Las Cruces, N.M., when he happened to find himself in a Harley Davidson store. A few days later, Bill was riding home on an Electra Glide Ultra Classic. One of his favorite vacations was an eight-day trip he and his wife Sue took to Yellowstone.
“You’re just out there on the road and there’s nothing for you to think about,” he says. “No worries about what you left back home or the business, just what’s in front of you.”
Here Glenn gets philosophical. “A motorcycle or an airplane? They’re kind of like running a furniture store,” he says. “You can learn from what you did right or wrong, but you can’t worry about it. You just have to keep moving forward. We’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
What HFA Means to Me
The HFA is like an extra hand on deck. Whenever we’ve got a question or problem, I know I’m only a phone call away from getting that problem solved. It’s nice to know you’ve got someone looking out for your business that way.
Glenn’s Furniture, Roswell, N.M.