Selling Furniture with Grace

Every strategy Bill Grace employs at Grace Furniture revolves around one question: Will it serve the customer?

April 2018—

Grace Furniture has served central New York for 78 years by putting the customer’s needs first. It’s the only way Bill Grace and his team know how to work.

The world according to Bill Grace goes something like this: Everything around us is forever changing. Politics. Economies. Philosophy. Even retail furniture. Heck, especially retail furniture. None of that change to the industry matters if you treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.

“Respect,” says Grace. “People want to be treated with a little respect. I mean, who doesn’t want to be treated like they’re important? Like what they think and believe matters to others? That’s what I believe. I really believe it.”

And so, five days a week, 82-year-old Bill Grace wakes up turns on the TV where his competitors shout out $399 sofas and 60-month financing—and quietly heads to work, where he and his employees do their best to do make their customers feel respected.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T…find out what it means to be Grace and his team who have been winning over customer after customer at Grace Furniture in Marcy, N.Y., for more than a half century.

Ever since Grace Furniture opened its doors in 1940, the family business has thrived. Grace says shoppers in central New York are loyal and eagerly return the next time they need a new sofa or dining room table, provided you treat them right the first time. “When someone comes up to me and says they need a new bedroom suite because they loved the old bedroom suite they bought from us 30 years ago—30 years ago!—I just love that,” says Grace. “That tells me we’re doing something right by others.”

Grace Furniture can trace its humble roots back to when Frank and Estella Grace decided to sell furniture and appliances out of their two-stall garage. Electricity was starting to reach more residents of Marcy, a small town 50 miles east of Syracuse, and Bill’s parents were eager to take advantage. The family store was actually the family garage crammed with sofas, tables, and appliances.

When the war started, Frank hooked up with a furniture maker in Brooklyn who could supply him with sofas made with metal springs—unheard of given scrap drives during the war made the metal all the more precious.

The business grew. Frank Grace never told his son he would one day take over the company. Looking back, Bill Grace said it was an agreement that went unspoken. So, Bill spent afternoons after school helping with deliveries and attended a two-year-college to prepare for when the year came he would take over.

That year was 1960 when Frank Grace died unexpectedly. Bill helped his mother in the store before taking over a few years later. Grace Furniture has changed over the years. The store no longer sells appliances and carpet. They leave that to the big boxes. But where furniture is concerned, Grace hasn’t backed down to anyone.

Sure, the company’s strategies have changed. Grace years ago gave up on promotional furniture and now sells higher-end lines such as Hancock & Moore, Harden, Universal and Bradington Young. “We want to be able to stand by what we sell down the line,” he says.

While some local furniture stores offer 60-month financing, Grace Furniture sticks with 12 months (though Grace says he is toying with extending that offer to 18 months). Still, Grace Furniture is committed to slugging it out with the big boys. “We’re always telling our customers we sell quality over financing,” says Grace. “If your furniture doesn’t last after four years, what good is it to still be paying on it?”

It all goes back to service.

“That’s where we have an edge,” says Grace. “That’s where a lot of smaller, family-owned stores think they have the edge, but are they really using that service to their advantage? We think we are.”

Here it should be noted Grace Furniture is heavily invested in its online presence. The company also has an extensive marketing plan to get loyal customers back into the store sooner than every 30 years. They have a healthy mix of print, radio, television and internet advertising. But to hear Grace tell it, those strategies take a back seat to the one-on-one experience his customers get when they walk into the store. In the world according to Grace, employees know that the company’s number one way of producing traffic is by treating each customer like she is the only one in the world. “That’s the way mom and dad handled customers,” says Grace. “I don’t know any other way.”

Grace Furniture offers free in-home consultations for consumers. Sales associates will meet the homeowner at their home, take measurements and offer their design ideas back at the store. Grace said he doesn’t have hard evidence, but he feels his happiest customers are those who take advantage of the in-home design service. “The house calls help give us a better idea of what they’re looking for,” he says. “Plus, I think people have a better idea of what they want when they’re standing in their own room.”

Grace says the decades-old shift to overseas manufacturing has made it hard for higher-end furniture stores like his to carve out a niche. “The imports have brought down the price points and when you do that you’re going to have to bring down the quality,” he says. “We have people coming in expecting the lower end furniture they’re seeing or hearing about to be the same quality their parents got and that’s just not realistic.”

Grace instructs his staff not to bad mouth the promotional furniture, but rather to accentuate the furniture at Grace. “Talking badly about the competition only makes you look bad,” he says. “Besides, we don’t need to do that. We focus on telling the consumer we sell quality and long-lasting life. We show them the coil-spring construction and how it will last a long time as opposed to chip core and rubber straps and zig zag springs. There’s a way to sell your furniture without tearing down the competition.”

Bill and Barbara Grace have five children. And while all of them have helped out during the half century that Bill and Barbara have run the store, only one of them (June, their daughter) remains part of the family business today. Two grandkids, Cassie and Mike are still around to help carry the Grace name into the future.

Not that Grace himself is leaving anytime soon. He enjoys the new challenges of figuring out the splintered media landscape and how that will affect the store’s advertising. He knows that the retailers who don’t embrace technology are the retailers who will be relegated to history. “I’m not ready to be part of history,” he says. “I’m having too much fun coming to work. Not a lot of people can say that, but it’s true for me.”

What HFA Means to Me

“The Home Furnishings Association is about education—whether it’s through RetailerNOW or the seminars at market. The leads they give us keep me up to date on the industry and how to make my store better. This year I’m going to make the time to watch the webinars. There’s really some type of education the association offers every month for every size retailer.”

Bill Grace, Grace Furniture, Marcy, N.Y.

Years in business: 78
Employees: 17
Furniture Lines: Hancock & Moore, Harden, Universal, Whittier Wood, La-Z-Boy and Bradington Young
Store size: 22,000 sq. ft.