Turns out you can go home again. It just takes a lot of hard work to rebuild your family furniture store. Just ask Trevor McAllister.
Looking back there were clues. No sirens or flashing blue lights, just subtle cues that maybe the retail furniture business wasn’t going to be so easy. The first clue came when Trevor McAllister, clipboard in hand, was taking inventory of one of the three stores he and his wife had just inherited. “I swear there was furniture on the floor and in the warehouse that looked like it had been there for years,” he says. “It was just sitting there without any markdowns or sale tags or anything to suggest we need to move this. It was as if, after all these years, they thought somebody was going to walk in and buy it.”
The second clue came in the form of “Not for Sale” tags on several items throughout the store. Turns out McAllister’s mom, Lin Jenner, grew accustomed to some pieces and couldn’t bare parting with them.
“Never mind it’s sitting on the showroom floor,” McAllister laughs. “It wasn’t for sale—and it wasn’t the only piece that wasn’t for sale. There was an ugly giraffe (statue) that had the tag on it. When we took it off, someone bought it for $500.”
On and on it went. Clue after clue: Indifferent employees, no purposeful advertising campaign, rundown stores.
The McAllister saga reads like one of those beach novels that pepper the sand every summer. Middle-class Trevor breaks away from his hometown and family business, making good with his life in a new city. There’s ambition, success, hope, frustration—but ultimately the tug of family and one’s roots come into play.
Jenner’s Home Furnishings has been a part of Fort Mohave, Ariz., for years, but the store had seen better days. “My parents thought they were running stores, but, really, they were running the stores into the ground,” says McAllister. He and his wife Kasey can look back on those days and laugh given how far the three stores—Jenner’s Home Furnishings, Jenner’s Mattress & Bedroom Gallery and Jenner’s Outlet & Clearance Center—have come in the past year. Today the stores have fresh inventory, a fresh staff, and fresh paint to go with the company’s fresh start.
McAllister knew there would be a learning curve. You don’t leave a successful career as a hair stylist in Portland, a city with a population of 640,000, to sell furniture in Fort Mohave (pop. 14,364) without making a few mistakes along the way. “I can’t tell you how many mistakes we’ve made,” says McAllister. “But we never felt the decision to move was a mistake. That was important. We were always confident we could make a go of things and turn the business around.”
McAllister had one thing going for him. Experience. Well, sort of. Before heading off to college, opening his own salon and eventually teaching others how to style hair, McAllister was part of the family furniture business.
His stepfather and mother, Ron and Lin Jenner, opened Jenner’s Home Furnishings in 1989. McAllister remembers as a child attending swap meets with his parents, who were looking for old furniture to spruce up and flip back at the store. He helped with deliveries and repairs, but never really embraced the business.
He remembers attending the now-defunct San Francisco furniture market with his stepfather and thinking there was no way he wanted selling furniture to be a part of his future. Time, of course, changes all of us.
Ron Jenner died in 2015. At the same time, McAllister’s mother was ill, meaning McAllister was living two lives: One in Portland with Kasey, and the other tending to his mother in Arizona. He purposely stayed away from the family stores until one weekend visiting his mother he dropped by the main store, Jenner’s Home Furnishings, because, as McAllister puts it, “I was bored.”
That boredom led to an eye-opening experience. “There was no process for anything,” he recalls. McAllister described his stepfather as stubborn and set in his ways. “Everything was done his way or get out of the store, and it showed,” he says. “There was no process for anything because how things got done was decided by what mood my stepdad was in.”
McAllister also found several bedroom suites that couldn’t be sold because the sales staff had broken up the set, selling off a single piece rather than the entire set. “It left them pretty useless unless we marked them down big, which we had to do,” he says.
And then there was the staff itself. “A lot of them weren’t really what I would say invested in the company doing well,” McAllister says. “They just seemed to be going through the motions to get a paycheck.”
McAllister looked around and knew his parents’ business was in trouble. Within a few months he and his wife knew what needed to be done so they moved to Fort Mohave. McAllister is quick to agree that hair styling and furniture are two different businesses. But he adds they do have some similarities.
“You’re still in a very customer-centric business,” he says. “As a stylist, you have to be concerned with what your customer wants with their hair. How is that any different from what they want when it comes to decorating their home with furniture? You need to talk to them, find out what they want. You need to listen and give them what they need.”
When it came to changing things around, Trevor and Kasey didn’t know where to start so they plucked the low-hanging fruit first, giving each of the stores a much-needed makeover and a thorough cleaning out of the warehouses.
They brought in consultants to help them get a better grasp of inventory—what was selling and what wasn’t. They joined the Home Furnishings Association and enrolled in the HFA’s buying group. “The buying group will pay for membership several times over,” he says. But it was dealing with the employees that proved most tricky.
Many of the staff were longtime employees. Trevor worried how they might react to the impending changes. “You can’t force people to change,” he says. “But in many areas, we needed to change.”
McAllister said he tried to be respectful to the employees who had been there for years. “They had ideas. Some were good, and we’re using them. Some were not so good, but the important thing was we listened.”
As a hairdresser, McAllister said he’s worked in places where new management came in and tried to shove their way of thinking down the collective throats of those who had been on the ground working tirelessly every day for years.
“I didn’t want to be that guy. The guy who guts the staff and keeps on going,” he says. “I did my best to get them to buy into our belief system. It was more like, ‘Hey, follow me on this. We’re going to try things a little different. Some might work, some might not and we’ll learn from it. But the important thing is we’re going to do this together.’”
Some employees, confronted with so much swirling change, left on their own. Those who stayed, says McAllister, are better employees. “Either they cracked and left or they pushed through to the next level,” he says. “I’m proud of everyone who stayed with us. We’re better for going through everything we’ve gone through. That includes me.”
McAllister knows there’s a long way to go for Jenner’s. And yes, there’s been a time or two he’s had second—even third and fourth thoughts—about moving his wife 1,100 miles to start a new life trying to jump-start an old business.
But he’s also been too busy to dwell on that. His to-do list is several pages long and grows by the day. His next big project: After measuring and monitoring traffic through his stores, he’s realized he needs to hire more sales associates. “That’s a top priority for us, making sure we’re meeting the needs of everyone who walks through our doors and not telling them, ‘I’ll be with you in a minute.’ Nobody likes hearing that.”
It helps that Jenner’s has built up a lot of currency within its community. Residents of Fort Mohave have been regulars at Jenner’s for years. McAllister says longtime employees talk about the customers who show up every few years looking to redecorate a room. “It helps that we’ve built up a lot of goodwill with the community, but that goodwill will only last so long. We need to return the favor by giving them excellent product and service. I’ve got a vision of what I want to do here. It’s slowly starting to take shape.”
He also knows he has a small window to get to where he wants. Kasey is expecting—twins girls!—in October. “I try not to think too much about everything we still have to do,” he says. “It helps that I have reps who come in and tell me, ‘Look at everything you’ve done so far!’ That’s what keeps us going.”
What HFA Means to Me
We knew we had to get into a buying group so my wife started researching them. It didn’t take long to figure out the Home Furnishings Association came out on top. Its list matched at least 80 percent of our vendors—by far and away more than any other buying group. So, it started with the rebates but then we saw all the education available for us. The Retailer Resource Center, Lunch with Leaders and the Leadership Immersion programs have really helped us improve business this year. Those three benefits are going to make us smarter and more profitable.
Jenner’s Home Furnishings, Fort Mohave, Ariz.