BILTRITE Furniture – Leather – Mattress announced that it is celebrating 90 years in business and, with the 3rd and 4th generations of ownership actively involved in the company, has plans to celebrate many more. The family-owned retailer is operating very comfortably in the black, unscathed by other independent furniture businesses, big box stores or online retailers like Overstock, Amazon and Wayfair. And, while the company has a web presence, it doesn’t sell products online, a rarity for a retailer in today’s market.
Five members of the family representing the 3rd and 4th generation of owners work in the business. They are 3rd generation husband-wife team of Marty and Gail and their daughter Randi, son Brad and daughter-in-law Sarah. The business was founded in 1928 by Irwin Kerns (Marty’s grandfather) who opened a store on 3rd and Garfield to sell the custom made sofas that he built. That was the year penicillin was invented, Mickey Mouse made his debut, fur coats cost around $30 and oak dining tables were less than $50.
Times have changed. Fur coats are thousands of dollars and it’s hard to find a used card table for $50. Big box and online retailers are undercutting smaller retailers with storefronts so much so that many are going out of business. Not so with BILTRITE. Since moving to its current location in Greenfield in 2006, the business has seen yearover-year growth, operating a high volume single store with an above industry average sales per square foot percentage.
The family attributes the health and longevity of the company to several factors, including: a culture that nurtures work-life balance; customer-friendly service with a personal touch; a paid-off property and debt-free inventory; buying power through a furniture coop; and a sprawling showroom with plenty of options in category-dominant areas including living room, dining room, bedroom, recliners, liftchairs, and mattresses. Custom options at affordable prices round out the formula for success.
BILTRITE is closed on Sundays so employees can be with family. (The store does open five Sundays each year for holiday weekends including: New Year’s Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Black Friday.) The intentional move to close the store Sundays was a group decision, made at family dinner Easter Sunday in 2016.
While at the table, the discussion turned to how nice it would be if the family could get together and share meals on the weekend (the store was closed that day due to the holiday). After much discussion about the pros and potential pitfalls, Marty made the executive decision that they would make it work. It was an easy decision for him: Just earlier that year at age 62, he had gone through a bad bout of pneumonia. He spent time recovering realizing that now a grandfather, he had spent little time with his own children as they were growing up. By closing on Sundays, Marty wanted to make sure that his children and employees had quality time to spend with theirs. Plus, he wanted to enjoy his grandchildren. A child himself when he started in the furniture business at age 12, Marty’s been focused on BILTRITE for more than a half-century.
Marty said, “Our competitors told us we would be out of business within a year when we announced the Sunday store closing.” The opposite happened: Sales revenue went up 7% the following year and prospective employees were attracted to the retailer due to the company’s reputation as being family-focused. Marty attributes the sales growth to customers’ appreciation for the gesture and grateful employees working efficiently.
The family-friendly work environment has encouraged Marty’s daughter Randi and daughter-in-law Sarah to remain heavily involved in the business while taking care of their own families. Gail, Marty’s wife, is also at the store most days. Of the five family members working in the business, 3 are women, Randi points out, suggesting that a women’s touch can have a major impact in an industry which has historically be dominated by men.
All 3 women family members work on the floor of the showroom. And all have additional responsibilities as well. Gail manages the store and office staff, oversees human resources and is involved in design projects; Randi is spokesperson for the store and is also responsible for sales and marketing, manages the sales team and assists with overseeing the office staff and human resources, in-store displays, social media and is involved with design projects; Sarah trains new sales associates, assist with managing the sales team, leads design projects and helps with social media. Brad is head of operations, manages the warehouse staff and is in charge of mattress buying; and Marty is President and CEO of the company and works with Randi with all sales and marketing and heads up the buying for inventory along with input from Gail, Randi and Sarah.
Think the opposite of IKEA when you think of BILTRITE furniture. BILTRITE’s products do not come in a box, there is no assembly required. The affordable, better quality furniture is mostly made in America much of it by Amish builders in Ohio.
Factory-built products arrive to their warehouse either wrapped in blankets by Amish builders or are fully boxed. Unlike their competitors who skip steps and do not open, inspect and assemble (non-assembled items), BILTRITE does all that to ensure every item is received in good condition before leaving the warehouse. If an item is picked up by a customer, it is still fully inspected by our professional technicians on staff rather than being given to their cutomers in a box. If the customer chooses white glove delivery, the items are blanket wrapped on the delivery truck and set up in the customer’s home. If a customer purchases a new mattress and boxspring, both the mattress and boxspring are brand new, factory fresh and sealed in plastic at the factory.
When then company decided to relocate in 2006 to Greenfield to have a larger showroom and be more accessible to more customers, it conducted a thorough search for the best location. The family wanted to own the building, be visible to a freeway, and offer ample parking. The business had outgrown its store on Mitchell Street, which the family had owned since 1948. It was time to expand and reach new and old customers. A parcel just off of I-43 and I-894 filled the bill. The family helped design the 65,000 square foot furniture showplace and warehouse at 5430 W. Layton Ave. with customers in mind. According to Marty, what was to be a 20-year mortgage was paid off in 9.5 years. An important note is that BILTRITE has always and will aways own its entire inventory debtfree.
Through membership in Furniture First, a cooperative of furniture retailers throughout the company which Marty helped found, BILTRITE is able to negotiate prices as it would if it were a much larger company. The buying group’s merchandising programs offer members rebates, discounts, exclusive merchandise and private labels, which help members improve margins and stand out from the competition in their local markets.
BILTRITE’s team also participates in conferences hosted by Furniture First, gaining access to best practices and selling strategies.
For fans of furniture and design, a visit to BILTRITE’s showroom in Greenfield is a little like a trip to the Wonka Chocolate Factory for candy lovers. The variety of sofas, dining tables, sectional sofas, Amish-built furniture for every category of the home, recliners, desks and mattresses is impressive and fun to walk through. Signage, lighting and smart placement of furniture categories enhance wayfinding for visitors. A receptionist welcomes customers, offering to answer questions and provide directions. Employees are attentive and respectful, not hovering.
The store offers good, better and best options in all furniture categories. If a desired item is not in stock, BILTRITE has the ability to custom order an item, allowing customers to select from fabric, leather, wood, finish and hardware. Typically, two or three family members are in the store at all times. On Saturday or a busy holiday weekend, all 5 are always working.The interaction with customers has helped BILTRITE stay on top of customer needs and product offerings.
Walking into the store, a visitor will see a bright blue mid-century design sofa sits near the front of the showroom on the left. On the right side of the showroom a ways back are Amish-built oak writing desks and in-between sit about 130-some various recliners— a variety of pieces indicative of a business that knows its customers.
For more information, visit www.biltritefurniture.com #buylocal