DELPHOS — Family furniture store owners are battling box stores and furniture in a box.
While some in the region have lost that battle and are closed or closing, others are holding their own, promoting customer service and quality.
Crawford’s Furniture on North Cable Road in Lima closed recently, and Beckman’s Furniture in Delphos will close within the next month, as soon as the inventory is depleted, owner Joan Patthoff said.
However, Westrich Furniture in Delphos is expanding, and Lehmann’s Furniture in downtown Delphos and Heringhaus Furniture in downtown Ottawa remain strong despite challenges of cheaper competition and new obstacles from the Great Recession.
This is a big week in the furniture business. Twice a year, including once beginning Saturday, buyers head to North Carolina for the High Point Market, featuring exhibitors spanning categories, style and price point. The show attracts tens of thousands from more than 100 countries.
Jim Heringhaus relies on strong brands and a talented staff to run the store his grandfather established in 1907. The store markets quality products and the interior designer and interior decorators on staff.
“The big box stores have cut into the business of home furnishings considerably,” Heringhaus said. “You have to have a niche today. Ours is reclining furniture. We have the La-Z-Boy brand and sell an awful lot of it. But big boxes have cut into mattresses, carpeting, hardwood flooring, tile. A consumer is big on just going into those places and taking something home.”
Lehmann’s also sells La-Z-Boy, along with Flexsteel, said Marthanne Lehmann. The store was established by Lehmann’s mother-in-law and father-in-law and celebrates its 65th anniversary this year.
“I think it’s the products we have and the service to our customers,” Lehmann said of the store’s recipe for success. “It’s important to take care of your customers. I don’t want to buy something I can’t get serviced. It results in word of mouth; if you have good respect from your customers, they share that.”
Not far from Lehmann’s, Beckman’s Furniture will be open part-time until the inventory is sold. Patthoff’s great uncle helped start the store in 1906, and her grandfather joined shortly after. Her father also owned the store before it was hers. Beckman’s sold furniture, sewing machines and appliances. In the 1960s, it added departments selling drapery, window treatments and floor coverings.
Patthoff said her children are not interested in taking over the business, and she and her husband will close and retire.
“I think there's much more competition now,” Patthoff said. “A lot of places are handling furniture. People aren’t willing to pay a little more for something that lasts. But you do get what you pay for. It’s going to be very sad to leave these customers, many of whom have become friends. I don’t think people realize what small businesses do for a community.”
Heringhaus said his children and family members are also not interested in the business.
“I’m not by any means ready to hang it up, but yes, that’s a problem,” he said. “At the moment, I’m really fortunate to have staff members highly qualified in what they do.”
Heringhaus said the recession took a significant toll on the business, as potential customers decided they could make a sofa last another year or put off a renovation.
“It’s been a struggle, but we’re seeing a turnaround, finally. People are remodeling, and we’re seeing new home construction picking up. I think 2013 is going to be a better year for us.”
Lehmann said her children and grandchildren are helping with the business, and she said she thinks competition from any source is good for the business. The business draws customers from a 50-mile radius, she said.
“Most people who come into our store want a full service store. We have lots of repeat business, and we also get new customers every day,” Lehmann said. “We have a good spot on Main Street. We like being downtown, and we think it’s important to stay in business downtown."