Insights: Southern Ohio & Kentucky | Business Spotlight | Fall 2017

Furniture Fair: an honest company

Furniture Fair builds a family legacy through honesty, integrity and professionalism

Rick Daniels, CEO, Furniture Fair
By Heather R. Johnson

Tune into WLWT Channel 5 in Cincinnati on any given day and you’ll likely see an ad featuring 6’6” former Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Munoz towering over a “vertically challenged” Ed Hartman, the face of Cincinnati’s Furniture Fair.

The two have starred in commercials together since 1992, making their Furniture Fair skits the longest-running commercial duo in the Tri-State area. However, the relationship between Munoz, who heads the Anthony Munoz Foundation, and locally grown Furniture Fair is relatively new when compared to the bonds built within the 54-year-old company.

Founder Robert “Bob” Daniels grew Furniture Fair from one 7,000-square-foot store in Erlanger, Kentucky, to nine successful Cincinnati-area locations. His sons, Rick, Steve and Bill Daniels, and daughter, Jenny Wynne, serve in executive, and, in Wynne’s case, interior design roles. Following in their footsteps are Rick, Steve and Bill’s six sons, all eager to take Furniture Fair well into the 21st century.

Having so much family working together requires taking extra steps to maintain harmony among both family and nonfamily member employees. Furniture Fair has established clearly defined roles and shows family-like concern for every employee, creating a positive atmosphere for everyone.

“We treat all of our employees like family,” says President Bill Daniels. “That extends out to treating our customers like family, as well.”

Furniture Fair building

Family values

Steve Daniels, vice president of Furniture Fair, oversees the company’s warehouse. Bill Daniels, as president, heads up buying and merchandising. And as CEO, Rick Daniels headed the company. However, he recently transitioned the role to Bill, as he's begun planning for retirement.

The values Bob Daniels instilled in his sons, as well as the principles under which he built Furniture Fair, influence how they do business. Furniture Fair calls its customer service department the customer care department because of its desire to keep customers happy, and the same two women have run the department for more than 15 years.

The Daniels team also lives and works by the “HIP” rule — Honesty-Integrity-Professionalism — and encourages employees to do the same.

“That’s what our dad taught us, and that’s how we guide our employees,” Rick says. “If you live by the HIP rule, you can work hard on the business and sleep at night.”

Bill Daniels worked at the store through his teens and rejoined the company after college, when his father had retired. Although he didn’t work much directly with his father, he remembers his father’s sayings that he’d use with his children, employees and even vendors.

“He’d say, ‘I’ve got good news for you, son. You’ve only got to work half a day: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,’” Bill says. “That’s looking at your glass as half full. A lot of people work eight to 10 hours and think, ‘What am I missing out on?’ We always felt when we work a 12-hour day, we’ve still got half a day left. Work is only work if you don’t enjoy yourself.”

Bob’s other memorable line was, “I have confidence in your ability.” The Furniture Fair founder used this line when a flustered employee couldn’t find room for a piece of furniture. “His mentality was that if you work hard enough, you’ll find a way to get it done,” Bill says.

Rick, Bob’s oldest son, recalls his father’s integrity as a business owner. “He always said, ‘Paying the bills comes first,’” Rick says. “And make sure you set an example for other people and treat them with respect.”

Bill (whom Rick jokes will never retire) learned from his father’s dedication. His first job at Furniture Fair was mowing the lawn at age 12. While attending Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, Bill ended up working at — where else — a furniture store. “I figured that was destiny, to go away to college and end up working in a furniture store,” he says.

Rick Daniels, CEO, Furniture Fair

Smart and steady growth

Keeping the bills paid, and keeping them to a minimum, has helped Furniture Fair steadily expand from one small store to several well-appointed Tri-State locations and a new distribution center and warehouse. Furniture Fair carries dozens of established brands such as Simmons, Tempur-pedic, Bassett, Corinthian, Holland House, Magnolia Home and many others.

“Our father was very conservative,” Bill says. “Rick and Steve take the same approach. We have very little debt and we are cautious. It has to be the right move for the right reasons at the right time.”

Furniture Fair recently hired a CFO, Steve Gotschal, to oversee the company’s smart and steady growth.

Huntington helped Furniture Fair through the latter part of the warehouse expansion, from 20,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet over several years. “We’re very pleased with Huntington,” Rick says. “Dan Walsh has been our relationship manager for over 10 years. He knows our needs well.”

By keeping its debt ratio low and expansion slow and steady, Furniture Fair also survived the Great Recession without much loss. “Our goal was to keep as many people as possible,” Bill says. First, the company cut overtime hours. Two years later, as the recession persisted, Furniture Fair made voluntary cuts. “Steve met with everyone in the warehouse and asked if anyone would take a voluntary layoff,” Bill recalls. “We wanted to see who could afford to take a layoff first. That’s something family does for family.”

As the economy recovered, Furniture Fair refocused on its steady growth, gradually opening stores in Oxford, Tri-County and Western Hills, Ohio. It also hired a software engineer to develop a proprietary customer follow-up system to help salespeople nurture leads. The system, which works on an iPad, allows the sales team to enter customers’ interests and contact information and keep in touch through the various stages of the buying process.

Salespeople can alert new and prospective customers to private sales, keep current customers updated on a product’s shipping status and build a rapport with ongoing customers. “Your home is never complete,” Bill says.” If we find common ground in the initial buying process, it’s built in future sales.”

Train skills, hire for personality

Meeting customers’ needs lies at the forefront of almost every Furniture Fair decision, especially when hiring employees. The employer looks for personality and adaptability, as well as a Daniels-style work ethic.

“We have training programs for everything from answering the phone to sales,” Rick says. “We have a two-and-a-half-week sales training program so people can understand how to help people the way we feel they want to be helped. We don’t do the hard sell. We give customers the opportunity to look.”

The Daniels family also recognizes that you can train for skills, but not for personality. They seek out candidates who already have the friendly nature Furniture Fair customers expect. “We use the 10-foot rule — when a customer or employee comes within 10 feet, you smile and say hello,” Rick explains.

Today, a new generation plans to continue Furniture Fair’s success story. The Daniels’ sons currently work as store and warehouse managers, in IT and as a buyer. “They’re measured on the legacy of my father, and they’re certainly up to the task,” Bill says. “With their support, I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

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