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Cedar Grove Furniture: Selling to Generations
Posted 12/15/2005 06:00 AM

Store adjusts to market changes while maintaining customer service.

Story by Sandy Kerns

CEDAR GROVE -- Like the ideal design marriage of form and function that many furniture buyers desire, Cedar Grove Furniture has found the balance between providing traditional service and adjusting to a rapidly changing market.

Numerous furniture retailers once populated the Kanawha Valley: the Diamond, Dondale, J C Penney, Sears, Stone & Thomas and Woodrum's to name a few that no longer are in the furniture business. Those full-service businesses made it possible to outfit an entire home in one store.

"Customers could purchase appliances, carpet, draperies, TVs and other electronics, air-conditioners and fans, as well as furniture, under one roof, but the growth of specialty stores offering such goods over the past 10 years has forced one adjustment," said Don Henry, owner of Cedar Grove Furniture since 1976.

While furniture stores now are dedicated primarily to furniture only, not all furniture store sizes have dwindled. With 25,000 square feet of showrooms and 14,000 square feet of warehouse, Henry puts to practice his belief that "if you show more, you sell more."

"That's the name of the game," the Montgomery native said. He believes his large stock of inventory sets Cedar Grove Furniture apart from other local stores.

While custom pieces are available through special order, buyers have a $2 million inventory available for immediate delivery, which satisfies today's generation that is used to instant gratification.

Another challenge facing traditional furniture stores such as Cedar Grove is the influx of less expensive, privately labeled imports now on the market, a result of recent economic downturns and globalization.

Henry explained that while yesterday's generation sought to purchase quality furniture that would last a lifetime, customers today are buying less expensive merchandise. Today's consumer, he said, is more price-driven and attuned to what retailers term "price points."

Even so, Henry has his own theme: "It's cheaper to buy quality. My theme is quality at discount prices."

Still, attracting customers is the first order of business. Cedar Grove Furniture successfully uses a mix of circulars, billboards, newspapers, radio and television advertising in the Beckley, Charleston and Huntington areas.

Knowing where to advertise is important.

"We advertise almost everyday during the 'Martha Stewart Show,'" Henry said. Cedar Grove Furniture carries Martha Stewart Signature, a partner with Bernhardt Furniture.

Henry estimated one-third of the store's business comes from Putnam County, one-third from the Charleston area and the remaining third from Beckley, Summersville, Oak Hill, Fayetteville and Boone County.

Cedar Grove Furniture has used a Web site (an advertising tool designed to draw younger customers) for one year.

While the business advertises on Google and sells merchandise out of state, Henry said the Web site is most often used by local customers who preview items online, telephone the store to see whether they are in stock and then visit the store.

"We get a lot of calls from people looking at our site, but not many people buy furniture online," he said. "Furniture, they have to feel it. They have to see it."

Another challenge to attracting younger customers involves economics.

"It's more difficult to attract younger people because they are looking for price," according to Henry. He said he believes Cedar Grove's 36-month free financing has been helpful in attracting new customers.

Although furniture stores no longer carry their own accounts because of the expense of doing so, most have financing arrangements with various lenders. Cedar Grove Furniture's 36-month plan allows those on a budget to still buy the quality furniture their parents did.

Forming long-term bonds with customers is important to Henry and his staff. Repeat business has been a significant factor in the store's success.

"Some customers tell me, 'Our entire home is furnished with furniture from Cedar Grove,'" he said.

Henry's repeat business includes second-generation customers, a benefit of a longstanding community presence.

Cedar Grove Furniture, established in 1948 by Sam Farha as a discount furniture store, continues to do well. It has nine full-time employees and more than $2 million in annual sales.

But traditional multi-line furniture stores will continue to face challenges both nationally and locally. Furniture prices are expected to increase as a result of increased energy prices. When consumer confidence declines, so do big-ticket purchases like furniture.

Competition within the industry will increase. U.S. furniture manufacturers are expanding into retail to recoup profits lost to imports by opening "dedicated" stores. Consumers are familiar with La-Z-Boy and Ethan Allen stores, but others are joining them. For example Bassett and Broyhill have opened single-brand furniture galleries in larger markets.

Henry is realistic about the local economy.

"All counties around us have lost population," he said, but he has noticed an increase in local residential home sales. Those sales eventually translate into furniture purchases, and he expects sales to increase. He sees a "pent-up demand for furniture."

Copyright 2006 West Virginia Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


 March 13, 2006

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