From Home Furnishing Business
On the Bright Side
Dunk & Bright builds on its long-storied foundation to secure its future.
By Daniel Beaird
When Bill Dunk and Bill Bright founded Dunk & Bright in 1927 on South Salina Street in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse, N.Y., they likely didn’t imagine the furniture showroom growing into New York State’s largest 88 years later. But today it’s considered just that at nearly 100,000 square feet, according to Jim Bright, grandson of Bill Bright and current owner of Dunk & Bright.
A furniture salesman from Bridgeport, Conn., co-founder Bill Bright moved to Syracuse with the dream of opening his own business. That’s where he met and served co-founder Bill Dunk and his wife on the floor of Brown, Curtis & Brown, a furniture store in downtown Syracuse.
Dunk, an Englishman who moved to the United States as a teenager and worked up to production manager at H.H. Franklin, a car company in Syracuse, was so impressed with Bright that he encouraged him to go into business for himself and agreed to back the furniture store.
And Dunk & Bright was born.
Bright ultimately paid Dunk $5,000 for his share of the business, and owned and operated the store until his death in 1939. Bright’s brother-in-law John Monahan took over the business until his death in 1952, and Bright’s son, Pat Bright, then became president, running the store for 41 years.
A New Generation
Pat’s son, Jim Bright, returned from a successful business career in Washington, D.C., and New York City, worked for his father for three years and in 1993, purchased Dunk & Bright from him. He still operates the store today.
“I went to the bank, borrowed money and purchased it from him,” Bright said. “There are four other siblings, and he wanted it to be a fair transaction for the rest of the family.”
The store now encompasses the entire corner of South Salina Street and Brighton Avenue in Syracuse after a total of 50,000 square feet of additions from 1991 to 2006. Dunk & Bright also operates a 1 million-cubic-foot distribution center in Liverpool, N.Y.
The South Side Innovation Center (SSIC) was also born and sponsored by Syracuse University in 2006 in Dunk & Bright’s building across the parking lot from its main store.
“It is supporting an entrepreneurial renaissance in a neighborhood with untapped potential,” Bright said. “It holds more than 13,000 square feet of usable space for shared business services, the WISE Center and a large classroom for training and teaching.”
SSIC was created by the nationally ranked Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) Program at the Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, and it aims to accomplish its mission through its resident programs.
Access to these programs include the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program (EAP), supporting clients and tenants of SSIC; the WISE Women’s Business Center for women seeking to start or grow a business; the Syracuse Community Test Kitchen (COMTEK) to help food entrepreneurs launch businesses; and the Start-Up NY/Program for Investment in Micro-entrepreneurs (PRIME) supporting disabled and low-income entrepreneurs with training and assistance.
Dunk & Bright’s space accommodating SSIC includes reception and administration; 27 offices with furniture, computers, Internet and telephone access; two conference rooms with whiteboards and audio-visual setups; a large meeting event area; a 30-seat classroom and training room; a 500-square-foot kitchen; a resource room for mail, fax and copies; mail receipt; free parking; 24-hour availability and access; and 24-hour security and surveillance.
Dunk & Bright’s involvement in the Syracuse community helps it reach the 75-mile radius it uses to promote the store.
“We continue to use most media channels, deploying traditional media as well as digital advertising and social media,” Bright said. “Offline seems to drive online.”
Bright added that the furniture store’s new e-commerce division has contributed to its sales growth this year.
“We are willing to try any and all digital platforms to test their effectiveness,” Bright said. “These are changes that help us run our business better and reach new customers and geo-target and target certain demographics in a less expensive way. You can try things to create a new advertising campaign, and in the digital age it’s much less expensive than television where you have the cost of production.
“We want customers to know about us, even if they’re more than 10 to 15 miles away,” Bright said. “We can market to Ithaca (N.Y.), for example, with Google AdWords and it’s a pittance to opening a second store there.”
Bright says they want to enhance what it does without disturbing their core, however, which lies in its selection and interior design services.
Building on Bedding
Dunk & Bright has recently expanded that core in its bedding department. Its new, in-store Mattress Shoppe has its own identity, its own entrance, its own advertising and a stronger focus on the mattress category, working with key vendor Serta to feature iComfort, iSeries, and Perfect Sleeper.
Jim Bright was recognized for his leadership in supporting the creation of the Mattress Shoppe with an award from an industry publication earlier this year. Erin Donaghy, Dunk & Bright’s marketing director, was also honored at the conference for a music video saluting Serta’s adjustable bedding.
“Opening the Mattress Shoppe in store [this past] January has been a success,” Bright said. “Our market has been solid and stable the last few years, and this year we are enjoying a nice double-digit percentage growth bump.”
Bright added that the store’s breadth of product selection, both in store and online, and its in-home interior design and custom order expertise sets it apart from other home furnishings retailers in its market.
“Our large display and selection gives us the opportunity to merchandise ‘good, better, best,’ and generally, we have a goal of stocking everything that we display,” Bright said. “We have one store with a lot of selection.”
Dunk & Bright’s management team talks about its cost of inventory regularly given such a large store.
“There’s been an evolution in the furniture industry of imported furniture,” Bright said. “Because of our selection, we carry domestically made furniture that you can custom order. There’s a starting price point in furniture. There’s a median price point and there’s expensive. We try to have that range.”
The trend toward offshore sourcing during the past decade means buying containers of furniture for Dunk & Bright.
“They’re very good value,” Bright said. “But we need to purchase a whole container of bedrooms, for example. We give the consumer choices of super-value container imports and of domestically made furniture. So, that leads to very high inventory.”
Design at Your Service
Meanwhile, half of Dunk & Bright’s sales staff is comprised of experienced interior designers.
“We offer this complimentary service,” Bright said. “We go to the home. We do a floor plan. We help put fabrics and finishes together. We have the ancillary categories that complement a completed room, like window and wall treatments, blinds and floor coverings. It doesn’t cost the customer anything. The customer doesn’t have to purchase everything, or anything for that matter.”
Bright thinks the decision to focus the retailer’s attention and investment on interior design services approximately five years ago was a big one.
“A lot of furniture stores have abandoned those aspects of the business,” Bright said. “They might have had a carpet department and got out of it because it’s a different selling process. You need installers, and you need to go to the home and measure carpet. You can’t just sell it like a sofa in the store.”
Bright says the same thing happens with window treatments.
“Hiring interior designers and encouraging them to do in-home floor plans for customers,” Bright said. “There’s an investment associated with that. For one thing, they’re out of your store and you have staffing issues. You need to think of that. When designers are out of the store, you have to have coverage.”
But Bright adds that his management team is under one roof, so when there is a problem or an opportunity, they can bring in their buyer or their specific manager.
“We’re all on the floor,” Bright said. “We’re all communicating constantly with customers. It’s very important to make sure the customer has had a good experience, especially in today’s social media environment. It’s more important what your customer says about your business than what you say about your business.”
Dunk & Bright
Headquarters: Syracuse, N.Y.
Year Founded: 1927
Footprint: A nearly 100,000-square-foot store in Syracuse, N.Y., and a 1 million-cubic-foot, high-bay modern distribution center in Liverpool, N.Y.
Key Vendors: Ashley Furniture, England, Flexsteel, Harden Furniture, Serta and Smith Brothers
Retail Revenue Range: $10 to $15 million
Key Management Personnel: Jim Bright, owner; Bill Flansburg, merchandising manager; Erin Donaghy, marketing director; Gary Cleveland, sales manager; and John Beaudry, distribution center manager