From Home Furnishing Business
On Bedding : Going the Extra Mile(s)
Here’s one you probably don’t hear often: Imagine a store that, when it doesn’t have what a customer is looking for, refers them to a competing retailer.
That’s exactly what Martin’s Town & Country Furniture, a longtime seller of bedding and furniture based in Canby, Ore., does. It’s one of the many ways the retailer will go the extra mile to ensure that customers are well taken care of, whoever they ultimately end up buying from.
“We don’t want to close the sale today and give somebody something that might not be what’s best for them just to get a few dollars in the till today” said Martin’s owner/president Neil Martin. “We want to get something that’s right for them, and if we don’t have (it), we’ll look it up online and find where they can get (it).”
This philosophy pays off in the long run, he added: “They’ll remember that. They’ll remember the honesty, and, I think, the integrity, and come back and see us when they do have something that we can help them with. So those are the long-term relationships that we’re trying to build and keep going for generations.”
Runs in the Family
Generations are something Martin knows about—he’s part of the third generation of Martin family members to work in the Canby store, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.
The business actually began in 1947, when Martin’s grandfather Walter opened his first Martin’s Furniture and Appliance Co. store in Molalla, Ore. During his daily commute to and from his home in Canby, a plot of property in his hometown caught his eye. He bought the land, and in October of 1963, a new store, Martin’s Town & Country Furniture, opened.
Walter’s son Robert joined the business in 1965, as did his brother Neil eight years later. When the store’s longtime delivery person retired in 2000, Robert’s son, also named Neil, joined the family business, which he now owns. While the Mollala store has closed, the Canby location continues to serve the rural community of Canby and its surrounding area.
Martin’s is a full-line furniture store, but the company has done well with bedding by keeping its offerings in this category sharply focused. The retailer has carried Sealy for, in Neil Martin’s words, “as long as I can remember,” but added Tempur-Pedic in 2004.
This has been a successful move, in Martin’s opinion: “It’s a good line and we’re happy to have it. Everybody seems to be really, really happy with their purchase. We’ve had two comfort returns in the last five years and one was not really a comfort return—it was just a size return, the twin was too small and (the customer) wanted to go to a full. The other, the fellow was commenting that he loved the bed, thought it was very comfortable but he was just having a little difficulty turning. So I said, ‘Why don’t you come in and try that new Tempur-Weightless collection—it’s like your Cloud Supreme on the top; it just has that Tempur Float layer in there.’ So we switched him out and he called a few days later and said ‘It’s perfect—exactly what I was looking for.’ We’ve had a couple of switches in the last five years, but they haven’t switched to another brand in the line.”
Going the Distance
Martin takes the concept of “going the extra mile” literally. Not only does the business offer free delivery on beds and other furniture, but Martin and his co-workers have been known to go great distances to take care of customers.
“We’ve had deliveries that were over 250 miles one way,” Martin said. “A lot of the deliveries that are farther out are maybe people that live closer but have a second home in central Oregon over the coast. But it’s not uncommon to have folks from 30, 40 or 50 miles out come in because they’ve seen an ad or heard about us from a friend. They come in and give us a shot.”
While shoppers may come from far and wide, Martin still attributes much of his store’s staying power to his loyal, local customers.
“We have a real supportive community,” he stated. “It’s not really big—maybe 16,000 people. We’re just about halfway between Portland and Salem, about 30 minutes from either. It’s just a little community here, but there are a lot of outlying communities, at least another six or seven ZIP codes within a 15-mile radius, so we have a pretty big area that we service here.”
Tradition is important to Neil Martin, and his fidelity to his family elders influences his store’s bedding sales approach.
“There are really only five people who have worked on the sales floor in the whole 50 years,” he recalled. “We’ve never had any commissioned salespeople on the floor. I think that creates a different approach right there, because we’re not worried about getting a sale today. If we don’t and (the customer) comes back tomorrow or a week later, maybe (another staffer) gets a part of that. … It seems like the different positive comments we get about the store are related to the fact that they can come in and look around, do their research; we’re here to answer their questions but there’s not pressure. So when somebody walks out and doesn’t buy something, I don’t look at that as any kind of failure or lost opportunity. If we’ve done our job, we’ve answered their questions and had the time to get to know them a little bit … I figure when they’re ready, they’ll be back. I really think our ‘be-backs’ are somewhere around at least 50 percent.”
This care and respect shown for consumers doesn’t just occur in the store—it also is the way Martin’s does business in customers’ homes.
“When we deliver a bed, we often vacuum the floors when we pull the old mattress set out, help them clean up,” Martin said, “because it might be another 10 or 20 years before they get under there again. Any little thing that we can do to help them get that (good) feeling—many stores used to do this naturally, but it’s harder and harder to find customer service at the level that we try to maintain. … So I really don’t see much competition in the way of stores like us. There are other stores that sell the lines that we have. … But with our service, and with our (low) prices—my (family owns) the building and property, so our overhead is very low, so all things considered, it creates an unusual business model.”
The Next Generation
Is there another generation poised to carry on taking care of Martin’s customers in years to come?
Neil Martin may have a few contenders: “I have a four-year-old son and a newborn son about a month old. We’d love to see this go to a fourth generation. … Certainly, once I got here and got to know more about the business, and then take ownership in it, it’s something I take a lot of pride in. … I feel grateful and blessed to have the opportunity to be here.” HFB