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Frontier Spirit

By Home Furnishings Business in on May 1, 2013

A focus on bringing a fashion and design orientation to middle price points and making shopping there a family tradition has meant steady growth of Montgomery€™s Furniture.

The fifth-generation family business just opened its third and largest location, a 60,000-square-foot store in Watertown, S.D., which joins existing stores in Madison and Sioux Falls.

€œWe aren€™t the biggest stores, the biggest operators in the market, so our approach is to keep that family way of doing business, that family atmosphere,€ said Clark Sinclair, who owns Montgomery€™s Furniture along with wife, Connie, son, Eric and daughter-in-law Neala.

€œWe€™ve kept it different by spending a lot of time on displays and accessories at all our stores. We look for unique, fashionable fabrics and accessories. The bigger stores in our area concentrate on high-volume prices and looks, so we merchandise away from them. Our niche is to do the things they don€™t want to do, which involves looking for something a little more on the fringe, a little younger. We try to stay a little more on trend.

€œWe constantly search for the kind of products that aren€™t safe enough for the big boxes, so we give our customers a completely different experience.€

Montgomery€™s Watertown and Madison stores carry middle price points, while the Sioux Falls caters to a higher-end customer.

€œA lot of our sales people are degreed interior designers with a lot of years of experience,€ Sinclair noted. €œWe have a very stable staff that€™s thoroughly qualified to go into the home and help consumers with complimentary design service.€

That€™s for all three stores, not just the higher-end Sioux Falls location. It€™s in-home design service at very accessible price points. Stability among the sales staff€”indeed, all levels has been key€”and Sinclair believes it€™s because the company gives its sales/design staff the support they need to do their job.

€œWe feel we€™re providing an opportunity for them to run their own business,€ he said.

€œThey don€™t have to clean the store or buy for the store, that€™s all done for them. We give them a lot of latitude to do their job.€

More than half of Montgomery€™s 85 employees are in supporting roles to the sales staff: €œWe have all the support people€”cleaning, delivery, customer service,€ Sinclair said. €œIn some stores, the sales staff has to clean up, handle customer service.
€œWe make our own draperies in-house, so the designers can work with those accents with customers in the store.€
The store€™s Web site highlights its design service with designer profiles; and a room-planning tool is front-and-center on the home page.

The business dates back to 1888, when the Dakotas were still a territory.
€œGeorge Montgomery was a cabinet maker from back East who came out as far as the railroad went,€ Sinclair said. €œHe stopped at the end of the line.€
Montgomery set up as an undertaker and furniture dealer. His son took over the business along with a son-in-law, the latter of whose children formed the third generation of management.
€œThe two sons were partners, and one of those sons was my father-in-law, so I am the fourth generation,€ Sinclair said.
The other brother also had a son in the business, but the two brothers split up their partnership, which included two stores at the time.
€œMy father-in-law sold my wife and I the business in Madison 25 years ago,€ Sinclair said. That was 10 years after he€™d begun working at Montgomery€™s.
Seventeen years ago, Montgomery€™s opened a location in Sioux Falls, an hour south of Madison, which carries step-up price points.
€œWe had two small locations (in Madison), an old downtown location with three floors, kind of hard to work with; and a discount store on the edge of town,€ he recalled. €œWe closed those and opened a new, 40,000-square-foot location 10 years ago.€
In February, Montgomery€™s opened its largest store yet, 60,000 square feet in Watertown, an hour north of Madison. That location carries the same mid-price selection as in Madison.
€œWith Watertown, we€™re well located along the state€™s eastern border,€ Sinclair said. €œBy the end of the year, we want to feel we€™re running on all cylinders there. We bought for it last (High Point) Market, and we€™ll fill any voids.€
Watertown has a lot of synergy with the Madison  store.
€œWe€™re advertising and merchandising the stores the same for more efficiency,€ Montgomery said.
With those two stores carrying similar product, Montgomery€™s now has the volume to order containers for these locations.
€œWe€™re also going to carry patio furniture in all three stores,€ Sinclair said. €œWe€™ve been buying patio furniture in containers for the first time this year, since it€™s for all three stores.€

In his 35 years at Montgomery€™s Furniture, Sinclair€™s management techniques have evolved as the business has grown.
He said it€™s far different running a single store with four employees€”including himself€”to overseeing three locations with some 85 employees.
€œI used to manage by my gut when we were small, but now it€™s all statistics,€ Sinclair said. €œWe have a monthly meeting just on metrics€”floor covering issues, perfect deliveries, sales, inventory levels€”with each store€™s management team.
€œWe€™re looking at how to measure lots of different things€”we€™re going to institute a better way to track traffic.€
Montgomery€™s membership in a performance group through Impact Consulting Services has pushed that along.
€œThe performance group really helps with that because now we€™re comparing with our peers,€ Sinclair noted. €œWhen we see we have one of the lowest fabric treatment sales levels, we can figure out how to improve on that.€
The stores are moving to iPads, integrating them into their systems so sales associates don€™t have to go to a computer when helping customers on the floors.
€œIt€™s part of providing the tools they need,€ Sinclair said. €œThere€™s a lot of training and effort that goes into the tech side of our business.€
Montgomery€™s also is shifting resources into e-marketing initiatives.
€œMy son is new-generation, so he€™s really involved with this,€ Sinclair noted. €œHe was a rep with Rowe for five years, seeing retailers of all sizes. Eric also belongs to a local group of young members of family entrepreneurial businesses.€
Regarding promotion, he added that the business is fortunate to be located in a where television advertising is affordable.
€œAs we€™ve grown, we€™ve been able to do more€”that€™s our biggest vehicle,€ Sinclair said. €œWe also do newspapers, and we like local glossy magazines, because of the quality of the image we can show. We€™re getting more involved in e-marketing and a little bit of direct mail and radio.€
The selling tools, the design orientation and the good working environment serve a goal that€™s never changed.
€œOur customers just expect more out of us in terms of quality and service,€ Sinclair said. €œWe want to be the place to go if you want something fashion forward.
€œI know of customers who are third-generation since I€™ve been doing this.  We depend on those people. There aren€™t enough people in South Dakota that you can count on a lot of new people coming in.€ HFB

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