Southern Furniture Direct owners bank on experience at Rock Hill shop

dworthington@heraldonline.comApril 21, 2013 

— Recently an older customer walked into Southern Furniture Direct in the Winthrop Commons shopping center on Cherry Road in Rock Hill and seemed pleased with what he saw.

The store was “full” in the language of furniture. Not only was it well stocked, but there were a variety of brands and accessories.

Southern Furniture Direct owners Kurt Marine, David Ivey and Mary Ann Kelley waited, hoping the reaction would mean a sale.

But instead of sale, Marine, Ivey and Kelley got a story. The man told them that when the shopping center opened more than 50 years ago this location had been a furniture store. Their new venture meant the location was coming full circle.

They’re taking the full-circle story as a good sign because they hope their story will make Southern Furniture Direct the No.1 furniture store in Rock Hill. Combined, the trio has more than 50 years of experience in selling furniture to residents of the region.

“We are the hometown faces that people have trusted for years,” Kelley said.

Marine worked for Berry’s Furniture for 19 years, many of them as its manager. Tony Berry opened the furniture store in Rock Hill in 1991, moving it from Lancaster where his father started in 1971. The store closed in 2010.

Ivey worked 15 years for Tinsley Furniture, started by Drenner Tinsley in 1984. The store also closed in 2010.

Kelley worked for Shore Furniture, started by Dickie Shore in 1967. Kelley worked there for 26 years.

Shore’s sold appliances in addition to furniture and Kelley said it wasn’t unusual for a customer to call minutes before closing on a Saturday, needing a refrigerator as theirs had just failed. A new refrigerator was loaded on the truck and at the customer’s home that afternoon or night. Shore’s closed in 2010.

The closing of three family-owned furniture stores was, in part, based on the slumping economy. But it’s also a trend in the industry. Just this past week, Baker Furniture Company of Gaston County, N.C., announced it was closing after 64 years in business.

Marine and Ivey worked together briefly at Name Brand Furniture, which took over Berry’s locale on Dave Lyle Boulevard. The store closed after two years when the building was sold.

“it is a crazy time to start a business, it’s a scary time,” Marine said.

They hope the lessons learned from 50+ years of experience will keep them in business.

One, they don’t have a warehouse. Their inventory is what you see on the floor.

Two, they don’t deliver, but they will recommend people if you can’t take the furniture yourself.

Three, they buy from dealers who they’ve had a relationship with for decades. When the need inventory, Marine and Ivey rent a truck, get up early in the morning and pick up what they’ve ordered. That saves them the 18 to 20 percent delivery charge, they said.

The three are the owners, the accountants, the customer relations department, the inventory control specialists, the advertising and marketing staff, and they stage their own store. And, if a light needs changing or the trash taken out, they do that to.

Most of all, they like to sell.

The result is an operating expense that’s their rent and utilities, their inventory, their ad budget and their time.

They hope the result is competitive prices. Sofas and loveseats range between $699 and $1,119.

If a customer wants something they don’t see, the trio said they’ll find a way to meet that need. If it’s a question of color, they likely can work with the manufacturer and order it. If a customer wants a specific fabric and specific frame, they can do that too. But a custom order carries a 50 percent down payment and up to an eight- to 12-week wait.

Most of the current inventory is more casual in style. Motion furniture, where people can kick back and relax, is big now, Ivey said. As the fall holiday approach Marine said they will have more traditional styles, including some dining tables and chairs. People still like to entertain family and friends during the holidays, he said.

Customers should also see a casual style from Marine, Ivey and Kelley. No suit, no ties, just polo shirts and jeans for the guys. “People look for that,” Marine said. When you’re talking to someone in a jacket and a tie, “it’s like you’re talking to a preacher,” he said.

They promise no-pressure sale tactics.

The store has been open six weeks and the trio reports an increase in number of customers who stopped in for a price quote and are now returning to buy.

While success will be measured in sales, the trio see signs people like what they’re experiencing. They hope that experience translate into sales.

As proof of their success, Marine dug into wallet and pulled out a small piece of paper, containing an even smaller, hand-drawn smiley face. The smiley face was the gift of a four-year who came to shop with his mother and five siblings. The six children were well-mannered when their mother shopped, Marine said.

The mom eventually bought furniture, but for Marine, the symbolism of the smiley-face gift was more precious.

“That what we want this store to be, a place that people can leave feeling good,” he said.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •  dworthington@heraldonline.com

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