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Woolsey Fire just misses Agoura Hills furniture stores

By Doug Clark, HFA

The fire jumped over the highway and went straight up the mountainside, Julian Jeppe said Wednesday, recalling the harrowing experience of living through another natural disaster in Southern California.

HFA members Jeppe and his wife, Dru, own Reeds Furniture, which has stores in Agoura Hills and Oxnard. The Woolsey Fire spread over nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, destroying hundreds of structures and causing three confirmed deaths. It was 57 percent contained Thursday, state authorities said.

Reeds’ Agoura Hills store was spared by no more than a quarter-mile, Jeppe said. When he returned after a mandatory evacuation last weekend, the area was still smoldering and smoke had infiltrated the store, “but nothing terrible.”

The story was much the same at nearby Pacific Patio, General Manager and HFA member Theresa Elkins said Wednesday.

“We were under mandatory evacuation,” Elkins said. U.S. 101, the main highway through the area, was shut down and her store was closed for four days – Nov. 9-12.

Well, officially it was closed Monday. She had the front door open to air out the building – “it was really bad, the smoke in the store,” she said — and “a couple of customers came in! One made a $10,000 purchase.”

Reeds also saw customers, despite the chaos, Jeppe said. “It may have been a release factor to come in here and do something positive for themselves.”

Many others, sadly, were in no position to shop. The fire put thousands out of their homes and left their lives in ruins.

“Our heart goes out to many of our customers who were hurt,” Elkins said. In the case of some who ordered furniture before the fire, “you don’t know if they have a house to deliver to.”

And it’s very personal. “Our customers are like family to us,” Elkins said. “They were calling us to check on us and we were calling them.”

She expects to lose sales for the next couple of months while clean-up throughout the area occupies most people. Then the business, owned by Ruth and Michael Adler and established just five years ago, will address the question of “how do we help our customers and help them rebuild,” Elkins said. That process will include offering significant discounts to those who need assistance.

Jeppe said the same will be true for Reeds, which has been in business since 1960. “We’ll offer discounts six to nine months or a year from now when they’re rebuilding.”

Both Elkins and Jeppe mentioned another tragedy that took place at the same time as the fire only a few miles away in Thousand Oaks – the murders of 12 people, including Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus, at the Borderline Bar & Grill the night of Nov. 7. It’s all been hard to deal with, Jeppe said.

Photo of Woolsey Fire

Photo of Woolsey Fire in Southern California

Even as fires were spreading across several parts of California, employers couldn’t forget some basic responsibilities, CalChamber wrote in a Nov. 13 notice. Businesses are obligated to make sure their employees are safe. Smoke is one threat to people who work outdoors.

“Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health,” CalOSHA, the state’s occupational safety and health agency, said in a news release Nov. 9. “The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles in the air, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.”

This could affect employees who load, unload and deliver furniture. Employers must take steps to limit exposure or provide respiratory protection.

Elkins bought a carton of masks for employees and didn’t resume deliveries this week until workers had them. She is aware of the poor air quality because her son’s school, which is just behind her store, is closed until after Thanksgiving.

The CalChamber release noted that employees whose health is adversely affected by wildfire smoke may be entitled to paid medical leave. They also may be entitled to limited unpaid time off if their children’s schools are closed because of fires. If a business is forced to close because of an emergency, as Pacific Patio and Reeds were, exempt employees are entitled to a full week’s pay if they worked any part of the week, while nonexempt employees must be paid only for actual hours worked.

Businesses across the country face challenges when natural disasters strike. The past year has seen devastating hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes destroy homes and businesses. Home furnishings stores are not immune. If they come through unscathed, their customers and employees may not. In addition to other concerns, employers must calculate worker pay and benefits in unusual circumstances.

Federal law — the Fair Labor Standards Act — also requires employers to pay exempt workers their full week’s salary if they work part of the week and the business is forced by a natural disaster to close for the rest of the week. If the business remains open, however, and an exempt employee does not report to work, the absence may be assessed as personal, unpaid time. Hourly, nonexempt workers are not required to be paid for hours they don’t work.

Reeds faced those tough issues but was accommodating, Jeppe said. Even when the store opened, some employees couldn’t get to work because of road closings and other hazards. Some worried that if they did reach the store, they wouldn’t be able to get home again. Flexibility is sometimes required, especially when natural disasters like wildfires are all too frequent.

“It’s kind of something that Californians take in stride,” Jeppe said.

Still, it’s good for employers to set clear procedures before the worst happens.

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Spiller Furniture turns 70, stronger than ever

By Robert Bell
 

To outsiders, Tuscaloosa, Ala., is known for its barbecue joints and national football champions, but where local residents are concerned, there’s an even bigger landmark.
 

For 70 years HFA member Spiller Furniture has been a fixture in this college town, furnishing homes and dorms and slowly growing its footprint in other parts of the state and Mississippi.
 

“Doing anything for 70 years is tough, but selling furniture in this day and age? That’s really hard,” says HFA member Shane Spiller, the third-generation owner of Spiller Furniture. “But as hard as it is, I enjoy the challenge.”
 

Spiller Furniture has 14 stores—11 in Alabama and three more in Mississippi. The company, which opened its first store in 1948, employs 115 people. And while Spiller in-house credit program has bred a large sense of loyalty from thousands of customers over the years, Spiller attributes his company’s current and future success to a book he read a few years back.

 

In “Traction” author by Gino Wickman writes that business owners often try to do too many things at once. Not only do they pile too much on their plate, they pile too much on their manager’s plate as well.

 

Spiller said the book helped him focus on the 10 percent of time he has available for strategic activities. He said the book helped him understand how to run effective meetings, why every employee needs a big project, and why all employees need to focus on a metric they can influence.

 

 

About that last one: Inspired by the book, Spiller and his managers met a few years back to discuss the company’s core strengths and how to use those to grow business. The group filled a legal page with company strengths before whittling it down to about six.
 

One of those strengths was employee engagement. “We knew we had some really good employees working for us, but that we could do better,” says Spiller. The management teams came up with five key characteristics that every Spiller Furniture employee needed to not only possess, but exceed in:

 

1. Dedicated and committed.
2. Accountable
3. Takes initiative
4. Does the right thing
5. Open & honest
6. Good attitude

 

“You’re really only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” says Spiller. “There are so many reasons for people to buy furniture online or from a competitor. We needed to make sure our employees were not one of those reasons.”
 

Managers went back to their stores and began working to instill those six qualities in employees. To be fair, many of the employees were already meeting the goal. “But there were some we needed to counsel,” says Spiller. “We needed them to see that they could be doing better. Most of them embraced the change, but some of them we had to part ways with.”

 

It’s safe to say the business looks a lot different from when James E. Spiller Jr. opened his store in 1948, selling used furniture in a 140-square-foot space. Not quite the 85,000-square-foot central office that houses a showroom and warehouse but it was a start.

 

Over time the store gathered its own traction and grew. At the age of 65, when most people are retiring, Mike Spiller, James’ son, took over the business in 1982.
 

Shane, Mike’s son, joined the company and became its president in 2004. When Mike retired in 2012, he turned everything over to Shane, a former HFA Retailer of the Year.
 

The Spiller stores now provide a full line of home furnishings, electronics and appliances, as well as a complete service department to handle furniture repairs. Name brands carried at the stores include Ashley, Best Chairs, Hughes Furniture and Symbol mattresses.

Membership Tip – The advantage is . . . YOU!

The independent retail owner has an advantage over the “big box” or big regional chain and there is power in knowing it and using it.
The advantage is . . . YOU!

As the owner of your retail business, nobody can be you, the owner, the caller of the shots, the “buck stops here” person. You determine how you want customers to be treated and when you want to change course. That’s a powerful position to be in. So here is a quick course in Customer Service. You already know this and it’s not new to you, but it may be “packaged” in an easier to use way.
 
The 10 most important words: “I apologize for our mistake. Let me make it right.”
The 9 most important words: “Thank you for your business. Please come back again.”
The 8 most important words: “I’m not sure but I will find out.”
The 7 most important words: “What else can I do for you?”
The 6 most important words: “What is most convenient for you?”
The 5 most important words: “How may I serve you?”
The 4 most important words: “How did we do?”
The 3 most important words: “Glad you’re here.”
The 2 most important words: “Thank you.”
The 1 most important word: “Yes.”
 
From the book 180 Ways to Walk the Customer Service Walk.
 
-HFA Membership Team
Our only business is your success.
We are here to help, so make a call to (800) 422-3778, option 1 or email us.

Membership Tip: Telephone Calls are Ups, Too – Don’t Waste Them!

Callers are customers, too.

You’ve given thought to how customers who come in your store are to be greeted and cared for while in your showroom, but what about the potential customers who call your store?
 
While a lot of information gathering is done electronically, there are still people who will call your store. You need to give some thought to or revisit how telephone calls are handled in your business. To determine how much needs to be done, call your store. You may be surprised by how your company is being presented to potential customers.
 
If you find that your process needs some fine-tuning, here’s a check list for your consideration:
 
1. Put on your “friendly, helpful hat” as you end whatever conversation you have going on before you pick up the phone. It’s seems as if the call is an interruption if the end of a conversation can be heard as the phone is answered.
 
2. Smile and say something like “Good morning, Fabulous Home Furnishings Company, this is John.” You give the caller a minute to realize their call has been answered with your greeting, and you remind them who they called by stating your company name and then your name. Speak slowly so you can be understood and purposefully because you want the caller to know that answering their call is the most important thing you have on your mind in that moment.
 
3. There is no need for “How may I help you?” The caller knows why they called and you don’t want to distract them from your name. As they remember your name you can start building a relationship that will lead to conversations about lots of home furnishings solutions that they need and that you can provide.
 
4. The way you handle your callers is worth your thought and consideration. Once you have created a process, shared the process and practiced it, then periodically check to see that it is being followed. Your callers will thank you and your business will reflect the care that you give all the business that comes your way.
 
While we are at it, what is your process for online inquiries? These leads are just as important as the in-store customers and on-the-phone customers.

If you need help, contact your HFA staff.
 
-HFA Membership Team
Our only business is your success.
We are here to help, so make a call (800) 422-3778, option 1 or email to us be one of the first things you do when working on your business.