Charlie Horn was 2 when a dresser fell over and killed him in 2007. In the wake of that terrible event, his parents, Brett and Jenny, created a nonprofit organization, now called Charlie’s House, dedicated to promoting safe homes for children.
The Horn family lives in the Kansas City, Mo., area where Crowley Furniture & Mattress operates three stores. It wasn’t long before Crowley, a Home Furnishings Association member, reached out to offer help. Years later, the result is a strong partnership and growing awareness of a household hazard that has injured and killed too many children.
To Greg Crowley, second-generation owner of the 65-year-old business, it was a natural. Although the dresser that tipped over on Charlie wasn’t purchased at one of his stores, that didn’t matter. As Crowley saw it, he had a responsibility to help the Horns promote safety.
While there is a lot of regulatory and legislative attention today on furniture tip-over dangers, “It didn’t take many deaths for them to be proactive and jump ahead of this,” Brett Horn said of Crowley Furniture & Mattress.
‘A model of what retailers need to do’
“We’ve found Greg Crowley and his staff to be extremely proactive to this issue, and they have really used this issue as a tool to serve the community,” Horn added. “They’re a model of what retailers need to do to embrace tip-overs and address it head-on, and not duck it.”
The Home Furnishings Association agrees. All HFA members should follow Crowley’s example because it’s good for their customers, their communities and their operations.
The Horns’ foundation is building a safety demonstration house in Kansas City. When it opens next year, it will focus on all kinds of potential hazards using interactive displays to educate parents about how to eliminate dangers. Still, because of Charlie’s story, Charlie’s House is most closely associated with furniture tip-overs.
Crowley Furniture has provided financial support and will help to furnish Charlie’s House, Greg Crowley said, but the partnership is seen most visibly in their campaign for anchoring dressers, chests and other pieces to fixed surfaces so they can’t fall over. Together, Crowley Furniture and Charlie’s House give away about 25,000 tip-restraint kits every year at community events, home shows, speaking engagements and the three Crowley stores, Horn said. The kits are co-branded with the Crowley and Charlie’s House names, he added.
Customers can’t miss the tip restraints
The tip-restraint kits are displayed prominently at check-out desks and customers are urged to take them – even extras for older furniture they might already have in their homes, according to Katie Crowley, marketing and merchandising director for Crowley Furniture and Greg’s daughter. Safety is emphasized on the Crowley website and in social media, and an instructional video explaining how to install the tip restraints is posted online.
“Our primary focus is awareness and making tools available,” Katie Crowley said.
“The key is to create an awareness on my whole team,” Greg Crowley said. Safety “has become part of our culture, from sales to delivery.” To make sure everyone buys in, “you need to talk about it almost daily,” he said.
Delivery drivers don’t attach the tip restraints, but they make sure customers have them if they want.
As “part of the culture” at Crowley, working to prevent tip-overs of clothing storage units really isn’t different from other ways they take care of customers, Greg Crowley said. In a home without children, no one might be hurt if a poorly set up china cabinet falls over – but a valuable piece of furniture and its treasured contents could be damaged. So, when any furniture is delivered, it must be right – every screw turned, every loose staple picked up, Greg Crowley said. “Attention to detail is what we sell.”
The same attention to safety is making a difference, Horn said.
Crowley’s work prevents accidents
“Absolutely,” Horn affirmed. “It’s difficult to measure an accident that didn’t happen. That’s our goal, to prevent accidents.” But Horn said he often hears from people who testify to the impact – for example, from a parent who says he anchored a dresser and later found his child climbing on it. Maybe it would have fallen over if it hadn’t been secured.
“Their corporate sponsorship alone helps prevent accidents around the home,” Horn said about Crowley Furniture. “Crowley’s financial support helped us accomplish what we want to do.”
“Generally speaking, people seem to be more aware,” Katie Crowley said. “I do think it’s important for us to bring it up.”
Her father has no doubt.
“You don’t change the world overnight, but there’s no question we’ve made a difference in the Kansas City area,” Greg Crowley said. He sees evidence in community support for Charlie’s House. “Every event they have is stronger and stronger. There’s no question about that.”
At the same time, “It’s a hundred-year war,” Greg Crowley said. “It can’t be one event, or one event a month. It has to become a way of life.”
‘You never quit, never give up’
Horn said there’s a benefit for Crowley Furniture.
“Crowley is good with social media and TV advertising, and we’ve partnered with them on that, too,” he said. “We get a lot of coverage in Kansas City, so it’s good (for them) to develop a partnership with an organization like us when there’s a shared passion.
“They want to be known as the furniture store that cares,” Horn asserted.
Greg Crowley downplayed that aspect of the partnership.
“You can’t have an agenda on this,” he said. “I’m not doing it for three extra sales … It’s the right thing to do.”
Horn’s larger message is that manufacturers should also make products that comply with safety standards. The industry’s voluntary standard is published by ASTM International, but not all manufacturers meet it. Retailers can have a strong influence.
“If retailers care enough about the problem, the manufacturers will ultimately comply with the standard,” Horn said. “We all want furniture that won’t tip over when a child interacts with it.”
Greg Crowley agrees.
“You never quit, never give up, and it’s not one and done,” he said about safety.
[Whittier urges retailers to address furniture safety]
American Home Furnishings Alliance Regulatory Summit
Greg Crowley will participate on a retail panel discussing tip-over at AHFA’s Regulatory Summit Oct. 2 in Colfax, N.C. Another panelist will be Jameson Dion, managing director of global sourcing for Home Furnishings Association member City Furniture. City’s participation in a UL stability verification program was featured in the July edition of RetailerNOW magazine.
Doug Clark, HFA’s government relations liaison, will moderate the panel. Registration is here. The cost is $199 for HFA and AHFA members, $499 for others.
Whittier Wood Furniture specializes in safety
During the July Las Vegas Market, Greg Crowley recommended a visit to the Whittier Wood Furniture showroom. It was easy to see why. The space was full of safety messages; Whittier Woods’ chests and dressers carry decals stating that the pieces feature anti-tip drawers with an interlock safety mechanism; and a video was playing on a large TV screen demonstrating how to use the manufacturer’s unique tip-restraint attachments.
Whittier Wood, based in Eugene, Ore., is strongly committed to ethical practices and safety, Sales Coordinator Eric Gullicksen said. It is one of the top suppliers for Crowley Furniture and a strong partner on safety, Greg Crowley said.
Whittier Wood, which began making case goods in 2007, complies with ASTM stability standards in constructing its furniture and always has included tip restraints and safety warnings, according to Marketing Manager Conni Barofsky. In 2013, President and CEO Scott Whittier designed a new tip restraint. “It’s a superior design for holding power and does not require the consumer to put holes in their walls,” Barofsky said. Instead, they are anchored below the baseboard. By the next year, Whittier equipped all its chests and dressers, as well as taller bookcases, with these restraints, even though bookcases aren’t covered by the ASTM standard.
Whittier hasn’t sought a patent for the tip restraints, Barofsky said, because “if somebody wants to copy it, if it saves one child, that’s fine.”
Another innovation followed in 2016. Because children sometimes use dresser drawers as steps for climbing, the interlock safety mechanism was added to frustrate that impulse by only allowing one lower drawer to open at a time.
Whittier Wood posts safety information, including videos, on its website, provides webinars for its sales representatives and distributes detailed literature to its retail customers. It wants everyone to get the message that safety matters.