For Alex Wright, the hardest part of social distancing is not visiting his grandparents, Cedric and Ruth Wright.
Cedric and Ruth were third-generation owners of Wright’s Furniture and Flooring in Dieterich, Ill., before retiring and passing the business to sons Tom and John. Alex is Tom’s son.
Wright’s was celebrating its 130th anniversary a few weeks ago and “on pace for our best year yet,” Alex said, until everything came to a “grinding halt.” The state of Illinois ordered “non-essential” businesses to close until April 7.
Wright’s, which also has stores in Robinson and Taylorville, Ill., hasn’t entirely shut down. It invites customers to:
“Browse our store anytime online at Wrightsfurniture.com.
“Schedule a virtual showroom tour.
“Call or email us, our staff is standing by to answer your questions, fill orders, or schedule convenient furniture or flooring pick-up times.”
Alex has done a couple of virtual showroom tours using Facebook live in the past few days, although somewhat reluctantly because “we’d rather get people into the store.” It’s a good point: Brick-and-mortar retailers may not want to condition customers to shop online.
Avoiding face-to-face contact for now
Blended Furniture Market in Norton Shores, Mich., is avoiding face-to-face contact with customers and employees for the time being, co-owner RandiLynn Talsma said last week. That means no pick-ups or deliveries.
“I’m a rules follower,” she said, referring to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s statewide stay-at-home order that took effect March 24. It also forced “non-essential” businesses to close.
At the same time, “I believe that every sale matters and my customers matter,” Talsma added.
She and her husband, Jason, plan to use their spare time to revamp their showroom, telling customers: “We will open again with an exciting new look and products!”
As more state and local governments impose restrictions, Home Furnishings Association members across the country face similar dilemmas.
‘We’re building the plane as we fly it’
“We’re building the plane as we fly it,” Taylor Urban said the principal at her child’s school told parents. “We’re doing the same thing,” she said of her business, Urban Furniture Outlet in New Castle and Dover, Del. “Government is doing the same thing.”
Urban was trying to sort out operational rules, as her stores closed but continued to take online orders. Could she allow pick-ups or make deliveries? The HFA asked the state and received this reply Thursday from Gary Haber, communications manager for the Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism, Delaware Department of State:
“Your members can deliver any orders that were already placed and continue to sell appliances, though we would encourage them to limit to online and delivery as much as possible.”
Urban also was exploring options for government assistance. An adviser recommended beginning the application process for a Small Business Administration disaster assistance loan, even if she ultimately decides she won’t need it, since it may take weeks to get approval.
Following ‘the spirit of things’
Elie Samuel had his paperwork already on hand since he was seeking a loan to buy property when the COVID-19 crisis struck. Some furniture retailers have reported struggling for days to complete an SBA loan application, but Samuel, owner of Samuel’s Furniture in Ferndale, Wash., submitted his in just a couple of hours.
He was closing his store and stopping deliveries in response to a state order, he said. “In the spirit of things, I don’t want our delivery teams going into customers’ homes,” he added. But he posted his warehouse manager’s phone number so customers could inquire about their orders. In addition, Samuel’s continued to accept shipments from suppliers.
Some employees also were available to communicate with customers by phone, text or chat, although Samuel didn’t expect many sales. “We don’t even have a shopping cart on our website,” he said. With little money coming in, most employees would be furloughed, making them immediately eligible for unemployment benefits until the store reopens.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this outbreak, and we look forward to being able to warmly greet you back at Samuel’s soon with a handshake,” Samuel wrote on his website.
‘Love, strength and good health!’
“We will miss seeing all our UFO customers and the laughs and smiles we share,” Urban posted. “Counting the days till we can reopen and celebrate as a community getting past this difficult time. We wish our UFO family, customers, and our community love, strength, and good health!”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with each of you as you navigate these next few weeks,” Blended Furniture Market wrote. “We are all apart physically and that’s hard, but we will stay connected here on social media.”
Alex Wright noted that people were trying to stay connected in Dieterich, his 600-strong hometown. His neighborhood started a Facebook page, and residents placed encouraging messages in their windows.
With business stalled, employees were working reduced hours, but the company promised them full pay through April 7.
And, whenever the orders are lifted, Alex Wright looks forward to visiting his grandparents again. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀