When Joe Bright, president of Dunk & Bright Furniture in Syracuse, N.Y., was honored as the Home Furnishings Association’s 2019 Emerging Star, a reporter from The Stand covered the event.
The award was presented Jan. 10 by HFA Executive Vice President Mark Schumacher.
The Stand is not a business publication or even a general-circulation newspaper. A product of the South Side Newspaper Project and supported by Syracuse University, it reports on the economic and cultural revitalization of the city’s South Side neighborhood.
Dunk & Bright, and Joe Bright, are strongly invested in that mission.
“We’re one store here,” Bright said. “I live in this community. All our employees live in this community. We owe the community a debt of gratitude …”
The presence of the Dunk & Bright store is critically important to South Side, which an initiative called “Syracuse Surge” is targeting for redevelopment. Emblematic of the problem is a former Sears store on the same South Salina Street as Dunk & Bright that has stood empty for decades. A 2019 newspaper story referred to the South Salina Street Corridor as “blighted” and an “economic desert.”
Dunk & Bright invests in community
Yet Dunk & Bright has continued to grow and invest in that community since its founding by Joe Bright’s great-grandfather in 1927. In fact, Dunk & Bright recently purchased an adjoining property even though it doesn’t have plans for immediate expansion. At nearly 100,000 square feet, its existing showroom and office building is the largest furniture store in New York State and a major source of tax revenue for Syracuse. Its warehouse sits in the nearby town of Liverpool.
Dunk & Bright’s large, attractive showrooms and wide selection of products draw shoppers from all of Syracuse and the surrounding area, creating a significant economic impact. Yet, its most-delivered-to neighborhood is the immediate vicinity, Bright said. That reinforces his point about the debt of gratitude. Dunk & Bright and South Side support each other.
Not that there aren’t extra efforts. Dunk & Bright has always practiced philanthropy, but it focuses many of its initiatives very close to home. For example, its mattress donations – worth $50,000 over the past two years – have gone to refugee families, former drug- and alcohol-rehab residents and other needy families in the neighborhood. The company also presents a free jazz concert on its grounds each summer – sharing a social gathering with some 700 neighbors.
All this requires business success. Joe Bright, who succeeded his now-retired father, Jim, as president about a year ago, is building on a strong foundation. His approach is illustrated by Dunk & Bright’s noticeable mix of employees – a diverse blend of experience and youth.
Confidence in the future
Interior designer Amethyst Edmunds belongs to the latter category. She’s worked at Dunk & Bright for a couple of years and, despite the challenge many retailers face in connecting with young consumers, feels confident about Dunk & Bright’s future.
“Joe is a younger business owner who’s in the millennial generation himself. He can help lead the business where it needs to go,” she said.
She also appreciates his talents.
“He’s energetic, a very good manager, personable, people-friendly,” she said. “He’s always willing to lend a hand where it’s needed.”
Bright recognizes the advantage of brick-and-mortar in furniture retail. “This is a touch-and-feel business” where customers want to physically connect with the product before they buy it, he said. At the same time, the first contact these days is likely to be online. Customers often decide what they want while shopping at home. They only come into the store to close the deal.
So, Bright has created what he calls an inside sales team. Its members engage digitally with shoppers, determining what they want, making suggestions and often setting appointments for them to visit the store. The team is “incredibly effective” in driving up sales, Bright said.
The company is willing to try almost any new idea, and young leaders like Dunk & Bright’s sales manager, ecommerce sales manager and visual merchandiser manager suggest plenty of innovations. The store also features a half-dozen designers with more than 30 years of service. This points to Dunk & Bright’s rare ability to both attract sharp new employees and retain valuable veterans.
Listen to your customers
Thom Norris is both. He joined Dunk & Bright, in its bedding department, after many years in the funeral business.
“What attracted me is the philosophy of how to handle customers,” he said. “They’re not shadowed. They’re allowed time to roam the store and look around.”
Sales associates are close enough to answer questions, but they’re there to listen.
“If you listen to your customers, they’ll tell you a lot,” Norris said.
Dunk & Bright’s owners have been listening to customers, and neighbors, for more than nine decades. Joe Bright, the fourth-generation owner, is also leading into a promising future.
That’s good news for South Side Syracuse.