Spiller Furniture turns 70, stronger than ever

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.

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