Weinberger Carries on Family Tradition
People buy things without seeing them, strangely enough. Furniture is no exception.
Mark Weinberger, owner of Weinberger’s Furniture and Mattress Showcase (along with four other businesses under the Weinberger brand), knows this. He doesn’t quite understand it, though. He knows that online retail companies like Wayfair have succeeded in making home furnishing seemingly easier for Americans everywhere. He understands the “convenience factor.”
But he also knows that Wayfair is not a profitable company. The retail giant is projected to lose around $200 million this year, despite the fact that its stock has doubled in the same time span. Some investors and analysts are more optimistic than others.
Weinberger doesn’t think it’s sustainable, and he’s been in the furniture business much longer that Wayfair. Whereas Wayfair has emerged from the latest retail trends, Weinberger’s is closing in on a full century of business in the CSRA (the company celebrated its 85th year in 2017).
Whatever the rest of the world throws at Weinberger – a third generation owner of the family company that his grandparents Abe and Hannah Fogel opened as a used furniture business in 1932 – he’s not worried about taking it on. He has weathered a recession and a complete shift in customers’ stylistic tastes. He has grown the Weinberger brand to include affordable products at an outlet across the street from the company’s main showroom (Weinberger’s Furniture and Rug Outlet) as well as a collection of workplace designs and supplies (Weinberger’s Business Interiors and Weinberger’s Office Supply).
No matter how the business has changed, Weinberger’s has continued to rely on the same core of principles that allowed it to not only to survive but thrive in 2008, when Weinberger’s gained market share as other businesses were struggling to keep their heads above water.
Did you always think this was a business you would take over?
I never really thought about anything else. Except for four years of college at the University of Georgia, I’ve been here. I started in 1978, and that was the year we moved from Broad Street to Washington Road. That was the year the malls opened and there were quite a few furniture stores on Broad Street. Most of them moved out to what we called the suburbs at that time.
What did you learn from your dad?
My dad taught me that when you have so many people that trust you and are loyal to you, you go out of your way to do what you can for them and for everybody.
What’s been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make while you’ve owned this business?
Our foot traffic is less than it used to be. People don’t seem to go to quite as many stores, because they’ve narrowed down what they want and they know who carries it. Our close ratio is better because they are better educated. From a style standpoint, 15-20 years ago, this area was a very traditional area. People maybe wanted what their parents had. Today, nobody wants what their parents had.
Augusta’s not a really contemporary market either. It’s more of the casual-type things that have become a lot more popular. People aren’t as formal. Formal dining rooms are almost a thing of the past. China cabinets are a thing of the past. I don’t know where people display anything anymore. You know, we used to sell big china cabinets for dining rooms, and now people use buffets.
How have online furniture sales affected your business?
People will buy things without seeing them, unbelievably. We have a lot of people who come in and do that, and they’re real unhappy with what they’ve done, because they have something now they don’t like. But the internet has helped us in a lot of ways because people go online and do a lot of research. So they’re a lot better educated when they come in.
The biggest misconception with the internet is that when you buy something on the internet, it’s cheaper. With furniture, I challenge people all the time. Go anywhere in my store, and write down 10 items. Go on Wayfair or any of those sites, and compare the price of mine. And you’ll find that the price is almost always higher on the internet. Their prices are not competitive with local people. If they sell you something and you don’t like it, they’ll take it back. Well, it’s worthless when they take it back. So their overhead is huge.
Where do you buy your products?
It’s more complicated than it was years ago. Instead of just buying from North Carolina companies, we’re buying from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico. People think if it comes from China and Vietnam it’s not going to be good quality, and that’s not true either. They make all kinds of products, and we buy from the ones that make the nicer products, obviously. But we have, in the last 10 years, really made an effort to buy from American-made companies. Most all of our sofas and chairs are made in this country. We’re buying quite a bit of Amish-made furniture that comes out of Ohio and Indiana. That’s been fun too.
Have you seen the Augusta market change more than usual over the last couple years?
It’s growing because we’re getting so many new people in town. We get about 30 people a week that are new in town, between our three stores. And it’s incredible. They’re coming from, really, all over. If you project, I think the next few years to the next 10 or 20 years are going to be incredible.
Have you ever seen that much of a jump in the number of people coming in the door?
Not in my career, I don’t think. I mean we had large companies come into town in the past. They would bring 300 or 400 people. But we’re talking thousands now. In the ‘80s, when Plant Vogtle built the first two reactors, there were 8,000 construction workers. That was a big shot in the arm for the economy. But this is way bigger. These people are moving in with their families, buying homes, buying furniture and cars and everything else.
What are the best and worst parts of working with family?
I guess the best part is you can always count on them. I guess the worst part is learning to separate business from personal. My wife tried to work here, and when it didn’t go her way at work and it didn’t go well during the day, it was like, what are we having for dinner? She looked at me like, “What are you, crazy? I’m not fixing you dinner.” You can’t do that you know? With my daughter (Karly Weinberger), we have so much modern technology – the website, the ways we advertise, the way we do our merchandising – it really needs somebody with a little bit younger eyes rather than somebody like me that’s been doing it for 40 years. But she’s taken the bull by its horns and over that time period taken more and more responsibility.
When you look forward, what do you see for Weinberger’s?
I see us, over the next five or 10 years, growing fairly substantially. We don’t usually see people one time. They buy from us and then they continue to. Our repeat business is huge, because we earn their trust and loyalty. Bottom line is, you just have to take care of your customers. Do the right thing.