Caring for Customers Means a Great Deal to Kennedys
The sign on the door says Great Deals on Furniture, but for customers, the great deal extends beyond the price tag to the service that comes with every sale.
For owners Eddie and Carol Kennedy, the desire to help customers find the right furniture to create a home they can be proud of has led to a drastic change in their business model.
When the Kennedys opened Great Deals on Furniture in November 2005, the need in the area was for basic furniture at affordable prices, presented in rows with few frills. The store was open only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the days when most people did their shopping.
“When we started we just offered the core pieces: sofas, chairs, end tables,” Carol said. “We didn’t have lamps, we didn’t have pictures or any accessories.”
As the country plunged into a recession, that business model continued to work well. But as the economy stabilized and began to grow, the needs of the customers changed.
“We started seeing they wanted things that could be customized, that were unique,” Eddie said. “The things they’d bought from us four years before were wearing out and they wanted something better.”
He also found that customers who wanted higher-end furniture took an average of four store visits to make up their minds, something that was difficult to do in a store that was only open on weekends.
“You have to respond to your customers’ needs, and they were letting us know they wanted us here more days,” Carol said. “When you’re here on a day off and there are literally 40 people trying to get in, you know you need to have a serious conversation about it.”
That led to an evolution of the store’s concept. While the store still has the buying power to sell at competitive prices, it now emphasizes the shopping experience as well. It is open Monday through Saturday, and the higher-end pieces are displayed in appealing settings that allow customers to envision the complete suite in their homes. And there are plenty of lamps, pictures and other accessories to complete the look of the home.
“I say if they can see it, we can create it,” Eddie said. “We can put all the pieces together. We’re helping create a home environment.”
Eddie has plenty of experience working with furniture. His parents owned General Freight Furniture in downtown Augusta, and he began doing odd jobs there while in elementary school. After he graduated from college in the early ’80s, he became a buyer for the store.
Carol had always been interested in working in the furniture business, so when an administrative role opened at General Freight in 1989, she took the position. That led to the two dating and eventually marrying.
Eddie continued working in the family business after his father passed away in 2001. Then, in 2005, he and Carol decided to branch out on their own, fulfilling Eddie’s desire to own a store.
He already had some national recognition at that point because of his forward thinking a decade earlier. Big-box stores began to put the mom-and-pop shops out of business because they could buy in such volume that they received big price breaks.
So, in 1994, Eddie and three others formed a buying group, Furniture First, to help the small family businesses buy in bigger volume so they could also receive discounted prices. Today, that group encompasses 440 store fronts and has a collective buying power of $2 billion, which allows the small stores to stay competitive in price with the big stores.
Relationships — with other stores, other businesses and with customers — continue to drive the Kennedys in their business. But competition is constant. When they opened Great Deals on Furniture, they were the only furniture store on Bobby Jones Expressway between Washington Road and Interstate 20. Now there are six others.
Furniture sales on the internet have also created a challenge, although sometimes they help. The Kennedys cited several cases where people who bought furniture online were so disappointed that they came to Great Deals on Furniture to make replacement purchases.
In their own words
What are you passionate about in your business?
Eddie: “We want to do something to create a home environment where people can create a family memory.”
Carol: “The thing that drives us is solving our customers’ furniture problems. We don’t want to stop short and say, ‘Sorry, we can’t get that for you.’ Our passion is exhausting every possible option for that customer that is in the realm of possibility. And our employees are very important. We support 16-20 families by having them work for us.”
Relationships seem very important to you. Why?
Eddie: “Because I grew up in the furniture business, I did every single job that’s involved in having a business like this. I had the connections and friends in the industry to learn all kinds of little things. I’ll never be without work because I’ve helped so many other people get work through my relationships and connections. My dad was that way, too.”
Carol: “You learned the value of relationships because your dad had such a good relationship with people.”
What’s it like being a married couple in business together?
Eddie: “That has its challenges. The question at the end of the day is, ‘What are we going to eat for dinner and who’s cooking?'”
Carol: “We both have a good sense of humor. That sense of humor is critical. And patience.”
How do you divide responsibilities as a married couple?
Carol: “Thankfully, there are a lot of things we can both do well. Each of us has a set of things that we’re the only ones who can do it well. We’re able to find our niche and divide things without needing a formal job description. But sometimes there are blurred lines about who’s responsible for something — especially if it’s something neither one of us wants to do.”
Eddie: “We recently changed responsibilities. For 10 years she was the sales manager and I was the warehouse manager. Then, in 2016, we flipped that.”
You do a lot reading and listening to podcasts about business. Why is that important to you?
Eddie: “You have to feed yourself that stuff. We’re always looking for inspiration and information.”
Carol: “We don’t know everything yet. Sometimes you need that outside voice to bring you inspiration or a bit of information. If you’re not growing, you’re really going backward.”
How do you give back to the community?
Carol: “We are involved in causes that are greater than us. We want to be part of things that help and are a blessing to people. Eddie speaks at Boots to Business that works with people coming out of the military into the business world.”
Eddie: “Carol and I and several other couples started Good News Church, and we’re still involved in that. We’re part of Channel 12’s Time to Care, and we work with a program that helps veterans get beds. If they don’t have a place to live, as soon as they get them a home we help them get a bed. We’ve helped over 100 vets.”
What does the future hold for you?
Eddie: “We have two kids who at this point are pursuing their own things.”
Carol: “We’ll continue doing this and growing this, to respond to customers’ problems. We’ll probably do this until we retire. I don’t know when that’ll be, because we like to work.”