Ron’s Thoughts: How Ingenuity and Resilience Saw Wichita Furniture through Unprecedented Challenges
If you had asked me when the pandemic first began how I thought 2020 would pan out for our clients, I would likely have scrambled to find something positive to say. With the nearly universal closures of brick-and-mortar stores and an utterly disrupted supply chain, the outlook for many businesses seemed bleak.
I was especially worried about our clients in the furniture industry, who saw 99% of their physical stores closed. Here at TrueCommerce ecUtopia, we spent many hours brainstorming the best ways to support our customers so they could continue to thrive despite the challenges they faced.
One year in, I’m thrilled to say that our customers have unique pandemic success stories to share. These savvy businesses know exactly how to make lemonade from lemons, and they did just that. Recently, I sat down with Jordan Storey, Vice President of his family’s business, Wichita Furniture, to talk about how they used this time of crisis to embrace new technology and adapt to new ways of doing business. Here are some highlights from a fantastic conversation.
Ron: Jordan, you’ve told me that there have been some surprises for Wichita Furniture this year and that there are some accomplishments you are very proud of. Can you share your experience of 2020 with us?
Jordan: I’m happy to share that, Ron. Back when this all started, if you had said to me that we would close our doors at our brick-and-mortar retail locations for 30 days but make back all the revenue we lost (and more) within 45 days after reopening, I would have said you were crazy. But we accomplished that.
Honestly, closing our doors for that time required us to focus on things that we had procrastinated about. For example, we’ve had a transactional eCommerce website for close to five years now. It was one of my first projects when I graduated from college and returned to the family business. Our online business had always played second fiddle to our brick-and-mortar business because it represented less than one percent of our overall volume. But with COVID, the online functionality became our lifeline, and refocusing on that opened our eyes to a new way of doing business.
Failure was not an option. We needed to keep putting money in the bank to keep paychecks coming for 150 employees—that’s 150 families to support. We ended up achieving that by increasing our eCommerce revenue by 1500% in 2020.
Ron: We’ve said it so often in the past year, but companies really needed to reinvent themselves with all the uncertainty we’ve faced. It was like we were all hit with a hammer when everyone was forced to close. Things were happening that weren’t just new to the home furnishings industry, it was new to the world. At what point did you realize, wow, we might be able to pull out of this?
Jordan: It was really at that 45-day mark after reopening. But leading up to that, my dad and boss, Jay, had challenged me to continue to bring in freight, including new imports, because he foresaw the massive disruption in our supply chain both domestically and internationally. We had worked hard to have 90% of our catalog in stock for customers at all times, and that was a huge point of pride for us. My dad’s wisdom on that front—to keep buying—allowed us to keep our promise to our customers despite the supply chain issues.
Ron: The fact that you continued to buy and receive was a huge win for you guys. So Jordan, as we move into 2021, what aspects do you think will be forever changed?
Jordan: I think one thing that the pandemic did for consumers was that it required them to explore new ways of shopping that they had never explored before, like buying groceries and having them delivered to the front door. That affected the furniture industry too. I believe in my heart of hearts that 90% of people who now walk through our physical doors have already visited one of our websites, and that will never change. In 2021, we will aim to create an eCommerce customer experience that is as great as our in-store experience to accommodate the way people want to buy furniture today.
Ron: What role has technology played in Wichita Furniture’s ability to pivot to meet the needs of your customers during the pandemic?
Jordan: Even before the pandemic, I had come to believe that we are a technology company first, and that furniture is just a by-product of that. My dad has been working on streamlining our customer experiences through technology since 1989. We always want the customer to know exactly what is in stock and make the process easy for them. We can tell you without leaving your side what's in stock and what the next available delivery opportunities are for your area. Also, automation has played an important role, like automated text alerts and scheduling. Automation definitely makes our service better.
Ron: Back in August, Wichita Furniture became a TrueCommerce ecUtopia customer, and I know we were able to implement it for you really quickly. How happy would you say you are with the solution?
Jordan: Over-the-top happy. It’s something we have been needing to do for a long time and we put you guys in a tough spot because the rubber was hitting the road. We needed to make a decision quickly. And you guys stepped right up. Being able to add as many vendors as we can and track all of it has been absolutely awesome.
Ron: Jordan, it has been wonderful to sit down with you to talk Wichita Furniture. With all the craziness that has taken place in the last year, it is great to hear about family companies like yours with a positive story to tell. Your resilience during these tough times and willingness to look to the future are truly inspiring.
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About the Author: Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.