Kane’s, now the 43rd largest furniture chain in the United States has a history of managing the bottom line.
View all articles by Janet Holt-Johnstone
Summer 2014, Central Florida. With more than one million square feet of furniture retail space in eight major regional markets, Kane’s Furniture, one of the oldest and most respected home furnishings businesses in Florida, is headquartered in Pinellas Park. Their 18 locations include Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, Ocala, Melbourne, Naples, Fort Myers and Orlando. The stores stretch for 300 miles along the Gulf of Mexico. Kane’s is now the 43rd largest furniture chain in the United States.
Back in the beginning, 66 years ago, the focus was a perceptive strategic vision. In the spring of 1948, just three years after the conclusion of World War II, veteran and young entrepreneur, Maurice A. Rothman, founded Kane’s original store. But, it was the right price and it was perfectly placed on the corner of 8th Street and Central in downtown St. Petersburg. Location, location, location! It quickly became the go-to store for both locals and snowbirds. Kane’s Furniture remained at this site for 10 productive years.
A pragmatist as well as a business mind and with intuitive foresight, Maurice conjured up the name of his retail creation. With a limited budget, Kane, he reasoned, was a short name. A name that could fit cost effectively on a large sign. A keeper.
Inspiration, ambition and more careful analysis led him to gather momentum and spread his corporate wings. He searched again for magical locations and re-discovered the principals of clever conversion, this time former food markets in Clearwater, Madeira Beach, Lakeland and Holiday Isle.
In another propitious springtime, April 1958, he opened Kane’s approximately 50,000 square foot store in St. Petersburg. It became so successful that Rothman closed all his other smaller stores.
St. Petersburg’s triumph kicked off construction in Tampa in 1963 and 10 years later Clearwater and New Port Richey. In 1975, a store was established in St. Petersburg North and three years afterwards another in Fort Myers. The year 1979 marked the acquisition of Savon Furniture in Sarasota, which operated as a division of Kane’s.
The following banner year was highlighted by the arrival on the scene of Irwin Novack, Kane’s present day President and CEO.
Construction continued in 1986 with the appearance of the Pinellas Park Distribution Center and Corporate Office and, a year later, June 1987, the company’s next acquisition was Kane’s of Orlando. Port Charlotte and Ocala came on the scene in 1992, Tampa, Orlando and Melbourne in 1997. And in 2014, not only did Naples highlight the corporate family but, in January, Savon Furniture became Kane’s Furniture in Sarasota, Fort Myers and Port Charlotte.
Irwin Novack began to master the business while working in operations at Kane’s, absorbing everything he could about the furniture industry with the brilliant founder, Maurice Rothman, as his mentor. Originally a New Englander, Irwin was a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1970, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He continued his education at Suffolk University Law School, and was granted an MBA from the University of Hartford in 1975. A former CPA, his business career officially began in 1976 in Charlotte, North Carolina, the heart of furniture country. Here he worked with Haskins and Sells, once one of the “Big 8” accounting firms. Important fact to note, his wife Patti’s family was in the furniture business.
When Irwin and Patti moved on to their Pinellas County adventure, they chose well both for career and lifestyle. The Spaniards called the area Punta Pinal, the Point of Pines, while possibly seeking the fountain of youth and displacing the original people, the Tocobaga Indians. They swapped ownership with the British for a few centuries but, in 1821 Spain finally ceded Florida to the United States. With a registered 361 days of sunshine each year, the Pinellas Peninsula was said to be “the healthiest spot on earth” by the American Medical Society in the late 1800s. It’s not surprising that the area became a magnet then and now for tourists as well as eager business folk of all sorts, and is still dubbed “one of America’s most livable counties”.
The Novacks and their children, Paige, Kim and Mark, and Kane’s Furniture, too, have all grown and thrived. Irwin’s remarkable decades at Kane’s have highlighted his knack for seizing the moment. He closely oversees the motivation and management of Kane’s more than 800 employees deployed throughout the spider-net of locations. They’ve survived tough times, said Novack, by “Knowing that since it would be difficult to grow the top line, we’ve closely managed the bottom line, re-evaluating every aspect of our business in the process. It’s super-close management of day-to-day business.
“It has all been a process of learning, spread over my 40 years at Kane’s. This latest economic turndown streamlined the business and helped us to sharpen our skills. But we survived, and the future looks bright again.
“I believe it is important to pay attention to business and to focus on detail.”
Some of Novack’s inspiration comes from extensive business travel in both Europe and Asia.
Staff remuneration is managed through commissions, bonuses and profit-sharing and Kane’s boasts many long term employees. The company utilizes internal seminars and workshops at each of the locations, as well as corporate gatherings to keep in touch.
There are designers on staff and independent local practitioners are offered co-op privileges in all stores.
Beyond his executive duties, Novack can often be found in various leadership positions within the community. He’s given a great deal of his time as a member of the board of directors of many organizations. Amongst them, the National Home Furnishings Association, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and The Vincent Lecavalier Foundation. Irwin was a part of the ownership group of Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-2010.
He is the former chair and current executive committee member of the Pinellas Education Foundation. It’s a highly respected coalition of business and community leaders who work together to improve the quality of public education. The Foundation’s vision is that every student will be prepared for life after high school whether it’s their choice to attend college, to enter the workforce, or to obtain technical training.
The Foundation advocates for public education reform, creates programs to improve student and teacher performance, and raises funds for scholarships, grants and teacher recognition.
Irwin has also been a frequent guest lecturer at the Gus A Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education at USF on a variety of topics related to business. As an advocate for education and children, he has supported many local charities including Junior Achievement, All Children’s’ Hospital, Starting Right Now, helping at risk teens, and he was most recently appointed as a founding member of the local board of directors for the Positive Coaching Alliance. The Alliance is a national non-profit organization developing “Better Athletes, Better People” by working to provide all youth and high school athletes with a positive, character building youth sports experience. They partner with schools and youth sports groups, initiating and sponsoring live workshops, on line courses and e-communications.
When the 65,000 square foot Naples location was recently opened, publicity spoke of the introduction of “new store design”. Certainly plenty of elbow-room for fresh ideas. “We work in conjunction with Interbrand Out of Ohio on interior display and layout and the ideas are a collaborative effort between the Kane’s team and Interbrand. The Naples store is a two-story showroom like all our stores, but there is a new departmental layout. Some departments are larger, like bedding, and many are relocated. This design will allow our shoppers to flow in and out of rooms and allow for a more pleasant shopping experience. We’ve added 50 new team members to serve our customers here.”
Kane’s has a knack for catchy promotions and the opening of North Naples kicked off with an invitation to previous customers and special guests to preview the chic showroom; they received a choice of gifts for attending. And a sporty highlight, they were offered an opportunity to “roll the Kane’s Furniture dice” for a chance to win $50,000 in cash.
The following evening a community wide Grand Opening took place from 6 p.m. to midnight. This time guests were again invited to “roll the dice”, this time for a reward of $25,000. Additionally, guests could enter to win a $10,000 grand prize shopping spree and a second chance at a $2,000 shopping spree.
All guests could register to win furniture prizes including living rooms, bedroom and dining room sets, plus mattress giveaways.
While Kane’s staff is integral to the management of promotions, they do “rely heavily on our advertising agency”.
Promotions excite the attention of a wide demographic of consumers and Kane’s also utilizes all the usual methods of communication, advertising, public relations, the Internet, social media, print, television, radio and direct mail.
Online sales were initiated in 2013, managed by internal staff, a response to their customers, “to meet their needs and increase revenues”.
Customer service is a highly refined art at Kane’s with its “own special methodologies” and under the surveillance of a customer service personnel group. Expert furniture repair is also a point of pride. And delivery, too, sports all the bells and whistles, with Kane’s own fleet of trucks, white glove service and uniformed staff.
It can certainly be said that Kane’s highly noticeable and effective top spin has been their banner of community involvement over the decades. On their excellent website they invite readers to join them and “find a cause that interests you. Beauty can be seen in many forms, not just furniture, and we can all contribute.”
Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.
View all articles by Janet Holt-Johnstone