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Retail Success: Welcome Amish Furniture

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 148 NO.3 May/June


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Minnesota based Welcome Amish Furniture, is both a name and a greeting to 60,000 square feet of Amish designs!


The Wiley Family of Albertville, Minnesota, both live and share their philosophy each and every day.

“Our Mission is to provide high quality products that beautify clients’ homes and enhance their lives with heirloom quality furniture that meets the customized needs of our current and future customers.”

Welcome Amish Furniture was founded more than 30 years ago in the town of Crystal in Hennepin County, just a few miles away from its present location. Well, that’s not entirely correct. At least, that’s not the original name. Said Wes Wiley, “It became the name of our store when we moved to Albertville. Originally, back in Crystal, our store was located on Welcome Avenue. When we started carrying primarily Amish-crafted furniture we decided to change our name to ‘Welcome Amish Furniture’. It has always been a funny first introduction to our first-time customers. ‘Welcome to Welcome’. It has a funny ring to it and usually breaks the ice with our customers!”

The Wileys made their appearance in the business when Ray Wiley joined the staff as a salesman after he had spent several productive years managing and opening stores for a large retail chain.
After 11 years of steady growth, the founders felt that the time had come for them to retire. So they sold their full-line furniture business to Ray and his brother, Wes.

Wes was a CPA who had his own financial consulting business until the year 2000. When the brothers made the decision to take over Welcome Furniture, he left his consulting practice.
Ray and Wes’s father had been a Prairie Minister who preached throughout the small towns of the Upper Midwest for the majority of the brothers’ lives. There was no previous family history with retail or merchandising, they are pioneers.

The family “grew up in the northern suburbs (of Minneapolis) since 1969,” next generation Kaila Wiley told us. “Ray currently lives 20 minutes east of our store and Wes about seven miles northeast.

“I didn’t officially join the team until 2013. My brother, Luke, has spent more time working for Welcome Furniture than I have, many summers riding in the delivery truck and helping with the manual labor during high school and beyond. Now he manages our entire warehouse, customer relations and delivery service.
“On the other hand, I grew up in the store, occasionally following my mother, Patti, who orders and merchandises Smith Brothers.”

In 1998, five years after Ray and Wes bought Welcome, they added Smith Brothers of Berne to their supplier list. Smith’s values and integrity are legendary in the home furnishings industry, their maxim, “Quality doesn’t go out of style!”

Said Ray, “Quality has always been an important aspect of our business model. It really set the tone for the following years of our transformation into higher quality furniture.”

Two years later, 2000, another critical point at the official turn of the century, Welcome began to show Amish built furniture. “Our introduction (to Amish furniture) was small and was introduced to us by a man we originally met at the Smith Brothers’ exclusive line showing.

“We encountered this man again at a furniture showing at the IMS (International Market Square) building in Minneapolis.

“At that point in time, we had 9,000 square feet of showroom space at our Crystal location.”

Just two years later, an exciting opportunity appeared on the Wiley’s horizon. “We moved to Albertville, in neighboring Wright County.”

It was a huge increase in showroom space, from their original 9,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet, just full of potential. “The price was right, the community was growing and it was pre-recession. All the signs pointed to a successful growing area with growing families that would see value in the store that we wanted to grow!”

(Welcome is also close to Albertville Premium Outlets, a large outlet center mall in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. And there lies another story. More about that later.)

“The type of real heirloom quality we have throughout our store caters to both young and old.” (And all the demographics in between!) “We truly see people from all age groups."

As a store displaying exclusively Amish Furniture, Welcome Amish Furniture stopped attending local furniture shows and only attends the Northern Indiana Woodcrafters Association Expo held in March.
“In the transition from the old store to the new store, we’ve seen a larger customer base from a much higher income level than what we’re used to. The most exciting thing of all is to see second generations of customers from the past furnishing their homes.”

In Welcome Amish Furniture’s website customers read about the store's, “Handcrafted Indiana Amish Furniture and much more.” We asked Kaila to tell us about the “much more”. She said, “The ‘much more’ isn’t a tangible item. It’s our service; it’s the family friendly experience with family based values. We work hard to train our staff to be knowledgeable in our furniture, but our priority is to hire good hearted people who work hard. The store is the best part of the attraction, we have our 60,000 square feet and most people can’t find a store that shows as much as we do, all Amish made.”

Welcome’s website also very interestingly defines the unique and extraordinary Amish Craftsmanship. A few high points:

“Amish craftsmen use traditional heritage methods for construction, meaning their products are durable, hand-crafted and feature impressive attention to detail. Amish built furniture does not contain any toxic chemicals that typical factory produced furniture does. You can expect 100 percent wood construction, instead of particle board, which ensures each piece will last a lifetime.”

For tables, “Mortise and Tenon construction adds strength to each design while preserving fine detail. High quality gear slides provide ease in opening and closing. Wood slides are designed for easy operation and are built for superior support. Table tops are made of one inch solid wood, fitted with solid steam-bent skirts. Craftsmen use specially designed sanding equipment and create solid hardwood, fully extendable drawers. As each table is unique, it is branded and numbered with its own serial number for future reference. Leaves are cut to fit each table precisely and receive the table’s serial number along with its numeric order for installation. Leg connections are reinforced by a v-grooved corner block assembly with a two-bolt attachment.”

The description of the intricate manufacture of spindle and mission chairs is well worth reading, as is the bolt system rather than hook on rails used in the crafting of beds.
One hundred percent of Welcome’s inventory is “handmade in the United States, built on Amish farms in Indiana and Ohio. And it’s made from solid American hardwoods like solid oak, hickory, cherry, maple, grey elm, walnut, rustic cherry, rustic hickory and rustic quarter-sawn oak with no veneered plywood or particle board allowed.” 

 

Kaila added, “We have the benefit of showing hundreds of different woods with varying stains on all of our categories of furniture. This helps customers to visualize what their final product will look like without any surprises.”

And, there is a huge range of styles within Amish creativity’s reach including Mission, Craftsman, Queen Anne, Shaker and contemporary designs.

Furniture World asked about staffing. “Typically we go through ‘MinnesotaJobs.com’, an online job search system. We have a small staff of six salespeople, three in administration and three warehouse crew members. We haven’t had to hire too much in the last few years as our employee turn-over rate is pretty low for the retail industry.

“For our sales team, we pay 100 percent commission with incentivized bonuses. We also offer health and dental benefits for full-time employees, and recently we were able to add a 401K for all of our employees.
“And we do have in-store training for our sales staff. We schedule these meetings once a month unless something significant occurs, i.e. show floor moves, stain adjustments, new pieces. I see my sales team regularly and can manage to assess, touch-base on product and communicate most information throughout the week.

“Luke handles all of our customer relations past the point of sale. Like our handcrafted furniture, the customer’s needs are just as individualized.

“We have a two-man delivery crew that services 120 miles surrounding our store. We have been successful using an independent delivery service that covers our needs nationwide.”

In marketing outreach, Welcome has used “mailers in the past, and billboards. We’re currently showing a few ads on TV and have taken to the radio with a local celebrity. We seem to be having great success with our marketing team from the St. Paul Agency as we make our way through the age of social media!
“Our website has been developed and maintained by our agency, too, and they’ve done a great job.”
Wes added, “Half our budget is digital. Google and Facebook also have a large impact on how we communicate with our customers and increase our referral rate.

“And at this point in time we have no plans to sell on the Internet.”

Community outreach is both sensitive and meaningful. Said Kaila, “In the past year we have donated two kids’ table sets to Crescent Cove, a no-cost respite and hospice home for kids with support services provided to children and young adults with a shortened life span, and to their families. This home was brought to our attention by a longtime customer whose daughter works at the facility. It is our great pleasure to help these families feel perhaps a little more comfortable.”

There are only three such homes in the United States, many more internationally. For additional information check their website, https://crescentcove.org/whoweare/our-mission/.

The Wiley family’s vision of the decades to come, “The future of Welcome Amish Furniture is growing and changing with the times. We’ve got a solid sales and warehouse crew to build on the foundation we’ve created over the last years.

“We’re happy to see this category growing. It seems that quality is becoming higher value to consumers in our area.

“The future is a challenge for brick and mortar stores as the online retailers grow. However, the niche Ray and Wes have created is pretty secure,” Kaila assured us.

The Wileys welcome challenges of all sorts --- and with a smile! Kaila told us, “In Albertville, our store has always been difficult to find. Although we are located directly next to the Albertville Outlet Mall!

“Unfortunately,” (or fortunately!) “we were unsuccessful in connecting the parking lots for easier access. This forces our customers to drive past the outlet mall and then take a small back road behind the mall. It’s our private one-half mile driveway since, at this point, we have no other neighbors on this road. Typically, our first-time customers are happy to have found us by the time they make it through the front door!
“It is a blessing in disguise as the people who do find us are determined and have their hearts set on finding the biggest Amish-only store in the area!

“Of course,” she added, “most GPS systems do find us pretty easily!”

Go visit when next you are in Minnesota! Without doubt, you’ll receive a very warm Welcome!


Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.
Read other articles by Janet Holt-Johnstone