When Alfonzo Fecera left Perugia in Northern Italy in 1911, it’s tempting for us to speculate that he’d been inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s sage statement, “Energy and persistence conquer all things”. We know that when he set foot on New York City’s Ellis Island he was a young man “looking for greater opportunities”.
The Fecera’s already had family in the Reading area where Alfonzo’s vision took root. Now, almost seven decades later, his great- grandson, Chris Fecera, is walking in Alfonzo’s footsteps as President of Fecera’s Furniture, a vibrant three-store enterprise in the heart of Amish Pennsylvania.
Chris traced the family’s pattern of progression. “Alfonzo’s son, my grandfather, Arthur J. Fecera, with his wife, Inez Franchi Fecera, founded the business in 1947 at Birdsboro, Pennsylvania. He had worked at the former Westinghouse plant in Ridley Park. When they began shuttering the plant, he started to do home remodeling knowing that he would not have a job soon at Westinghouse. After a year or so, he began selling appliances, then saw better margins in furniture and added it to the mix. The first Fecera’s enterprise was small, 5,000 square feet, probably once a garage.
“Arthur J.’s brother, Herb Fecera, served in the Army in World War II, and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He joined my grandfather in the business when he returned home.”
Chris’s father, Arthur A. Fecera (son of Arthur J.!), added Greek vitality and creativity to the family’s genetic mix when he married spirited Connie Arnidis. He’s Chief Executive Officer, although now semi-retired. “Mom is Secretary-Treasurer, heads up Human Resources and is our Accessory Buyer. She does love shopping for the accessories and particularly enjoys the challenge of differentiating our stores from the competition.”
An energetic, maybe persistent? evolution demonstrates Fecera Furniture’s growth. Birdsboro, 1947, 5,000 square feet.. Then, “the next store was opened in the municipality of Pottstown in 1960, and this space was about 25,000 square feet. 1972, and the Birdsboro store was closed and they opened yet another 25,000 square foot store that same year in Reading. In 1980, they established a 28,000 square foot store in the suburbs of Reading, closing the store in the city of Reading. They purchased an existing 30,000 square foot store in Collegeville in 1992. And, in 2006, this store was demolished and the new 55,000 square foot store was built on its site.” Are you following this?! Energetic persistence!
“The suburban Reading location had been closed in 2001, after we’d purchased a 60,000 foot store in Sinking Spring, a western suburb of Reading.
“In 2005, we acquired our warehouse/distribution/main office building in Reading, another 105,000 square feet. We use 20,000 square feet of this space as our clearance outlet,” said Chris. “If you add all the floors together, we have 135,000 square feet of retail showroom space.
“Each location has 12 employees and the warehouse/distribution center has a staff of 26, plus two part time employees.” Fecera’s also works with designers in the Reading area.
When the demographics of the region are considered it becomes obvious that location choices were certainly not selected randomly. “The Collegeville location is about 15 minutes from the King of Prussia shopping center which has every store imaginable. The Collegeville area is home to GSK Pharmaceuticals headquarters and Pfizer Pharmaceutical also has a location there. With the proximity to Philadelphia and the suburbs, many large corporations are only a 10 to 20 mile commute.”
Halfway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the state capital, the area was originally the beautiful territory of the Lenni Lenape and Delaware Indians. The region is also a well-known center of the respected, long-time Amish tradition. The growing flow of affluent tourists (when the weather’s right!) is universally recognized and is being encouraged.
Steeped in the disciplines of the retailing lifestyle, young Chris took to the business at age 12, literally from the ground up! “I started working in the warehouse two to three days a week in the summer mopping floors, unpacking furniture and any other jobs they could find for me. Around 15 years old, I also started delivering furniture and added some Saturdays to the work schedule.”
According to his mother, Connie, this track continued through high school and in college when he came home on weekends. “Chris’s father graduated him to working sales. Just put him right on the floor. He learned all his sales abilities from our manager at the time, Ted Zana. Ted worked with Fecera’s for about 40 years until he retired.”
Chris studied finance at Bloomsburg University, and played basketball, baseball and golf, a holiday from all that work back home! Said Connie, “Chris worked alongside his father for many years and learned a “great work ethic from him.” Said Chris, “It took him 30 years to actually beat me into work!”
Chris told us, “From age 18 I worked during the big sales, delivered furniture on Saturdays and sold on Sundays. We close for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and, until the last three years, July 4th. So other than July 4th and the holidays we close, I have only missed one Labor Day at work since I was 18.”
Customer service is always up front. “Three generations of Fecera’s family members have earned the reputation of putting the customer first. We proudly follow that same philosophy today,” this is a quote from their excellent website. But it’s not always easy! Connie, in her role as Accessory Buyer, is routinely accompanied at the High Point Furniture Market by Catherine, Chris’s sister. Said Connie, “Catherine worked for a short time in the service department when she got out of school. That was a difficult department to work in, and her father said she had to start there. If not, she better go to college and learn a profession.” And Catherine did just that! She has been a first grade teacher for 14 years now, married, with two lovely daughters, Ava and Ella. Both grand-daughters are involved in the Fecera’s community outreach, however!
Chris told us about the Fecera’s work with the Children’s Home of Reading, and Toys for Tots. “We’re heavily involved in the work of our church, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. My father is a private pilot and he gives free flights to children for the Reading area’s ‘Christmas in the Air’ program over the holidays. We also donate to the Olivets Boys and Girls Club.”
Connie added, “Chris’s dad is president of our Church and has been for over 10 years. He is very active in our Church Bazaar, working in the kitchen helping to make Greek chicken and Greek string beans! He worked in the church kitchen while Chris and I were at the Furniture Market in October. I am also a member of the Church Council, handle all of our social events and teach Sunday School.”
Of course, outreach also encompasses intensive product marketing and Chris said, “We use virtually every form of advertising.” When Arthur A. (commonly known as Artie), decided to semi-retire after 50 years with the company, his father founded and “passed the torch” to Chris in the summer of 2014, it was a transition to be handled delicately. The family was a bit skeptical about “running a retirement sale” because they didn’t want to give the impression they were going out of business. Striking print ads not only announced “The Great $5,000,000 Retirement Sale”, they also cleverly explained the transition, and included exciting news of the updating of two showrooms and the reorganization of product lines. Of course the sale was highly successful.
Suppliers including Vaughan-Bassett, Paula Deen, Bernhardt, Jackson, Catnapper, Craftsmaster, Ashley, Klaussner, Magnusson, Lane, Broyhill, Serta, Sealy, Tempur-pedic and many more, applauded the dramatic results.
“Network television unfortunately is extremely expensive in the Philadelphia market,” said Chris. “We have used it a few times but it was not cost effective. Our best success is direct mail but our Internet advertising seems to really be gathering steam.
“We are currently almost ready to sell on-line. Micro D created our website and also maintains it. And we have a developing Facebook page, and we’re getting ready to focus a bit more on that as well.”
The website includes appealing and well-organized design features to help clients “build” their own custom upholstery in colors of their choice, then e-mail the result to their sales associate at any of the stores. There’s an “invitation” to create intelligent floor-plans for rooms of any size. And there’s a vast collection of wall art to be accessed, thanks to Connie.
Chris and Annette Weaver married a little over three years ago. Doctor Weaver-Fecera (she has her PhD in Education), currently teaches Grades 11 and 12 Health at the Conestoga Valley High School. She has also been the much honored winner of the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance award as “Health Teacher of the Year”. She’s a force for good in the community and for the Fecera family!
Annette is not the only award winner. In 2012, the Tri-State Home Furnishings Association honored Artie Fecera and Fecera’s Furniture of Reading, as the Harry C. Kahn Retailer of the Year.
The Fecera family’s “wishes and hopes for the future are that traditional retailers aren’t swallowed up by on-line vendors and the large chains. Consumers just don’t seem to realize that the furniture retailer can be much less expensive than the on-line vendors when you add the shipping charges.
“Our advice,” said Connie, reflecting her own and the Fecera corporate vision, “if you are a small retailer, stay small, keep your overhead down. If you have plans to expand, don’t expand too fast. You should stay with what made you successful and realize that you can’t be everything to everybody!”
It would seem that judicious planning (plus Ben Franklin’s formula for “persistence and energy”!) wins the day!
Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.