There’s a secret to FFO Home’s success. Look at their stunning trajectory!
Founded in 1984, the vision of a gentleman by the name of Ray Whitmire, the first Furniture Factory Outlet store was located on Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The family-owned business focused from the outset on quality and value. The Whitmires developed their innovative business successfully until they sold in 2007 to Alpine-Investors Inc.
It was in the fall of 2012 that Larry Zigerelli brought his magic to FFO, beginning a dramatic surge to Top-100 status. Larry saw the “big picture”. His impressive international credentials included the Vice Presidency of the U.S. Health Care Division for Procter and Gamble, plus a Vice Presidency for Latin America and Puerto Rico. He was Executive Vice President of CVS Pharmacy, then President of Meijer, Inc., followed by stints in private equity. But if you happen to be chatting with the objective and modest Larry you’ll find that he perceptively tends to attribute FFO Home’s escalation to the company’s well deserved ”loyal customers”. Said Larry, “We were able to add brand names at everyday low prices and we activated expansion both in existing markets and in Oklahoma and Texas”.
In December of 2015, FFO’s corporate offices moved from Muldrow, Oklahoma, back to Fort Smith. And during this transition, an affiliate of the private investment firm Sun Capital Partners acquired the by now 36-store FFO, “setting the foundation for our aggressive growth plans”, said Larry.
The move was recognized and applauded by Asa Hutchinson, Governor of the State of Arkansas. “It’s always encouraging to have a company decide to locate a corporate headquarters here. Companies from across the U.S. and internationally realize that our central location and versatile workforce make Arkansas an ideal location.” He congratulated FFO Home, predicting that the company had established a “footprint for the future”.
Now, at this point in time, with 41 stores ranged across the five-state area of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Texas, it is undeniable that FFO Home is a force to be reckoned with!
Low Price Strategy
The “secret” begins to reveal itself in Larry’s incisive description of FFO. “The original company was founded more than 30 years ago as a superior value furniture retailer that provided the lowest prices to our customers day-in and day-out. FFO was able to offer great savings based on our ability to make special buys on ‘one-of-a-kind’ product overruns, buying factory direct products at close-out prices and by keeping the cost of our operations very low. As a result, our everyday prices have always been 30 to 50 per cent below our competition. We have also always offered the convenience of being able to take our furniture home the same day of purchase so our customers can begin enjoying their new items right away.
“At our all new FFO Home, we retain that same philosophy of providing superior value with all these same practices. We have also dramatically expanded our product selection including a wide variety of upholstery, bedroom, dining and mattresses and with quality that’s simply second to none. And we’re proud to offer new categories such as 100 per cent handmade wool rugs, lamps, hundreds of home accent products and much more.
“A word on quality which we hold paramount at FFO Home. We are proud to offer dozens of quality name brands as well as FFO Home Brands. Our upholstery lines have everything from top quality microfiber to 100 per cent leather with popular brand names such as Flexsteel, Broyhill, Simmons and Home Stretch and Serta mattresses. Our Natural Elements mattresses have the same cutting edge sleep technology and great quality as the name brands with prices up to 70 per cent lower. Because we manufacture our own brand, cutting out the middle man, we can pass on these huge savings. And, don’t forget, we always have ‘one of a kind’ special buys.
“Our bedroom and dining room selection is also bigger, with all wood materials in traditional, modern and rustic collections. We have just introduced a youth bedroom department, with popular styles like bunk and trundle beds. In addition to all this, we now carry hundreds of new home décor accessories at the lowest prices in town for you and your family to enjoy.” Larry urges customers to check FFO Home’s excellent website.
“We stand behind our quality with a 100 per cent hassle free product warranty, and we guarantee the lowest price on all our products.”
Expressive of the FFO vision and mission, “Where great quality lives for less”.
Management emanates from the corporate central office, “Some stores we build from the ground up. We also take existing stores and adjust them to our vision. Very important, our vision and mission are the same for all our stores. We are very open administratively, truly family oriented.”
What does the consumer discover when she/he enters one of the 41 colorful, immaculate showrooms? Bustling activity, a friendly sales staff, quality great looking home furnishings, mattresses and acres of well-chosen accessories. A kind of energized, happy buzz with treasures waiting to be revealed and taken home. Another part of the FFO “secret”. It’s not only clever strategic planning and the crafting of corporate numbers. It’s the heart of the company. Such stellar growth can have a crystalline quality. But you don’t have to look too deeply to discover FFO’s soul.
Says Larry, “We have a long lasting relationship with St. Jude Children’s Hospital, our principal concentration. This past year FFO Home was the furniture sponsor for three St. Jude Dream Homes in Owasso, Oklahoma, Springfield, Missouri and Wichita, Kansas. We gave away a $10,000 furniture shopping spree for all of these. Whenever and wherever we can partner with them, we do.
“And we donate to several non-profits throughout the year.”
In December, FFO Home partnered with Toys for Tots. “Each of the FFO Home stores was a drop off location for Toys for Tots. And for anyone who dropped off a Toy, they received $25 in free accents.”
At the upbeat Grand Opening not only did Larry say, ”We are excited to open our doors to our friends in the Stillwater community. We look forward to serving the furnishing needs of area residents and continue to strengthen our relationship in Oklahoma. Our commitment to offering top quality furniture at the guaranteed lowest prices, along with striving for 100 per cent customer satisfaction, makes us a great fit for this area. With financing plans designed to fit any lifestyle or budget, we can help every family take home the furniture they’ve been wanting at a great value!” But he added, significantly, “We love to get involved in the new communities we join, and we look forward to getting to know and serve the community of Stillwater with charitable and social events, beginning with the Stillwater Special Olympics in May.”
And to achieve great things FFO has always counted on its people. Loyalty again plays a big part. Johnny Mizell, the company’s genial Vice President Advertising, gathered four of his colleagues, all “thankful to play a part in the growth and success of our company. Together we represent over 135 years of service to FFO Home.” Martin Moore is the Distribution Center Manager and Dispatcher; Kim Doengi has the happy task of Accounts Payable; Brownie Harp is Coordinator of Logistics and Distribution and Gary Cooper (more handsome than the actor!) holds the adventurous role of Vice President Logistics and Facilities. They are FFO’s designated “golden oldies”! Speaks well to the “great working environments and how much we value our staff as well as our customers.
“For recruitment we attend college career fairs, a lot of universities. We post on college employment sites and are active at local job fairs. And we look for special qualities in individuals, that they are ‘people persons’. Our District Managers are responsible for making sure we have the absolute best full and part time employees.”
There is great emphasis on continuous internal communication and constant exchange of ideas. “District Managers in the field talk with Store Managers, then they talk with staff. There are constant updates and daily memos and conference calls. Focusing on superior customer satisfaction and motivation of employees.
“And we offer a lot of in-store training on product and design. Our Managers train and so do suppliers’ representatives. We run contests, Manager of the Month, Employee of the Month.”
While FFO is growing rapidly, they make sure to get store managers together at regional seminars and bi-annual managers’ meetings in which managers meet with central office staff to share ideas and learn more about products and special offerings.
And, Braden Fouts, Marketing/Event Coordinator, told us, “We also have a fantastic annual banquet every January celebrating our store staff for their exceptional work throughout the year which allows everyone to come together and share in our success”.
All of FFO Home’s staff is trained to be knowledgeable about design and furniture trends. “They can help customers put together their dream rooms or entire homes in-store. We attend all of the top Furniture Markets. We also have lots of decor tips and tricks on our blog that we’re always adding to.”
And speaking of blogs, said Larry, “We have a very active website and many of our customers go to the website first to find tips and inspiration before they come to our stores. It was designed internally by a third party, the architect of the site. We have a Digital Marketing Director who oversees the website and all our social media.”
The FFO website contains a segment devoted to Employment. The potential staffer reads, “We offer our associates a competitive package that includes: medical insurance, life insurance, 401K, paid vacation, long and short term disability.”
It goes on to discuss an exceptional opportunity for eager, career-minded applicants, “Paid Internship Positions”! They would be excited to read: “If you’re in school and want for more than a part-time job, you should consider FFO Home! We’re looking for sharp students who are willing to earn while they learn great business skills. With paid internship positions at every FFO Home location, we offer flexible schedules and a high energy work environment that will help prepare you for what lies ahead. Apply online today, or visit any FFO Home close to you and find out what we have to offer. Who knows. We may end up as the next step in building your future!” Wow. What an opportunity! The “secret” continues to unfold!
Many financing options are also defined clearly. Including digital versions so the customer can explore “at their convenience” to find just the right one. Many offer online approval. “If you are approved, you will be able to print your approval and bring it in-store to make your furniture shopping experience even easier.” Especially since the customer is assured that “Our flexible financing plans make our furnishings even easier to own.” AND, “Our merchandise is in stock and available to ‘Take Home Today’!” Check out FFO’s remarkable website. Could not be more friendly and easy to access.
One of the essential skills, marketing, is as you would expect, well represented at FFO Home. “Holistic 360 degree marketing,” Larry told us.
“What works best for us is our ability to integrate our marketing messages across all media seamlessly,” Braden added. “No matter where a customer interacts with us, we have all of the information they need to get started on finding their dream furniture.” FFO promotes in all of their markets via print, TV, across digital, outdoor, at events and via radio from time to time.
Events figure strongly in the mix, essential to developing meaningful contacts with existing and potential customers. “We like to do a variety of events across all of our markets, from local fairs and football games to charitable events. We’re continually looking for new events for all of our stores to participate in, and many are unique to their individual locations. We often get some great ideas from the stores themselves which, in turn, get suggestions from the customers, so we’re really able to be where our customers are and the places that matter to them most. We occasionally have events across all stores, such as our Toys for Tots drive.
“Our new store openings are always reasons to celebrate, so to pass this celebration on to our customers we run a special week of festivities adding unique giveaways of gift cards, recliners and home accents, and free trip getaways with purchase to our already lowest prices. It really gets our stores and our customers excited!”
Customer service is, of course, top of the FFO mind set! Larry has “A corporate customer service person who works directly with me. I receive e-mails immediately about any customer service problem. We’re always trying to improve. We’ve devised customer surveys which are carefully analyzed and provide us with useful information.”
Braden reinforced, “Our customers’ satisfaction is our priority so to ensure we’re able to provide top service to all of our customers, we have a comprehensive customer service program in place. And this includes post-purchase satisfaction surveys and online and social media support. Everyone from district managers to store managers, our customer service manager and even Larry, our CEO, work whenever necessary to make sure every customer is happy.
“We don’t provide our own delivery as one of the ways we save our customers money, but we are able to help arrange for third party same day delivery in every area we serve.”
The environment is addressed in-store with appropriate packaging methods and with LED lighting.
FFO product lines include upholstery, recliners and reclining sofas.
“We have over 50 recliner styles to select from, quality fabrics, leather and many with power recline, heat and massage options.
“Our mattresses, the Natural Element brand, are built in Fort Smith. They feature a 10 year warranty, non-prorated. We offer pillow top, memory foam and the new Somni Gel mattress with a comfort layer for added support and cool sleep. “We also carry a Serta line and Comfort Coil, also manufactured in Fort Smith.”
Larry talked about FFO Home’s mission. “Our mission is all about family and home. Going above and beyond to satisfy our customers is our #1 focus. We strive to gain every customer’s trust in us to meet their home furnishing needs and treat them as if they were our own family as we do with our employees.”
And the future for FFO Home? “By 2017 we will have eight to 10 more stores. Over a 30 per cent increase, four more in the next few months. In 10 years we’ll keep on expanding on the same strategy of growth, introducing FFO into adjacent markets in the same manner. It works for us!”
And the home furnishings industry? “It’s thriving now and will continue to grow and evolve. The future of furniture is as great as it has ever been, and we intend to be a part of that growth!”
A smiling Larry told us, “The most fun and rewarding experiences I have had at FFO Home involve the teamwork and family culture we have throughout the company, watching the personal growth and career development of our associates right along with the company growing and prospering. And constantly interacting with our associates, customers and charitable and business groups in the communities we serve.”
There are scientists who believe there are possibly seven other planets in our universe that might just support life of some sort. With FFO Home’s exponential rate of expansion, Larry and his team could be quietly exploring extra-terrestrial opportunities. But don’t say I said so!
FFO’s star quality is evident. NASA has confirmed 3,431 exoplanets including six planets closest in size to Earth and located within the habitable zone of a star. Can’t help but wonder what Larry’s thinking about when he looks up at the sparkling night sky!
Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.