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Retail Success: Kensington Furniture

Furniture World Magazine



"We are Fenway Park versus Jerry’s World. An awesome Brooklyn pizzeria versus a Domino’s chain. We are people helping people making their moments at home better."


There are no real secrets to success. Or if there are, we’re already aware of most of them, theoretically at least. Vision, opportunity, sweat, persistence, sometimes downright stubbornness. And humor, perhaps the greatest of these. But each story along the scary and hazard-strewn road is undeniably unique, and reflective of individual inspiration and passion.

It was more than an action-packed century ago that Meyer Max launched his family’s venture into home furnishings retailing in the lively, highly populated section of Philadelphia called Kensington. He’d chosen this district in suburban Atlantic City because he was convinced it was the ideal location to build his dream. In the early twentieth century, Atlantic City was the American holiday magnet, the busiest, most irresistible vacation spot in the country. “It was a town bustling with opportunity, a dream seaside destination for families, and Meyer Max knew he could do business there,” said Michael Grossman, fourth generation, and today’s owner of Kensington Furniture.

Kensington is located in the region’s only Home Marketplace, now in Northfield. “Since our beginnings we’ve been ‘Local for Less’, providing quality product and service to generations of families throughout Atlantic County, Ocean City, Egg Harbor Township, Galloway, Hamilton, Vineland, Stafford and Middle and Lower Township areas, Cape May County, Ocean County and beyond.

First Generation

“Meyer Max was from Hungary, a first generation American. He was one of six children working in their family furniture business,” Michael told us. “An ambitious young man, Meyer wanted to strike out on his own, he was passionate, convinced that he could do it better.

“Independent retailers have so many distinct advantages that can be leveraged to remain relevant.”

“In March, 1909, his family filled a push cart with furniture and step by step Meyer Max made that day-long trip from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. His first year, Meyer was a furniture peddler on the busy streets of Atlantic City, back then popularly known as America’s Playground. Eventually, he was able to take space in another furniture store until September 1912 when he opened his own store, Kensington Furniture.”

Said to be an outspoken and confident man, Meyer would stand at the front of his store at the busy corner of Kentucky and Atlantic Avenues. He’d welcome all his friends and neighbors in the community, and he vowed, promised, to “WOW’ his customers through his exemplary service.

Fourth Generation

Michael Grossman has inherited Meyer’s confidence. Over the years he has somehow managed to actively attend more than 82 High Point Markets, purchased over 4000 living rooms, 1500 bedrooms, 1200 dining rooms and thousands of other furniture and mattress products!

In 1968, Kensington made the important move to its current location on Tilton Road in Northfield, New Jersey, the Marketplace at Kensington Square. As a result of the Grossman’s “unbeatable hometown service” and capacity to provide better values, local families really began to depend on Kensington as the only place to go to furnish their homes. At Kensington they bought their first bedroom set, their dining rooms for family gatherings. Those memory-making decisions. “And the sofas where they sat together to watch favorite television programs,” said Michael. “Kensington grew because of our commitment to our community, our customers, our unique shopping experience and lower prices.”

Store Expansion

Each member of Michael’s sales team is 'required to generate a minimum of 10 leads per week from our customers we’ve yet to close.

In the glowing introduction to a Renegade Furniture Group* event, where Michael appeared as a featured speaker, he was described as, “A born and bred furniture expert, navigating the greatest consumer habit changes in Kensington Furniture’s 106-year history. In addition to being a retailer, Michael consults with manufacturers and the top-100 retailers”.

How Kensington Competes

We asked Michael what he believes independents and smaller retailers need to do to stand out, compete and thrive. Said Michael, “First we MUST not feel overwhelmed or deterred by the rapid pace of all the changes in the marketplace. And the changes within our industry, changes to the way a customer shops, changes as to how to market to our customers.

“Plus, changes to the ways to generate store traffic. We must be better than ever, double down, increase 10 times all the things that have made us successful generational family businesses.

“We will not be able to compete as an e-commerce player versus the likes of Wayfair or Amazon. We don’t want to waste our time or money fighting that battle. We must simply be a more awesome version of ourselves. Who has more product knowledge than we do? Who can better help a local customer ensure that she makes the right furniture decision for her room? Who has seen more of the good, the bad and the ugly and can, in turn, use that experience to benefit our customer? Who has more experience handling furniture and delivering it right the first time? Who knows and understands better that 30-mile radius around our stores, and how to best speak to these current and potential customers? Independent retailers have so many distinct advantages that can be leveraged to remain relevant.

Our plans for the future are to be ‘selfie worthy’,
and engaged with a ‘raving fan’ customer base.

“What we have done at Kensington is to build a ‘ninja’ marketing team, able to deploy all types of content to multiple customer segments on multiple digital platforms. We take a hyper- local approach to social media. We focus on being a dominant voice within that vital 30-mile rad-ius of our enterprise. We leverage our multi-generational story. We rely on a customer relationship management provider to help us to stay connected to our customer base.

“There is no longer one simple solution or promotion that can deliver sustained increases in store traffic and increased revenue. Rather, marketing today requires a series of small acts geared to multi-faceted customer segments.”

There is the need to boost traffic and sales in general. Michael is convinced that, “Independent retailers must think differently about marketing and how to allocate budget. What we cannot be is nostalgic about the ways we market, or advertising vehicles we’ve used previously to drive traffic and grow our businesses. It’s not an understatement that the changes in how customers consume media, and how to get her attention, has seen the greatest revolution since the printing press!

Think about your different types of customers,
segment them, buy audiences targeted directly to the various segments.

Advertising That Works Today

“If we think that what worked two years ago, five years ago or whenever, will work now, we are vulnerable. Just as we know merchandise, we must also understand how to use social media. Be aware of those out there who will take advantage of your fear plus lack of knowledge to overcharge and under deliver on social media. Use Google and YouTube to educate yourself so you have a general understanding of the concepts. Shift your dollars from mass traditional media and invest in people you employ and have them create content for your store. Content is a modern way to story tell. Keep these people in house!

“You should use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest-post multiple times a day on these platforms. Tell why your store, why your brand! Use story telling/content to deepen the trust engendered as a local family business.

“Do not sell, rather inform. Help customers make their very best furniture decisions. Think about your different types of customers, segment them, buy audiences targeted directly to the various segments. Spend dollars against these audiences, measure results, and use that data to achieve continuously better results. If independent retailers work to understand and leverage social media coupled with our other significant advantages, we are in-the-game-to-win business!

“Our plans for the future are to be ‘selfie worthy’, and engaged with a ‘raving fan’ customer base. We must stay focused on being hyper-local and still remain open to continuously reinventing ourselves as the customer changes.”

Probably more rapidly than ever before, demographics are shifting. An area to watch closely, define and act upon. Michael’s comment, “We must use data to inform us how to observe and respond to changing customer demographics. We can hardly be as sophisticated as digitally progressive and well staffed companies, yet, in our small corner, with our small team, we deploy Google and Facebook analytics to understand and respond to what converts a customer to buy. We spend quality time on our sales floor observing store traffic, talking to shoppers and correlating that to current marketing efforts and platforms to understand what works.

Kensingtons's home page features design services, major sales, special deals, the Kensington Furniture Outlet, a style blog and more. Kensington offers free house calls and custom furniture options.

“We use advertising and promotions to add value and create urgency. Our content across multiple social media platforms tells our brand story. We support local causes to demonstrate our commitment to our community. And we consider these efforts to be our public relations program.

“As the likes of Amazon and Wayfair make buying products much easier and more of a commodity, we MUST continue to tell our brand story and work to over deliver on our brand promise throughout our customer’s entire Kensington experience. Our brand is our ‘moat’ against really smart competitors.”

Family Business Dynamics

We have three separate Facebook pages.One for our outlet customer, or promotional customer. One that is general Kensington. And one that shows Kensington design services for our high-end customer.

Michael grew up with the right instincts to create an ambiance of confidence and trust within Kensington’s staff roster. “We are blessed to have a number of people who have been with us for more than 20 years. In particular, we have both Carmella and Michele. Carmella manages all our special orders. Her experience and iron clad integrity is unmatched.

“Michele helps me run the company, and her talent and dedication make working with her a true privilege and the joy of my career.

There are always special challenges for family businesses, the second, third and fourth generations. Michael said, “Family business dynamics are extremely complicated. In our family, we all love, are even a bit obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles! If we are engaged in a stressful, emotional family business moment, we always rely on talking about the Eagles as a means to keep talking and to bring us back to our core belief that businesses can come and go, yet family must be forever!”

Adding Value

“Kensington is a big store in a medium to smaller size market, and we cover a wide spectrum of price points. We embrace custom orders. Our talented and experienced team of design consultants think long term, and they look to help a customer solve her furniture ‘puzzle’. As a small business, we do not have formal training. We do have sales meetings every Saturday and non-stop communication to help everyone better serve customers and have a firm command of the responsibilities.

“We have a full-time stylist whose aim is to spark a customer’s emotions as she enters the store. And, we offer fresh baked chocolate chip cookies! We have an 18,000 square foot Outlet where we sell ‘the good stuff cheap’. Ashley is a key vendor who counters our custom business with high velocity slots.”

There is always that shopper who is convinced she has to “go home to think about it”. Each member of Michael’s sales team is required “to generate a minimum of 10 leads per week from our customers we’ve yet to close. These leads are instantly entered into our customer relationship management database, and then we employ a variety of methods to turn these leads into customers. Design Consultants are measured on their leads to customers’ dollars weekly, monthly, yearly. We use this data to generate repeat business as well.

“And we do offer free house calls. Our store is eight miles west of some of the best beaches on the Jersey shore. Second home design work is an important and interesting component of our business.

“For delivery, we use Dispatch Track. The software compliments the skills of our experienced drivers. We’ve been delivering furniture to our community for 107 years. Unlike any e-commerce player, we know our region, we possess unmatched knowledge of how to prep, handle and then deliver furniture right the first time. Our seasoned techs promptly respond to the typical issues that are a part of delivering furniture. Any independent family furniture company in the United States offers special delivery.

Reaching Out

Michael reaches out to the industry through his consulting practice and at industry events. A speaker at a Renegade event this year, Michael declared himself to be “a furniture man”. He described himself as “a fourth-generation, brick and mortar, single store, legacy retailer located in suburban Atlantic City, a region recently recognized by the United States Chamber of Commerce as one of the most challenged economic areas for business in the country.” He added, “Every day I am inflicted with different responsibilities. I am an owner, I am a Customer Experience manager. I am CMO, CFO, sales leader, Chief Operation Officer and instantly involved in the operation of my business.”

Some excerpts from Michael’s remarks: “Our brand equals trust. Are we living up to the expectations we’ve promised to our customers? We have to think about how we can do it better. I have to think small and grow big.

“We have to surprise and delight through energetic communication with our people, making sure they talk about the touch-points with each customer, that they do one extra, one better.”

He asked, “Why did Bonnie and Clyde rob banks? Because that’s where the money was. Why am I on social media? Because that’s where my customers are!”

“We have to go deep and narrow in how we speak to the customer, stay hyper-close. Answer the phone, stay on the sales floor, listen to the customer. Talk to the delivery drivers, understand what the voice of your customer is.

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We have a full-time stylist whose aim is to spark a customer’s emotions as she enters the store. And, we offer fresh baked chocolate chip cookies!

“I’m gonna be hyper-local, human touch. Legacy. To make sure, we have three separate Facebook pages. One for our outlet customer, or promotional customer. One that is general Kensington. And one that shows Kensington design services for our high-end customer. That way, our outlet customer isn’t turned off by our design services, or vice versa.”

Michael reflected, “You can no longer work at the pace you’re used to. You have to ramp it up.

“Sure this is a difficult time, but I’m not going to be passive, I’m gonna punch back. That’s all in the day of a furniture man."

He quotes Hillel, "’If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when?’

“We are a fourth-generation local family business, the oldest retail business in our section of southeastern New Jersey. We are Fenway Park versus Jerry’s World or Cowboys’ Stadium. We are an awesome Brooklyn pizzeria with the owner there tossing pizzas versus a Domino’s chain pizza option. We customize, not simply just sell cookie cutter looks. We are people helping people make their moments at home better. With the pace of everything getting faster, super intense and our country becoming more polarized, Kensington offers as Bob Dylan sang, ‘Shelter from the storm’.”

About Michael Grossman: Michael Grossman will be happy to field questions about how independent furnishings retailers can thrive in today's evolving retail environment by emailing him at editor@furninfo.com. He recently spoke at the fifth annual Renegade Group furniture conference held annually in Melville, NY, attended by over 400 industry leaders. Michael Grossman's remarks are reprinted in this article with permission of Renegade Furniture and TOV Furniture. The Renegade Furniture Group is a leader in Internet retail in the home furnishings market. With a wide selection of products, they are committed to offering customers true convenience along with the best value for their money. For more information about Renegade and TOV, visit www.renegadefurniture.com or www.tovfurniture.com.

Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.