Retail Profile: Kensington
generation Oregon-based retail chain grows in smaller markets with an emphasis on serving local
communities while being extra nice.
A Short History
Back from service in World War II, Chet Lewis arrived in Tillamook, Oregon, to found CE Lewis Appliance. Almost 45 years later, in 1994, Chet’s son George Lewis and George's wife Cindy took over the store, adding furniture as a product category.
In 1995 they purchased Roby’s, founded by Roby O’Bean in 1950 in the same town of Tillamook. Stores were added in Lincoln City and Newport, Oregon, both within a 90-minute drive of the original location.
In 2017 they opened a new store and discount center in Tillamook, plus a store in McMinnville closer to Portland.
Ryan Lewis and Andrea Langeliers, the third generation, joined the business in 2001.
Today Roby’s has six full-line stores and one discount center. Andrea's husband Kyle Langeliers takes care of financials, major purchases, negotiations and appliance buying. Ryan Lewis handles furnishings buying and inventory. Andrea is Roby's President, as well as the face of the company. Cindy Lewis (2nd Generation) works directly with the CFO.
Furniture World heard of Roby’s exceptional focus on service, especially their “Serve Day” and asked Andrea Langeliers to provide information about that program and other community-focused initiatives.
“The largest community Roby's serves has 30,000 people. Most of these communities are right on the ocean, places with a lot of retirees. Right now, we own the real estate at five of our locations with plans to purchase the sixth.
“With regard to customer loyalty, actions speak louder than words. In the tight-knit communities Roby’s serves, the customer experience we provide is a top priority.”
“Bringing families together is our main goal.
“In the late 90s, my husband Kyle, brother Ryan and I all attended George Fox University. The school encouraged students and employees to participate in a day of community service. This became the inspiration to start our own Serve Day.
Having a huge impact on the communities we serve translates into more loyalty for the Roby’s Furniture brand. I encourage like-minded furniture retailers to consider adding a Serve Day to their annual giving!
The first Serve Day at Roby’s was in 2010. Ever since then we close down on a Wednesday, usually the last Wednesday in January so each of our stores can work on a community service project.
“Our mom and dad were foster parents to perhaps 50 children, so it seemed natural that our first project goal for Serve Day would be to help foster families by refurnishing kids’ rooms with new materials, furnishings and providing the labor.
“Serve Day is a reflection of the way we want our employees to act in the world. Its purpose is to honor what is important to our family and bring our employees on-board. As the program rolled out across our other locations, we discovered that each town has different needs. Now, ideas for Serve Day projects are generated by the employees at each store. It has been a wonderful way for our people to work together, to get out of stores and into their communities to do something good.
|"Serve day is one of our team's favorite
days of the year. This is an awesome team-building event. We paint, clean, remodel and sometimes refurbish areas in need. All of the recipients have been so blown away that a business would close its doors for the day and come help them with no strings attached."
||"What a great way for Roby's to make a difference in our local communities. It's a nice feeling to know we are all having a positive impact on others!"
||"Serve Day is a great reminder that
it’s not all about me. Good health,
mentally-spiritually-emotionally-physically, comes when we reach beyond and outside of 'me' and make it all about 'you.'"
||"Being able to make a difference, even if it's a small one, can make a huge impact. Being able to potentially change lives for the better is something that Roby's is proud to stand behind as one of the many reasons for Serve Days."
-Todd Buehler, Manager, McMinnville, OR
-Tom Palmen, Lead Furniture Repair Tech
-LloyDene Westmark, CFO
-Christina Tucker, Office Specialist, Astoria, OR
“We’ve assisted in senior care centers, libraries, homeless shelters and even helped create a laundry program for schools to make sure kids can feel confident about having clean clothes. Sometimes we get some free press, but that’s not our goal.
“As a general rule, we donate materials, furnishings, appliances and our own labor. Decisions about how much to budget for Serve Days are left to store managers who earn their yearly bonus based on individual store profitability. So, there’s an incentive not to go too far. Our stores are always closed for Serve Day and all employees are paid."
“Serve Day has had a positive effect on our organization, more positive than I ever could have imagined. It’s only one day of service, but the team-building result has been huge, increasing morale and employee retention. Our customers tell us they’ve come to understand that Roby’s is not just out to sell furniture. We’re part of their communities, giving back not just with donations, but also time. Having a huge impact on the communities we serve translates into more loyalty for the Roby’s Furniture brand. I encourage like-minded furniture retailers to consider adding a Serve Day to their annual giving!”
Out to Live Program
"Lots of shoppers assume Roby's is open seven days a week and are a bit surprised to learn we’re not. On Sundays, we hang a sign on the front door that reads, “Sorry, Out to Live.” In the retail world, it’s uncommon, but we believe that giving our people Sundays off to be with their families, or just have free time to do whatever they want to do, enhances the quality of their lives.
“Other retailers tell us that we could increase sales by opening on Sunday, but for us, it’s not all about the money. It’s about bringing families together. However, for customers who only have time to shop on Sundays, we’re happy to open up the store on a case-by-case appointment basis.”
“Our walk-in traffic was fairly consistent in 2019. At the same time, our online traffic increased, which is so important. We work to make sure that Roby’s online experience matches its in-store experience. It creates problems if these two don’t align, especially if shoppers find different prices listed online and on tagged items in stores. Especially in the appliance business, pricing changes all the time. We sell about 40 percent appliances, 40 percent furniture, and 20 percent mattresses, so we are moving to digital price tags. This ensures that prices on the website, in stores and on our computer system all match."
“Roby’s uses mostly digital and TV advertising. To keep costs low, TV commercials are created using an iPhone in front of a white screen. Most of Roby’s advertising messages are designed to create top of mind awareness and hopefully allow people to get to know us a little better before they visit the store. In general, we don’t use our advertising to promote huge sales. It’s not a healthy way for our customers to purchase things, so we like to offer fair prices all the time."
If a customer
buys a sofa or mattress at Roby’s, we will take it back within 10 days for any reasonable
reason. It's our Take it Back Guarantee.
“Roby’s Furniture carries lines including Flexsteel and Ekornes on the higher end, and Ashley for more promotional furniture. We try to sell as much made-in-Oregon products as we can. Also, sustainable options including fabrics made out of recycled plastic bottles, which is a really big thing here in Oregon. Stanton Furniture, manufactured in Oregon with custom features and quick delivery, is one of our favorites.
“Our outdoor lines include Hollywood and Seaside Casual. We believe that outdoor furniture has a lot of upside potential for Roby's. The wind can be very strong in coastal Oregon so we sell a lot of outdoor furniture made of heavy composite wood that won’t blow away.
“Over the past few years, with dedicated mattress stores popping up all over the country, our mattress sales declined. We recently re-branded our mattress area as the Mattress Shop at Roby’s, technically a stand-alone mattress shop, to solid success."
Roby's website and advertising features company president Andrea Langeliers.
Customer Service Philosophy
“If we sell somebody a sofa or a mattress they absolutely hate, then every night when they go to bed or sit down to watch a movie, they’ll think of us. That’s why if a customer buys a sofa or mattress at Roby’s, we will take it back within 10 days for any reasonable reason. It's our Take it Back Guarantee. We just switch it out.
"It’s important to have our customers’ expectations met. That's why we focus on setting clear expectations for what they buy at Roby's. For example, if we know that our customers have had poor repair experiences with a specific appliance brand, we will order this brand for them, but first we let them know that they are more likely to experience service issues. It’s the same with furniture. A $399 sofa may be a great deal, but before someone buys it, we want to make sure that their expectations are in line with how that sofa might wear over time."
Next Generation Planning
Through our involvement with the family business program at Oregon State we’ve discovered
that there are often
big challenges in
"We feel it’s never too early to make sure that generational transitions go as smoothly as possible for our employees and families.
"Before joining Roby’s, my brother Ryan had been on track to be a screenwriter in LA. I planned to become a teacher. After joining the family business, our parents ran the Tillamook location, Ryan managed the Lincoln City store and I was based in Newport. That was the setup for quite a few years. It worked really well, and we learned a lot. Even today we all have our own responsibilities and our own space.
"Through our involvement with the family business program at Oregon State we’ve discovered that there are often big challenges in transitioning family businesses from first to second-generation control. Moving to a third generation successfully is even more difficult.
"Going forward into a possible fourth generation at Roby’s, we want to decide whether to scale up or down and examine what that might look like for our kids."
Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.