ebruary is the absolute peak (or maybe the depth?) of the Canadian winter. Along about this time of year, many Canadians begin to suffer from endemic cabin fever. Strange, erratic notions occur to them under the influence of the midnight sun. One such aberration struck Dan Taylor, energetic proprietor of Essex Home Furnishings, Essex, Ontario.
The Canadian women’s hockey team had just triumphed at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Excitement was running high. The men’s team was in semi-final mid-play against Belarus when Dan, watching the game with friends, commented that "the Olympic experience was awesome". He’d been to Calgary in 1988 and said he’d love to go again. Especially since "it might be a Canada versus U.S. final".
"Are you serious?" asked Jerry Halliday. "Today’s the 22nd. The gold medal game will be on the 24th, that’s less than 48 hours to ice time!" But by 11:30 that night the two never-say-die friends succeeded in booking Northwest Airlines 6:45 a.m. flight to Salt Lake via Las Vegas. After three hours sleep, the race was on.
Tickets for the game, the next hurdle. After several negotiating adventures and misadventures, our stalwarts "worked the price to $1250 each. Now we could party!"
The moment came and "Once inside the arena, the place was electric!" Everyone in the world knows the outcome. Our friends celebrated, group hugs all ‘round, and they stayed for the gold medal ceremony. Then they managed to buy tickets for the closing ceremonies. "What a great experience, sitting so close to the athletes, the emotions, the pageantry, the sadness that these games were coming to a close and then the hope of beginning all over again in Italy, 2006."
But that wasn’t quite the end of the adventure. At the airport the next morning they bumped into Pat Quinn, coach of the men’s hockey team. He "just happened to be on our flight". And he signed their hockey tickets. "Then a lady comes running in, all panicked she missed her flight. I reassured her that I was on that flight too. In her hand I saw a bouquet of yellow roses, just like those presented to the winning team. I asked where she snagged them and she proudly said, ‘Our son was on the gold medal hockey team’. Just then her husband showed up and I recognized a familiar face but couldn’t put a name to it. He introduced himself. They were Eric Lindros’ parents!
"I puffed up my chest and showed off my Canadian shirt, and Mrs. Lindros said ‘Well, I guess you’d like to see this’. She pulled out of her purse the Gold Medal! I was shaking. I asked if I could hold it and she let me. What a thrill! What a blast!"
Who ever said home furnishings retailers live mundane lives!
When Dan Turner was a little boy back in the border cities, Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, his principal hero was Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiennes, although he has exciting memories, too, of visits to Tiger Stadium. "The hot game on our block when I was a kid was road hockey." Born in Detroit, Dan and his brothers and sisters were transported by his parents across the river to the Canadian side when he was four years old. His father, now retired, worked for the Ford Motor Company.
With sports still top of his mind at Vincent Massey High School, Dan participated in football, basketball, track and field, then volleyball at St. Clair College where he also studied advertising. After hours, Dan and his brothers Don and Dave "delivered electronics for Crazy Kelly’s". And after graduation, all three brothers ran electronics stores. Dan spent 12 years in the city of Guelph, then returned to Windsor and worked for Don, now the owner of the renamed Turner’s Audio Video.
Two years later, eight years ago this month, Dan saw a classified ad that sparked his imagination, a home furnishings store for sale in the town of Essex, just half an hour from Windsor. "I had always been interested in the concept of furnishing the entire home, not just providing necessary appliances. Here was my opportunity! It was a challenge from the beginning. The previous owner had taken deposits on furniture. We honoured every deposit and made deals with all the suppliers. This created a lot of good will, the word of mouth of the 40 or 50 people affected. And we made money in our first year of business."
Dan and his wife, Debbie, "did everything!" In between sales, customer service, delivering and the thousand and one happenings that can and do occur in the operation of a 10,000 square foot county retail store, they computerized, developed their preferred customer list and began to mount events and develop floor programmes with their suppliers.
Four years ago, Dan joined the Mega Group, recently dubbed one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies. "Pierre Marcotte brought us into the Group, and he comes to call every six months or so. We’ve had an appreciable increase in sales since we joined Mega."
Dan just returned from Mega’s annual general shareholders’ meeting in Nashville. "It was a combined meeting, U.S. and Canada, and we shared a great guest speaker, Michael Broome. His message was humorous but extremely relevant and centred around the necessity for the best possible customer service, pearls of wisdom based on Biblical principles . . . ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’.
"We always do a lot of brainstorming at these meetings, very informative with lots of interaction with dealers from all over, sharing their ideas.
"The Group unrolled details of their new ‘sleep experience’, planned to hit the stores in the fall. The concept is a ‘store within the store’. There will be 23 beds in each setting, everything from coil to foam to adjustable. And this is certainly in tune with the times."
Our conversation with Dan coincided with a government announcement about the role of sleep deprivation in automobile accidents nation wide. It appears that more than 70 percent of accidents involve Canadians with sleep disorders. Mega is on the right track.
Another exciting Nashville event was the golf tournament staged at the Opry Land Hotel. This time the U.S. beat Canada in both the first and second levels; Canada came third, but was "generous spirited", Dan chuckled. He told us he played on both baseball and hockey teams until he was 40, "just a couple of years ago", then made the switch to golf.
Back home, the staff was kept busy planning the Eighth Anniversary Sale, a big event scheduled for late June. "Special pricing, lots of advertising, balloons, the works," enthused Dan. "We mount promotions every month, then every three months, but this is a biggy.
"We close before all sales events for a half day to mark down prices, then open from noon to 8 p.m. and we always have long line ups at our door. Twice in the past we’ve had moving sales at our 2,500 square foot outside warehouse and they have also been very successful."
Dan’s staff is as optimistic and lively as "The Boss". Katherine Garant, salesperson and designer, helps coordinate the store’s activities, ably partnered by Bonny Guerrieri, Melanie Oliver and Linda Sutherland.
They all believe in weekly exposure and use print ads and editorial coverage in The Windsor Star and The Pennysaver, with 30 second commercials on Radio CHYR. These media saturate Dan’s area of reach. With the town of Essex as the hub, 70 percent of customers come from the surrounding county, 30 percent from the big city of Windsor.
Four years ago, competition entered the market area when Jone’s Fine Furniture opened up shop just outside Essex on Highway 3. "We enjoy having them there. We cooperate well, feed on each other. Our sales figures have jumped 35 percent since Jone’s came to the vicinity."
Casegoods suppliers are a carefully balanced mix, Winners Only, Ideal, and Sunrise with Buhler for curios and entertainment centres. The upholstery segment includes Citation House, Paiano, Kroehler, Berkline, El Ran and Dutailier. Engelite, Sunset and Gold Coast for their Tiffany line in particular, provide lighting. Dan regards accessories as very important to both his settings and to sales and uses Jansen and Expressions. His rattan comes from Precious Island.
Dan’s vision for the future is, you guessed it! Optimistic. "We did better last January than the January before, in spite of all the dire predictions floating about. And I have the feeling that our June event will attract a lot of positive attention. We’re offering some really special door prizes, Team Canada prints! That will bring them in."
And you won’t be surprised to hear that although the glow of the Olympic torch has faded from Salt Lake City’s horizon, it lives on for Dan and his friends. It’s only three and a half years until the Winter Italian Olympic Games with Athens the "in between" summertime event. Something tells me they’ve already booked their tickets.