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Retail Success: Growing Coconis Furniture

Furniture World Magazine


Interview with Bo Coconis

Fourth generation Bo Coconis talks about growing a retail business in Appalachia on the outskirts of Columbus, the importance of building industry relationships, serving customers, and golf.

Kyle “Bo” Coconis, Vice President of Retail at Zanesville-based Coconis Furniture, told Furniture World it feels like he’s always worked in the furniture business. His early childhood education included jumping on beds in the bedding department and playing hide-and-seek throughout the store. “I recall working on the dock in grade school,” he said. The warehouse guys probably questioned whether I was getting much work done, but even at that age, I was fascinated by products coming off the pickers and being loaded on trucks. I remember sweeping the parking lot and picking up trash and cigarette butts around the building.”

The youngest of three siblings, Coconis, like many kids in family-owned furniture businesses who learned retailing from the bottom up, feels like he, along with his brother Chad, ‘paid their dues’ working through his high school years going out on deliveries, making service calls and working jobs on the showroom floor. However, it wasn’t quite an Oliver Twist experience. He said it’s taught him to have respect for all aspects of business and for his coworkers at Coconis Furniture. “I’ve always had a great relationship with my dad, Randy Coconis,” he added, “and appreciate the opportunities he has given my brother and me.

“Before we opened our second largest store, in Heath, Chad and I focused on buying and merchandising. We were stuck in our offices without control of day-to-day operations. After a visit to Furniture Fair, another Ohio-based retail operation, run by Steve, Bill, and Rick Daniels, we decided that if we wanted to grow our business to the next level, it would be a good idea for Chad and me to split up our responsibilities. I started to focus on sales, marketing and merchandising. Chad, a former basketball coach and a numbers person, took responsibility for team building to get our customer service and operations where we wanted them to be. Over the next eight years, Coconis Furniture continued to grow. Our dad, Randy, started stepping away from the business right before COVID hit. I won’t say that it was perfect timing,” he noted, “but over the past three years, we learned a lot about the kinds of things they don’t teach in college. We belong to a couple of performance groups through Furniture First, and I can’t imagine getting through those challenges without the monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily conversations and emails shared with performance group members to discuss and be able to handle the situations we ran into during the pandemic.

“As we grow, we choose locations where the Coconis Furniture name will mean something to people.”

“My dad has belonged to a performance group for over 25 years. I also participate in a Furniture First Performance Group. The group shares financials and best ideas to identify what’s working and what’s not. To quote my dad, ‘It’s like having access to 15 consultants who understand what running a successful retail furniture business is all about.’” Coconis recalled that the groups were beneficial with hands-on advice about navigating the ERC, finding suppliers who had goods during the shutdown, and troubleshooting post-COVID strategies.

This resulted in record sales. Coconis Furniture came back stronger and more efficient. We exited COVID doing 30% more business with nine fewer employees. We are much more productive now. I credit our employees and performance group members for helping us make that happen.”

“The last thing we want is to walk into a restaurant and be approached by a customer who had a bad experience. Living and working in smaller trading areas, we must live up to our customers’ expectations and our own.”

Competitive Environment

Coconis Furniture is located in southeast Ohio, in Appalachia, on the outskirts of Columbus. “As we have grown and look to the future,” he noted, “we choose locations where the Coconis Furniture name will mean something. That’s why we’ve succeeded in Zanesville, Newark, and Lancaster. If you walk down the street in these communities and ask about Coconis Furniture, we hope they will say, ‘They are a good family, and it’s our favorite place to shop for furniture.’ We try to give them reasons not to go to Columbus to find a better selection or prices. For a long time, we didn’t have much competition in our trading area, but that changed when a larger retail chain moved into all three of our markets about ten years ago. At first, we felt like there was a target on our back. Competition is good, and we are a stronger company because of it, but eventually, we realized that focusing too much on what other retailers do is a distraction. I tell our people that we are our biggest competitor. If we continue to take care of customers, they will continue to come back.

“Every opportunity has become even more important as in-store traffic across the industry has decreased. People no longer have the time to visit multiple stores, and customers come in more prepared, having spent time shopping online before visiting stores. When they walk through our door, we try to provide them with an experience they can’t get anywhere else. If we make that experience all about price, we know we could lose because it’s easy for shoppers to find items for less online. One thing has not changed; people like to feel important and shop at businesses that care. Creating personal relationships adds value. Simple things like sending hand-written thank-you cards can have a real impact, especially when other retailers focus too much on just making a sale and moving on to the next customer. We always challenge ourselves to do what we can to make customers feel special.”

“Hand-written invitations are sent out by staff, including non-selling employees, who are incentivized with a spiff on purchases made by people they bring in.”

Product Selection

“Our merchandising mix target is half in-stock merchandise and the other half special-order. That allows us to satisfy customers who need something right away and those who prefer something unique. It’s a healthy mix based on the size of our stores and our need to keep inventory in check. It enables us to stay competitive with online retailers and big-box stores based on value and the delivery speed of in-stock goods. We can also offer design help and customized configurations from lines like Smith Brothers of Berne, England, La-Z-Boy, and Flexsteel, something that online retailers may not be able to do as well. We are changing our lineups to receive custom orders in four to six weeks.

“Our 40,000-square-foot Heath and 70,000-square-foot Zanesville stores provide ample space to experiment. We’re always looking for the next big thing. Suppliers like Flexsteel and Ashley frequently ask us to test new products based on our solid relationships.

“Some retailers believe that the only reason to attend furniture markets is to see and buy new groups. We strongly disagree. It’s also an important opportunity to build executive-level relationships. These relationships are personally rewarding and can be useful, especially when it becomes necessary to pull strings to get something done.” Coconis said he’s careful when deciding to purchase from manufacturing companies controlled by people outside the furniture business. “There were notable examples in 2023 and going back more than 40 years—before my time—of manufacturers and retailers being hurt or destroyed by companies that made decisions based solely on financial considerations, and they lost sight of what matters—the end customer. We want our partners to have 100% control over their businesses because that’s what’s best for Coconis Furniture and our customers. We’re preparing to open our first Ashley Furniture Homestore because we trust the Ashley Furniture family. I respect Ashley because I can walk into their showroom, shake Todd and Ron Wanek’s hands, converse and connect with them.”

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“My dad was the face and voice of Coconis Furniture in our commercials for many years. We got away from that for a while, which coincided with a time of slower growth. We needed to regain that personal touch, and I became Coconis Furniture’s familiar face and voice four years ago. Building a personal connection with customers makes Coconis different from our competitors. We feel it’s important for them to know who owns the store.” Coconis said that’s another powerful incentive to get things right. “I always tell my staff that the last thing we want to do is walk into a restaurant and be approached by a customer who had a bad experience. Living and working in smaller trading areas, we must live up to our customers’ expectations and our own.

“We operate an in-house marketing company. That allows us to shoot television commercials, reducing the time to air to just a day or two if needed. Having control over digital production instead of relying on an agency has its challenges. Still, it also allows us to create new materials quickly if, for example, we need to swap out a TV spot that isn’t getting the results we expected.”

Coconis explained that a problem for brick-and-mortar retailers similar to Coconis is the quality of photography some suppliers make available to retailers. “That’s especially true for many custom-order upholstery lines we carry and for Amish case goods producers. They supply photography that works well for their reps from a B2B perspective. Unfortunately,” he said, “it doesn’t often meet retail needs or match how we show the products on our floor or website. That makes it harder for us to promote these higher-end products in commercials and on our website.”

“The flip side of aggressive price-cutting is hidden costs for consumers. We prefer to offer good prices and ensure that customers also get peace of mind.”

Giving Back

“We give back to the communities we serve,” said Coconis. “For example, we partner with three hospitals and our local NBC affiliate to promote breast cancer awareness and provide free mammograms. Anyone can come into our stores, fill out a certificate, then go to one of the hospitals to get a free mammogram, paid for by Coconis Furniture. Most people have been affected personally or through someone close to them by cancer, including the Coconis family. It’s a cause near and dear to us. People who could not otherwise afford a mammogram have come back to tell us that they were able to get help and recover from breast cancer.

“In June 2024, we will host our 14th Tee It Up For Autism, which raises money to get help for kids diagnosed with autism. So far, we’ve raised over $500,000 and have heard amazing stories about how those funds have helped families. These feel-good stories encourage us to continue to do more for our communities than only sell furniture.”

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Value Vs. Price

Coconis said offering the best value doesn’t always mean the best price. He observed that the flip side of aggressive price-cutting is hidden costs for consumers. “We prefer to offer good prices and ensure that customers also get peace of mind so that when a product or service issue happens, we are positioned to take care of them.”

Trend Curve

“Here in Central and Southeastern Ohio,” Coconis observed, “The gap between what’s trendy and what sells in our market is wider than elsewhere.

“About ten years ago, every manufacturer introduced track arm upholstery. We tried it for years but couldn’t sell the style. Now, half our upholstery has track arms. We’re now seeing that lag with contemporary reclining groups with low backs and adjustable headrests on our floor. They aren’t selling as well as we would like, but they will eventually.”

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“With retail traffic down year-over-year as we come off the huge spike in pandemic sales,” noted Coconis, “we find that our customers are still receptive, given good enough reasons to visit and purchase. When we have a special promotion or mailer going out, which is often, the result is a big weekend. We have Customer Appreciation and Friends and Family events twice a year at each store. During the pandemic, we substituted direct mail events. They were so successful that now we do both. Friends and Family events kick off with an in-store special sale from five to nine on a Sunday or Thursday. They are followed up with direct mail for the following two weekends. Shoppers enjoy music, food, drinks and giveaways. We ask our vendors for special discounts to support these events. Hand-written invitations are sent out by staff, including non-selling employees, who are incentivized with a spiff on purchases made by people they bring in. Randy, Chad and I spread the word to about 600 people we know personally or have done business with.

“The events have been so successful that our customers routinely ask us, ‘Hey, when’s the next Friends and Family you’re having?’ It’s great to have them ask us to invite them back to buy furniture! Most people have never shopped for furniture like this before. Even those who attend without intending to buy often see something they like and make a purchase. Getting them in the store is half the battle. These events have grown to the point where we have done more than $300,000 in a single day.”

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Coconis Furniture’s History

Nick Coconis, a Greek immigrant, started the Coconis Family in the furniture business in 1927 with a store called The Zanesville Furniture Company. After World War II, his son Paul Coconis took over and changed the store’s name to Hallmark Furniture. In 1953, Hallmark Furniture moved to a new location in South Zanesville, and in 1963, the name was changed to Furniture Discount House. Sometime after Randy took over day-to-day operations he changed the name to Coconis Furniture.

Bo credits Randy Coconis with being one of the most passionate and smartest people in the furniture industry. “He’s been influential in the furniture business for over 50 years. In 2013, Coconis Furniture was awarded Retailer of the Year honors by HFA. He served as treasurer of the Ohio Home Furnishings Association and has participated on the boards of Furniture First, the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation.

“When my dad took over the business from his ailing father, his banker recommended that he go out of business and start over. Against the odds, he grew the company from a few hundred thousand dollars a year in sales in 1972 to become a five-store independent retailer with a state-of-the-art 35,000-foot distribution center. This is quite a feat for an operation in South Zanesville, Ohio. Today, many people drive an hour or more to shop at a Coconis Furniture location. He created a furniture store destination and is a true entrepreneur.

“I can’t imagine getting through recent challenges without the monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily conversations and emails shared with other Furniture First members.”

“Chad and I are proud to lead our company into its fourth-generation and hope to continue to provide opportunities for our employees who are part of the Coconis Furniture family. We strive to continue to offer our customers the best experience and never become complacent. My brother and I respect our father’s legacy and are grateful for the opportunity we have been presented with.”

Retention & Growth

“If our employees are happy, we will continue to be successful. People need to find value and pride in their employment. If they can’t find it, poor employee retention and dissatisfied customers result. Adding new stores is much easier when furniture retailers have management-ready employees to staff them. Likewise, losing good people with potential is easy when they feel there’s nowhere to grow. Providing advancement opportunities can be challenging for many family-owned furniture businesses where family members occupy most management positions.

“Being aware of that, we have developed a manager-in-training platform to engage employees who are interested in becoming managers and have the potential to move up in the Coconis Furniture organization. And it’s not only employees who need to grow into their positions. When I entered the business full-time 14 years ago, I didn’t have a lot of contact with many other young people in the business. That’s why I’m thankful that Furniture First created a Next Gen group to unite many of us. I have seen how my father has been influenced and gained lifelong friends in the furniture industry. Those types of relationships are priceless and important to our future success,” concluded Coconis.

“With retail traffic down year-over-year as we come off the huge spike in pandemic sales, we find that our customers are still receptive, given good enough reasons to visit and purchase.”


Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.