“Over half of our stores are in small towns in the Carolinas, and people know their neighbors,” Thornburg says. “Our biggest advantage is that because we’ve been around so long, we have third-generation customers. Although someone’s credit might not look that good on paper, if we know their mother and grandmother and where they grew up, we’re more likely to approve them for credit.” These are factors that a central credit office would not know.
Thornburg estimates that furniture comprises approximately 70 percent of the dealership’s sales. Approximately 15 percent is mattresses and the final 15 percent is appliances and consumer electronics. “Appliances and electronics complement furniture, which is our biggest niche,” he says.
Founded as a furniture store, Kimbrell’s added appliances and consumer electronics later. “We started with furniture and added the mattresses, electronics and appliances as a courtesy to our long-term credit customers,” Thornburg explains. “They are there more to take care of our customers that want to buy everything in one place.” So not only can Kimbrell’s customers buy home theater furniture at Kimbrell’s, they also can buy the home theater.
Kimbrell’s carries video and audio electronics from Samsung and LG Electronics, such as flat screen televisions and home theater in a box. “As far as appliances, we stick to pretty basic ones – washers, dryers, ranges and refrigerators,” Thornburg says. Brands offered include Whirlpool, GE and Frigidaire.
Most Kimbrell’s stores have a single vignette of appliances and one for consumer electronics. Another is for the dealership’s new iKidz Rooms gallery line. “Each of our stores has a trademarked by Ashley Furniture iKidz area that is strictly for juvenile and kids’ furniture,” Thornburg says. “It coordinates the beds, the rugs and the artwork on the walls with the lamps and accessories. They have very bright-colored walls.”
The company’s most recent location was opened in November 2013 in Goose Creek, S.C., near Charleston. “We have relocated eight stores in the last four years,” Thornburg adds. “Most recently, we had a grand opening in Durham, N.C., on Aug 1. We also did in the last two years major renovations in Charlotte, N.C., and Camden, S.C.” These renovations included changing the façade, the interior walls, ceilings and floors and installing a new layout, signage, roof, HVAC and energy-efficient lighting.
“In most of those stores we’ve renovated or relocated, we’ve changed the looks,” Thornburg says. “We have a runway for the customer to lead them through the store so they can more easily see all the merchandise. We have found with the retail landscape changing, the majority of those eight relocations have been from Main Street to more suburban locations.”
Warehouses in Stores
Suburban locations have several advantages. “In Durham, our downtown store was three retail floors and two warehouse floors,” Thornburg recalls. “We now have around the same square footage but all on one floor in more of a strip center with some other comparable vendors.” This eases parking for customers and deliveries for vendors. “It’s really tough to get a 53-foot truck in and out of a downtown store to bring merchandise in,” Thornburg points out.
These relocations have not changed the sizes of the stores appreciably. “For us, 37,000 square feet is pretty ideal,” Thornburg says. “Of that, 25,000 is showroom and 12,000 is warehouse. As we make credit decisions and collect out of the individual stores, we also deliver out of the individual stores.”
Unlike some furniture stores, Kimbrell’s Furniture charges customers only $79.95 for delivery. “Each store has a delivery department and a delivery truck, and there is a minimal charge of $79.95, one of the lowest in the industry,” Thornburg says. “Customers can do their own delivery when they can. The delivery charge is pretty even across the board with some exceptions. It includes in-house set-up and hauling off of the old goods.”
Most service and damage repair is subcontracted to specialists by store managers. “Typically, we will farm that service out, but we have a history of always taking care of our customers,” Thornburg stresses. “We do sell extended warranties on all the electronics, appliances and furniture.”
Kimbrell’s Furniture is reaping the benefits of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system it installed in November 2013. “We went to Storis as our ERP system, which does everything from ordering to the point-of-sale to accounts receivable to inventory,” Thornburg says. “Our entire receivables was on 35,000 cardboard ledger cards that we handwrote receipts on. Now with the computer system, we can look in on every account from corporate.”
With the manual card system, stores with high numbers of customers who were delinquent on their credit payments were self-reporting. “In the past, we would send an auditor out to see which store had high delinquents,” Thornburg remembers. “Now we can see that on a daily and hourly basis, and see which accounts have been called and which sent notices, and follow up and really hold people accountable on a daily basis.”
The system also has increased efficiencies in inventory. “The best example would be that when we had the grand opening in Durham, we filled up that 37,000-square-foot building with furniture from within the company,” Thornburg marvels. “We found the extra inventory we had in other warehouses and moved that to our new location without ordering truckloads of furniture.”
An additional benefit of the ERP system is its effect on bookkeeping. “With the new computer system, we’ve been able to become more effective staffing-wise, most particularly in the bookkeeping area,” Thornburg says. “Previously, we had bookkeepers in all 49 stores, and then had to consolidate all that information at the corporate office, whereas with the computer system, it’s automatic. So that’s been a huge change that will allow us to continue to grow in the future.”
Kimbrell’s Furniture has a single central warehouse of 40,000 square feet in Charlotte. “It’s mostly been for the electronics and appliances, because most of those vendors want to ship truckloads only, whereas Ashley and Sealy will deliver four or five pieces to any of our 49 locations any day,” Thornburg says.
Consequently, each store’s warehouse contains mostly furniture. “For appliances and electronics, each store gets a truck from our warehouse once a week,” Thornburg says. “The new system has also allowed us to move inventory around between stores instead of ordering another truckload.”
Lease to Own
Kimbrell’s Furniture now offers a lease-to-own option for its customers. “We have just gotten into it in the last two to three years of trying to make sure we can sell to everyone,” Thornburg says. “The majority of our sales are still cash or in-house credit. But to serve everyone, we do have a lease-to-own option for folks who don’t want their credit checked. We also have a no-interest option with a couple of the banks that customers can apply for.”
The company advertises mostly through printed circulars, direct mail, a little television and radio and social media. “We have been for years in Furniture Today magazine’s Top 100 furniture retailers,” Thornburg says.
For the future, Kimbrell’s Furniture plans additional expansion within the Carolinas. “We’re trying to stay within three hours of our home office and distribution center in Charlotte,” Thornburg says. “Winston-Salem and Greensboro are a couple towns we’re not in right now, and with just one location in Charleston, we feel like there is more room for expansion.”
Thornburg emphasizes his support for the goals of the founder W. Earle Kimbrell. “Current management continues to adhere to the proven policies established by our founder: serving customers with the best home furnishings and superior service,” Thornburg pledges.
With the third and fourth generations of Kimbrells still on the company’s board of directors, Thornburg stresses the company’s family atmosphere as an element of its success. “I think the customer service is the biggest thing,” Thornburg concludes. “We’ve always taken care of our customers’ furniture and credit needs. We feel like this is a family business, a family place to work, and some of our customers feel the same way, like they’re part of the family.”