Here, OC Prosper’s Wensdy Von Buskirk talks with Rachel Tronstein, president of Gardner-White, about how the company has fared during COVID, what’s in store (no pun intended) for the future and, of course, the newest furniture trends for spring.
How did the grand opening of your newest location go?
We expanded into Rochester in October. We had a live DJ and bands, games, huge stuffed animals for the kids. We had a big party. We’re fortunate in the furniture industry in that the spaces are inherently big and social distancing was easy to do.
How has business fared during COVID?
Mostly positively, because no one has left their house now in nearly a year. The name of the game is functionality. Now that you’re using every nook and cranny of your rooms, you need everything to be versatile and help people stay connected. Home office has seen a bounce since so many people are doing work and school from home, but it’s well beyond home office.
In our Design Studio, everything has a performance fabric. You can drop a slice of pizza between cushions and it will be fine. But we want it to look good. We’re past the point of never getting out of our sweatpants and everything being a mess.
What are some trends in furniture?
There is some great motion furniture that doesn’t look like motion furniture. Chairs and sofas recline, they have power in them so you can have all your devices plugged in. Motion beds allow you to sit upright to watch TV or work on a laptop. They’ve come a long way in the last five years. They’re thinner and can be added to existing frames so you don’t have to sacrifice style.
What does the Design Studio offer?
We now have six Design Studios. We launched the first one in Auburn Hills, then expanded to five more stores so we can offer really beautiful, premium products with a lot of functionality. If we’re going to be home, let it be beautiful at every price point.
What keeps you in Oakland County?
We live and work here — and have, since 1912. We’re certainly not going anywhere. We’re about as “all in” as you can get.
How do you give back?
We always say as a local business, we are only as strong as the community around us, so we need to do everything we can to promote that. We have partnered with American Red Cross and WDIV to host one of the largest blood drives in the region, second only to the U-M Blood Battle. We’ve collected enough blood to save 40,000 lives.
During COVID, we’ve responded to community needs by partnering with the Metropolitan Detroit Diaper Bank to transport and house diapers. There was a point that we had a whole corner of our distribution center filled with a million diapers.
We also have a new partnership with Lighthouse of Oakland County to provide emergency food delivery service. We are always striving to be nimble and use the resources we have to improve the community.
Your spring catalog just dropped. What’s new?
I’m really excited about our new Johnathan Louis Design Lab. Everything about the furniture is customizable. You choose your sofa or sectional, the thickness of your seat cushion, the depth, the arm style, the legs and then you choose from literally hundreds of fabrics. It’s so fun. We also have several frames from the Detroit Furniture Collection with more on the way.
Is spring a popular time for furniture sales?
Michigan is unique. Here, historically, when it’s cold and we’re inside, that’s furniture season. But we’re still home due to COVID, so we think this spring will be really strong.
Are you still actively courting what was once Art Van’s market share?
I think we’re always trying to grow our market share and expand our offerings. We’re very competitive and we’ll keep innovating. We have a great team, lots of talent and lots of new offerings. We’re also now the presenting sponsor of America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; 2020 was our first year.
What’s in the future for your family business?
My parents and I are third and fourth generation. We are more committed now than ever. We’re serious. We’re unique in the number of women that have followed their parents into the furniture business. I think it’s an advantage because it’s the women who drive buying decisions in the home. We have stayed competitive with our showrooms and e-commerce, and we have thousands of products in stock for same-day delivery. You can come in and test it, or buy it online by three and have it the same day.