Collaboration trumps conflict at Opdyke Furniture
Staff Staff -- Casual Living, May 1, 2010
While record-breaking storms raged across the Jersey Shore this winter, inside Opdyke Furniture it was business as usual with plenty of optimism and good cheer.
The upbeat tone is set by the sister-in-law triad who run the specialty business — Audrey Edelhauser, president; Lynn Opdyke, vice president, and Gigi Opdyke, vice president. Over the years, the three have honed a management style that leverages their individual strengths while creating a comfortable atmosphere for staff and customers alike.
While they may not have set out to design a business process specifically for addressing conflict — an issue that can level a family business — the fact that conflict is rare among the three isn't just a matter of good luck. Their clear divisions of responsibility, open communication and mutual respect are just what the experts advise when it comes to best practices for conflict resolution in the workplace.
Opdyke Furniture was established in 1947 by Audrey's grandparents, Chester and Ruth Opdyke. Initially the store was an outdoor furniture seasonal business, opened just three months of the year as an add-on revenue source to the family's awning company, which opened in 1914.
Audrey's mother, also named Ruth, took over Opdyke Furniture in the 1960s, while her father, William, managed the awning business.
Although Audrey grew up working in the business, she didn't plan on making it her career. Instead, she became a registered nurse. But when her children were young, the flexibility of working part time for the family business grew more appealing. She gradually took on more responsibility and became president when her mother passed away in 1990s.
Lynn and Gigi had been college roommates before marrying Audrey's younger brothers. Lynn joined Opdyke Furniture in 1985 after working as a buyer for Bloomingdale's. Gigi was a buyer and manager for Saks Fifth Avenue as well as Lord & Taylor before joining Opdyke Furniture in 1992.
In their early years of working together under Ruth's leadership and mentoring, the three women were able to each carve out her own niche as well as learn to work together as a team. These were critical factors for their success going forward.
"We each have our own categories that we are responsible for, so we and the staff know who the go-to person is when something comes up," Audrey said.
As president, Audrey is the company visionary, setting long-term goals as well as handling all of the finances and customer service. She and Lynn share employee-related tasks, while Lynn is the primary buyer for the outdoor furniture and accessories categories. Gigi does all of the indoor category buying, including upholstery, case goods, home accessories and holiday.
Although Opdyke Furniture has two locations, the three all work out of the larger store in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., while staff members run the smaller Wall location. The women stagger their schedules so they are all in the store two days a week. In addition, they meet at least once a week.
"We discuss everything," Audrey said.
The scheduled and unscheduled communication among the trio is the backbone of their success in collaborative decision making.
"I think that that is the best way to manage," Audrey said. "If there is an issue, we all discuss the problem and collaboratively come to an agreement. If it is a tie, I make the final decision but that rarely happens."
Give-and-take is the rule.
"Obviously, we never see eye-to-eye on everything, but we compromise and work things out," Lynn said. "And if I don't get my way today, I'll get it tomorrow. You have to let things go. It is too stressful otherwise."
That attitude goes a long way in ensuring that unspoken disagreements or resentment doesn't build mountains out of molehills.
"If there's a conflict, you just go to the person and deal with," Audrey said. "You laugh, you make light of it and you try to problem solve as a team."
Even more importantly is not pointing blame if something doesn't go as planned.
"Not everything goes right all of the time, but because we all discussed everything and all came to the decision, if something doesn't work you can't point a finger at just one of us. It's all of our faults," Audrey said.
Their similarities are also part of their strength as a team, Gigi said. "We each have our own personal tastes and experiences, but we are also very similar," she said. "We think a lot alike and we are all very approachable, which makes it easier to manage a business."
The women's other obvious strength is their good humor.
"We take the business very seriously but we laugh a lot," Audrey said.
Setting themselves apart
The upshot of the combined effort of Audrey, Lynn and Gigi is a successful track record of setting Opdyke Furniture apart from the crowd.
"I'm not interested in what our competition is doing. I'm interested in what they are not doing and defining our differences," said Gigi, summing up the team's philosophy.
Each woman brings her particular strengths to that differentiation. For example, a major and hugely successful difference is Opdyke Furniture's holiday business, which includes a craft boutique that draws bigger crowds each year. In addition to finding artisans to feature, Gigi creates each year's holiday themes and vignettes.
For her part, Lynn ensures that Opdyke Furniture's showroom carries full displays of outdoor furniture collections so that customers are wowed by the presentation. What's more, it is a sea of color rather than the common neutrals displayed by many outdoor furniture retailers.
"I'm very proud of how we display our furniture," Lynn said. "Color is our story and our success."
Customer service is another area of differentiation.
"I like to handle customer service myself because then I get to hear from the customers who are not happy. It keeps me on top of the product we are selling," said Audrey, who believes that Opdyke Furniture's biggest challenge is being a small fish in a big sea. That challenge manifests in such issues as vendor relationships, which are exacerbated by economic pressures.
Despite the challenges, Audrey, Lynn and Gigi are optimistic about the opportunities ahead.
"People are coming in and spending money," Lynn said. "We were blessed to have a great season last year and we are going to have as good if not better season this year."
Through it all, the sisters-in-law will no doubt continue to enjoy each other's company, in and away from Opdyke Furniture.
"What happens at work stays there," Gigi said. "When we get together as family, we have a great time. It's all very easy. We've been doing this a long time."