Knack for reinvention drives 60+ years of success
by Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, 1/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
When Herman Safran opened Victory Furniture in 1945, the times were as exuberant as the company’s name.
World War II was over and Southern California was booming, with rows of single-family homes popping up seemingly overnight and spurring a great demand for furnishings.
Herman and his wife Annie carried a wide assortment of goods in their West Los Angeles store, from rugs and accessories to furniture, much of which came from estate sales. It wasn’t long however before they developed a niche in outdoor products.
Victory Furniture’s reputation as the place to go for patio furniture grew even stronger when Herman began advertising in the L.A. Times Home section in the early 1950s. Soon, customers were coming in from all over Southern California.
The elder Safrans set the course for the next 60 years but each succeeding generation, while maintaining the focus on outdoor furniture, would redefine the business as needed to keep it growing.
After Martin Safran joined his parents in the business in the early 1960s, he oversaw an expansion to a second location. By the end of the decade, Martin and his bride Julie determined the smart growth strategy for the times was focusing on the best location, and they closed the original site.
Ron Safran joined his parents in 1991. In the last 20 years he, too, has overseen expansion and adjusted the business model to keep Victory Furniture moving forward.
Today, there are four Victory Furniture showrooms in Southern California — in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Irvine — and another one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
“I think our real strength has been our ability to reinvent our business as things have changed,” said Ron Safran, now president of the family business. “We have been part of the Southern California community since the ’40s. We know our market and our customers well, and we react accordingly.”
Putting the special in specialty
Victory Furniture’s latest iteration centers on providing value with an even better service-oriented shopping experience.
“We have always been passionate as a company about how much our product improves people’s lives and how much they will enjoy it,” Ron said. “Now, when people are so hesitant to make a financial decision, we have to make sure that we have the value part of the equation lined up with all of the other things that make us special and keep it emotionally a really positive experience for our customers.”
He is adamant that value doesn’t equate to low price.
“Going down to 50 or 70 percent off is not a good business model for the specialty retailer,” Ron said. “The real question for everyone is: What is a compelling message in today’s market? Our vendors need to work with us in creating that message and have the right product so that we can go to market and be profitable.”
Like many specialty dealers, Victory Furniture has reviewed all of its systems and procedures to become as lean and efficient as possible, as well as cut back on carrying deep inventory.
“It’s a different world now,” Ron said. “Container purchasing was once all the rage and we were certainly a part of that, but now we do it in a very measured, careful way. We’re saying to our vendors: You really need to work with us in a different fashion.”
And they’ve responded. Caluco, for example, gives Victory Furniture a weekly inventory report so that Safran is fully informed about what’s available.
“We are very tuned in to what our dealers need. Whenever Ron needs something, he knows that he can get it,” said Aaron Gochman, CEO of Caluco, adding that he talks with Ron at least every two weeks.
Ron believes vendors and dealers alike need to be forward-thinkers now more than ever. It goes back to creating that compelling message along with programs that will help get people in the door.
Use of the Internet is a prime example. Victory Furniture started selling online a few years ago. Ron believes it is critical that both vendors and dealers become savvy about capturing customers online.
“The Internet is only going to get more important,” Ron said. “You can’t fight that wave ... [and] the specialty dealer better be dominant there or the business will go to places that are better at communicating with customers like the Restoration Hardwares and the Crate and Barrels that do such a good job of creating relationships with people from a young age. As an industry, we are way behind and we’d better figure it out.”
Taking the long view
Ron took over the daily operations of Victory Furniture six years ago, about the time when he and his parents decided they should drop the extraneous counter-seasonal products they were selling and focus solely on outdoor furniture.
One of the consequences of that decision was partnering with Treasures Furniture at its Cabo San Lucas location. Victory Furniture displays its outdoor lines there on a 4,000-sq.-ft. covered balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“It is a great counter-seasonal opportunity for us, and a great, great atmosphere for shopping for outdoor furniture,” Ron said.
About 10% of Victory Furniture’s sales come from accessories and the rest from outdoor furniture. Woven has been a growth area, but Safran is concerned that an overabundance of import and lower-end product is making it harder to differentiate the category.
Ron is also concerned about the constant challenge of keeping a 64-year-old business on the cutting edge.
“Our customers don’t want their parents’ outdoor furniture,” he said. “There’s probably still a place for the cast aluminum chair with the curly arm that we’ve all been selling for the past 15 years, but it isn’t the future. So it is a huge challenge for our vendors to reinvent the styles that are critical to us in keeping our business fresh.”
With five locations, Safran spends much of his time traveling from store to store. He sees keeping his staff motivated and inspired as one of his prime responsibilities. Like the brand itself, Victory Furniture’s employee longevity is its biggest strength.
“I think 'purposefulness’ is the best way to describe why we have longevity with staff,” Ron said. “People here feel part of something special.”
Although highly cognizant of the market realities going into the 2010 season, Ron is an optimist. He tends to take the long view given the family track record and the business’s reputation, something that according to Gochman can’t be overstated.
“Everybody in this part of the country knows about Victory Furniture and has good things to say about the company,” Gochman said. “I consider them to be gold-plated.”
For his part, Ron believes it boils down to keeping things in perspective.
“As difficult as the retail world is today, we have to remain big picture thinkers and be personally inspired to push forward,” Ron said. “And when we do break through to the opportunities ahead, it is going to be great.”
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