Faith in employees helps retailer multi-task
Chris Gigley -- Casual Living, 3/9/2011 1:24:55 AM
AS HE grew up on the Morgan family farm in rural southwest Ohio, Don Morgan developed the work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit required to help his father keep the farm afloat. Today, those qualities help him juggle multiple endeavors, one of which is an outdoor living store in Centerville, Ohio.
Morgan's Patio, Fireplace and Spa is set along busy Miamisburg Centerville Road, a main artery connecting Centerville, just south of Dayton, to I-675. The road is lined with rug stores, furniture stores and other specialty retailers. Morgan says location is huge for the store, which was listed among the Casual Living 100 Powerhouse Specialists in 2009.
"We used to be located in a building back behind this one," said Morgan, who built the current location himself in 2000. "But when we moved here, our sales increased 25% overnight. The traffic volume is a big factor, particularly on weekends."
Morgan and his wife, Angela, purchased the store in 2005, when it was part of the three-store Provincial House chain. Provincial House was founded in 1967 by Angela's father, Marshall V. Ledwick, and Morgan had served as president of the company. The last of the other two stores closed in 2008.
Having just one store to worry about hasn't made Morgan's life any simpler, even with Angela's help on the buying front.
"The fact that Angela is very involved in the operation on a day-to-day basis and has good taste and is diligent about what's on the floor is a big asset to the business," said Craig Johnston, a regional sales rep for Agio, who has been working with the store for the last four years.
While Morgan and Angela are running the store, he is also minding a used car lot, which he considers a hobby. The couple is also managing the Morgan family farm, where they grow corn and hay for their horses.
If that isn't enough, the Morgans home school their three young children. How does he budget his time to fit it all in?
"I really don't budget my time," he admits. "I just get up at six in the morning and go to bed at 11."
Relying on others
In an indirect way, having so much to do at once has actually helped invigorate Morgan, rather than exhaust him. There once was a time when that wasn't so.
"Most of my focus used to have to be on the retail business," he recalled. "At one point in time, I worked 45 days straight. I found out that that was getting very stressful for me."
Many other retailers can relate. Not many change their ways to reduce that stress. Morgan, however, had no choice.
"With all the other things going on in my life, I was compelled to step back from the store a little bit," he said. "And what really helped me there was building my confidence in the people who work for me. I knew I'd trained them well. I just had to feel confident that they could get along without me."
Nearly all of Morgan's seven full-time employees have been with the business for at least four years.
"They have a nice sales staff," Johnston said. "I've been doing business with them for four years, and they still have many of the same people now. Predictability and consistency are probably the best qualities of the store."
The relative longevity of the staff has allowed Morgan to average about 30 to 35 hours a week in the store.
"I know a lot of business owners who can't do that," Morgan said. "You've got to do what you feel is right. But when you feel comfortable with your employees, you really do feel like you can get away and do other things."
Morgan is by no means an absentee owner. When he is in the store, he throws himself into the business as if he is a regular employee. His work there and on the used car lot has helped him keep the pulse of the retail climate in southwest Ohio. Buying activity improved last year over the previous two, he said, but business still isn't all the way back. He blames a relatively high unemployment rate.
"People are reading the newspapers and watching the TV news and seeing unemployment rates are sky high," he said. "They're being warned over and over again that they'd better conserve their money."
Morgan is hoping his revitalized hearth business shakes his customers out of their conservative buying behavior. In 2009, he added a new line of hearth products from Regency and opened up additional space for fireplace displays. He and his staff also created a new database system that allows them to call up photos and print out spec sheets for customers.
"Doing that brought our sales up in fireplace by about 30% at least," he said.
Morgan says he is confident the hearth business will continue to rise, thanks to his staff's ability to handle just about any customer service issue that comes up with gas products.
"We can cover a lot of ground," Morgan said. "My past life as a residential and commercial builder really helps. I used to build fireplaces and had my hand in every part of the fireplace industry. If someone has a question, I can usually answer it."
Still, Morgan is keeping his expectations modest as he keeps his eye on the unemployment rate and real estate, two factors he expects to determine whether business will be strong in 2011. He says he sees hope.
"I have talked with local Realtors who have told me their business has definitely improved over the last two years," he said. "Not drastically, but it has improved."
Regardless of what the 2011 selling season will be like, Morgan plans to keep up his busy schedule.
"I don't know if it will catch up to me, but I feel like I'm young enough to keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "As long as I don't make it a stressful deal, and I feel good, I'll keep going."
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