Life in the Slow Lane
Schmitt Furniture celebrates longevity and overcoming industry changes
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER | PHOTOS BY ZACH SCHANSBERG
Mention the name “Schmitt Furniture” and many folks in Kentuckiana will follow with a quick “on the furniture corner of State and Main in New Albany!” It’s one of the best-known taglines in the region following decades of commercials. The family-owned business – now under third-and fourth-generation management – remains true to its origins dating back to the 1930s, while bringing in the modern flair desired by today’s savvy shoppers.
Fourth-generation partner Zack Schmitt and his father and company president Louis Schimitt, along with aunt Anne Schmitt, who serves as treasurer, are on hand daily at the massive New Albany store.
Schmitt Furniture’s story hails back to 1936, when founder Charles H. Schmitt and A.M. Heleringer opened two locations in downtown New Albany. It was second-generation Charles Jr. who grew the business exponentially. “The second generation in successful family businesses tend to work out in the same way: the second generation generally grows the business, and that was the case here,” says Zack, who serves as the company’s current vice president.
Eventually, Schmitt Furniture expanded into neighboring buildings as they vacated, “and that’s where we are today,” Zack says. “We technically have nine buildings downtown, but it’s seven separate facades that have been acquired over the years as recently as two years ago. That original building has brick on the inside, original hardwood floors (and) tin ceilings.”
Zack handles the buying (his most enjoyable responsibility). They also have a designer on staff and often work with interior designers in the region to furnish whole homes. Today’s open floor plans require furniture to flow seamlessly from one room to the next. “Function has become a top priority for the furniture industry for about 10 years now,” Zack says, but function shouldn’t override quality. “We are definitely products of my great grandpa, of my great uncle and my grandpa – we haven’t changed the old-fashioned traditional ways of doing business,” Zack says. “I believe that’s one of the reasons we are still able to be successful in this difficult retail space.”
“Where a lot of manufacturers, vendors or dealers like us have tried to find ways to cut corners and cut costs, we have not done so when it comes to customer service, from the beginning, working with salespeople to delivery,” he says, “and then to servicing the product after delivery. That’s a huge profit center for most retail businesses – charging to service the product after it’s sold. It’s not free (at Schimitt Furniture), but we don’t profit from it. Our time and labor is always free and that’s what keeps generations of customers coming back to us.”
“We’re definitely here after 83 years of business because of our dedicated employees and loyal customer base.”
– ZACK SCHMITT
It’s a fine line, keeping the buildings as original possible while using modern architectural techniques that will bring the business into a new era. In the near future, residents will see the facades undergo extensive renovations outside to preserve the historical features of downtown New Albany as well as structural changes inside. It’s part of a three-and-a-half year project to complete.
New Albany itself is an important part of Schmitt Furniture’s history and they’re honoring that as the buildings are overhauled.
Says Zack: “We’re definitely here after 83 years of business because of our dedicated employees and loyal customer base.”