CEO: Lee Goodman.
Revenue: $95.5 million in 2010; $79.1 million in 2009.
No. of local employees: 300.
Headquarters: San Diego.
Year founded: 1958.
Company description: Furniture retailer with eight stores.
Key factors for success: Company touts personal customer service, fast delivery, regular low pricing, long community presence.
Even after witnessing vast changes in the industry, some things still surprise Jerome’s Furniture Chairman Jerome “Jerry” Navarra, the familiar face of the family-owned and growing San Diego company now in its sixth decade.
Among those is the degree of expertise shown by “up-market” customers at his stores seeking out certain high-grade furniture pieces that they might have looked for exclusively at an upscale department or specialty store before the recession.
“You can tell from talking with them that they know their stuff,” says Navarra. “You really appreciate talking with them about the details, because they seem to know what you as the store owner knows about what makes this a quality piece.”
Company leaders note that surviving and thriving in the tough furniture business has meant not only keeping up with changing styles and consumer tastes, but also adjusting to the needs of increasingly Web-savvy customers who demand fast as well as personalized service.
For instance, taking the tracking of inventory and shipping in-house was a key step in following through on same-day delivery pledges. Traditionally, furniture retailers have relied on manufacturers to keep them and their customers informed of when orders are expected to arrive, often based on inexact estimates.
Placing the process into its own hands, Navarra said the company over the years enhanced systems at its large operations and distribution center in Rancho Bernardo, allowing real-time tracking of orders and giving customers more precise delivery windows, as well as letting employees handle delivery problems as they arise.
An even bigger shift over the years has been a steady emphasis away from temporary price-slashing on merchandise, with an everyday low “Jerry’s Price” approach driven home by Navarra himself in the company’s TV and print advertising.
“It’s really draining on a retailer, and the store personnel, to have to move things around and prepare for sales when you’re operating around temporary discounts,” Navarra said. “We’ve found that you just have to deal with people in a straightforward manner — customers just want the right information given to them so they can make their decisions.”
Jerome’s Furniture recently ranked 16th on the Business Journal’s 2011 list of San Diego County’s largest private companies, with 383 total employees and $95.5 million in 2010 sales. That sales performance — up 20.8 percent from 2009 — got it designated as the nation’s second-fastest growing furniture retailer by Furniture Today, a prominent industry magazine.
What is now known as Jerome’s was started in the 1950s by Jim Navarra, Jerry’s father, and a third generation of Navarras is now actively involved in the business. The company started with a downtown warehouse and now has six locations throughout San Diego County.
Its total store count grew to eight last year, when Jerome’s opened its first two Riverside County locations in Murrieta and Corona. CEO Lee Goodman said that with San Diego County essentially saturated at this point, the company in coming years will be carefully evaluating expansion opportunities, most likely focusing on Orange County and the western portion of the Inland Empire.
Reception in Riverside
Goodman said the company has had significant success in Murrieta, which has a high proportion of consumers who work in San Diego County and were long familiar with the Jerome’s brand, and the company is looking at expanding that store into an adjacent 10,000-square-foot space.
Corona has been a tougher sell, and the company has been making changes in its media buying and marketing to gain a stronger foothold in that western Riverside County community, Goodman said.
One thing that won’t change is the star of the company’s advertising. Goodman said Jerry Navarra’s presence in the retailer’s marketing during the past 35 years has been crucial in establishing brand loyalty.
“We believe he personifies the company in the mind of the consumer, and he personifies the philosophy we have,” Goodman said. “People don’t like to negotiate.”
Janet Shim, a retail analyst with research firm IBISWorld Inc. in Los Angeles, said Jerome’s is among a handful of Southern California-based furniture chains that have managed to grow in an economic climate that recently brought the demise of several national players, such as Levitz Furniture and Wickes Furniture.
According to IBISWorld, the number of U.S. furniture-selling establishments dropped 7.5 percent in 2008 and another 9.2 percent in 2009. The survivors have catered to consumers looking to make an investment in their current homes, with stagnant property values creating relatively little rush to buy and move into new houses, and will benefit as home sales pick up in an improving economy.
“There’s now an emphasis on value, instead of just getting a low price,” Shim said.