Ability to change with parish keeps Great Southern on top
And no business has better exemplified that change than Great Southern Furniture, whose roots stretch back to the early 1940’s.
The furniture giant was originally started as Fisher Furniture by Leonard Fisher at a time when a majority of the parish’s residents spent their days tending to livestock and harvesting food. However, soon after the store’s opening things began to change. More and more people began to call the parish home, and in the next 55 years the population quadrupled to 50,000. While Fisher Furniture certainly prospered throughout that period, it soon became evident that if the store was to survive, it too would have to change.
Enter Jack Fisher, who bought the business from his father in the 90’s. He knew the parish was only in its adolescent stages of growth and that another spike in population was sure to come. He began searching for an even bigger location that could better meet the needs of the area. In 2003, a group of local investors bought the St. Charles Plaza shopping center and began looking for tenants. The old Delchamps grocery store that inhabited the plaza was an ideal location for a furniture store and soon an agreement was reached.
This move took the operation from about 22,000-square-feet of showroom and warehouse to 45,000-square-feet. That’s not a small family operation anymore, that’s more in line with what’s found in larger metro markets.
The name was changed to better reflect what the store had become. Fisher Furniture became Great Southern Furniture.
Jack was not always in the family business. A 1970 graduate of Hahnville High School, Jack attended USL until he was recruited by Blue Savoie of Luling to work with him at McDermott Divers. Jack took Savoie up on his offer and quickly became a commercial diver, a profession he held until 1978. At that time, Jack and his wife Kathy moved back to Luling. Jack went to work with his father and Kathy began planning ahead for the future.
“While I raised the kids, I went to school and got my interior design degree, thinking ahead and knowing that it might benefit here,” Kathy said.
The Fisher combination, which includes daughter Julia Fisher-Perrier, along with a very capable staff, not only helped the store dominate the local market, but has also led to almost 50 percent of Great Southern’s business coming from out of the area. That number was even higher for the 18 months after Katrina, reaching almost 80 percent.
“The hurricane broke the old buying habits,” Jack said. “Habits had been disrupted, routines had been disrupted and all of a sudden lots of people are in need of furniture. Our advertising was being seen on television and in newspapers and people found us. Lots of new people have given us an opportunity to serve them and we are grateful.”
“That was a huge shot in the arm for the business and it got the word out that there was someone out there supplying furniture in a different way,” she said. “A lot of stores in the city were too busy to worry about customer service, but we feel that’s a way we can set ourselves apart from them. We want to satisfy.”
Now, Great Southern Furniture consists of 45,000-square-feet between the store and their two warehouses.
“I never thought that our store would evolve to that point,” Jack said. “It has become something much larger than we ever thought it would be.”
And while having that amount of space makes Great Southern Furniture one of the largest furniture stores in the area,filling it can be a challenge.
“We study our statistics and the statistics of manufacturers in an attempt to identify a winner, but it’s hard to compare what we need with what the rest of the nation is buying because our culture and our buying habits are known to be different from most of the other major areas of the U.S.,” Jack said. “That’s not to say we are behind, we are just different.”
When the Fishers venture out on buying trips, they have to sift through millions of feet of factory showrooms to look for items that residents in the area will find appealing.
“In design, it’s a process of elimination, so it’s not as overwhelming as it sounds,” Kathy said. “You have to have a game plan.”
And while the plan has worked well, there’s always another obstacle. In the 90’s it was the 800 numbers, but they are almost extinct now and the internet has replaced them. Fortunately for the Fishers, most people want to touch and feel furniture before they buy it.
However, Rooms To Go is currently making a lot of noise.
“They are spending a ton of money on advertising, which will give them an advantage for a while, but big boxes have come and gone in our area,” Jack said. “First it was Levitz…gone, then it was John F Lawhorn…gone, Michael Hebert…gone, Helig Myers..gone, Kirschman’s…gone. Now, it’s Rooms To Go.”
Jack says that the Rooms To Go cycle will take anywhere from six months to a year to mature, but the word will soon get out that they are not selling furniture or customer service, but instead are selling credit.
“And you can’t give credit away all the time because someone pays for that,” Jack said. “You pay with questionable furniture, with higher delivery charges and with poorer customer service.
“You don’t find a brand name in Rooms To Go because they don’t want the customer to compare. We have not only survived the attack from the big boxes, but we have grown and we will continue to grow.”
That growth has occurred because Jack says his store is dedicated to servicing their customers. In fact, one of the store’s employees, Carol Jackson, has been with them for 30 years. With the help of a dedicated support staff, Jack and Kathy feel they can provide solutions to home interior needs in order to give everyone a better quality of life. To further provide this service, Great Southern Furniture is set to open a dedicated kid’s gallery.
“We watch the market and work to provide what our customers are asking for and one of the growing needs is children’s rooms,” Jack said.
And as always, they will continue to pride themselves on customer service.
“I’d like to tell you about one of our best customers, Mrs. Frankie Champagne,” Jack said. “Mrs. Rhetta has bought from us for over 30 years and she brings the staff homemade cakes three or four times a year. It makes us all feel good.
“We want everyone to like us enough to bring us a cake.”
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