It's no secret that the furniture business has been hit hard, no different from any industry tied to real estate on the Gulf Coast.
But the empty furniture storefronts on major thoroughfares of the Gulf Coast didn't deter Larry Norris from opening another furniture store in Naples around Labor Day. So far, he says customers are spending more than they have in recent years.
“They're buying complete rooms of furniture, and in some situations they're furnishing entire homes or condos,” says Norris. “We've got 20 designers working out of that store.”
The busy winter season appeared to start earlier this year, and 400 people came to the Naples store's grand opening. “I'm so glad when I'm sitting in traffic because someone might be buying furniture in my store,” Norris chuckles.
Norris sold his namesake furniture business to Hendricks Furniture Group in 1998 for an undisclosed sum. He started over recently by forming Norris Home Furnishings, opening a showroom in Fort Myers and a design center on Sanibel Island. The Naples store now completes the trio of stores he plans to operate.
During the economic downturn, customers furnished individual rooms or bought single pieces of furniture. “We're seeing larger jobs than a year ago,” Norris says.
Popular styles today include Tommy Bahama and Sherrill upholstery, Norris says. In addition, customers are buying accessories such as lamps, pictures and tabletop pieces. In Naples, customers are also buying rugs.
Norris is heartened by the promise of new residential construction in the Lee and Collier areas. “We're very aggressive with the builders,” he says. “It's an extension of our showroom.”
While the stores are meeting their sales goals, Norris says the economy hasn't fully recovered. Besides, the busy winter season doesn't begin in earnest until January. “The economy is still a little bit sluggish,” Norris says. “It's not like it used to be, and I don't know if it will (be).”
Norris says he isn't concerned by renewed competition from longtime furniture dealers such as the Lubner family of Fort Myers, who opened Clive Daniel Home in Naples. “I don't want to be the only guy in town,” Norris says. “The competition is always going to be there.”
But the fact is there's less competition today than there was just a few years ago. North Carolina-based Hendricks closed Norris' original stores in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy later that year. Earlier this year, a bankruptcy judge ordered the liquidation of Robb & Stucky, the upscale Fort Myers-based furniture dealer operated by the Lubners.
Norris says he has benefited from lower rents and a bigger pool of talent in building his newest venture. “We feel very blessed,” he says.