Southeast Furniture Warehouse looks to expansion

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2002

Southeast Furniture Warehouse will move to a new, 15,322-square-foot building on Anka Street near Costco, company President Chris Jensen said.

The new building will offer more showroom space than the current store on Shaune Street. Construction should be complete by December, Jensen said.

"We're not going to be open over there by the time the PFD money starts floating around," he said. "They're going to start a little later than I would have hoped."

Southeast Furniture Warehouse has been in business since November 2000. It is owned by Jensen, Tim Hulse, Don Thorp and Mark Powers.

While other family members own Jensen's Home Furnishings and Lyle's Home Furnishings, Chris Jensen felt the need to set out on his own.

He has been in the furniture business for about 12 years, starting as an employee at Jensen's. He went on buying trips and industry shows for the store and spent a year managing a furniture store in Ketchikan. While there, the idea for the new store started to develop.

After shaping a business plan for Southeast Furniture Warehouse, Jensen visited banks looking for funding.

"Of course, they shot me down because I had no money and obviously didn't have enough assets for them to take," he said. "I was quite discouraged."

Jensen, who used to play in a band with Hulse, ran into him one day. He told Hulse about the business plan and his difficulty in getting money. Hulse expressed interest in the enterprise.

"A couple days later he called and said, 'When can you have your business plan to my banker?' " Jensen said. "I'm like, 'Tomorrow.' Next thing you know we were signing loan papers."

Jensen's plan was based on having the store near Costco. At the time, Shaune Street was the closest location he could find.

"It's worked out great," he said. "This whole Costco area, five or 10 years from now, is the future of local retail."

Southeast Furniture Warehouse now has 5,400 square feet of space. Jensen has to be selective when showing furniture on the floor.

"We put out one sofa, one end table, a lamp and a coffee table," he said. "You can kind of get the gist of the whole living-room setup without actually taking up the space."

As far as dollars in sales per square foot, Jensen said the store has doubled the industry average, and he tries to keep overhead low.

"Margin is not the only part of the equation that makes a profit for a business," he said. "You can't just keep raising your prices to compensate for an increase in overhead."

Southeast Furniture Warehouse stresses its everyday low-price approach. Instead of marking up prices on furniture and then offering it at a sale price, Chris Jensen believes in keeping prices low all the time.

"It's kind of tough because people are trained to respond to the word 'sale,' " he said. "If they really do their shopping, sale doesn't mean anything; price is what means something."

Jensen hopes to increase sales over the Internet. Though not complete, the Web site at www.southeastfurniturespot.com has been a valuable catalog for the store, helping sell furniture in other Southeast Alaska communities, he said.

"I don't think we've truly tapped the full potential of it," Jensen said. "In one instance with a lady in Sitka, she was on her computer in Sitka and I was on mine and we went through the Web pages and by the time I was done we had written a $3,000 invoice.

"I was like, 'Cool, I didn't have to leave my chair,' " Jensen said.

The store has sold furniture in Kake, Hoonah, Angoon, Haines, Skagway and Pelican, but hasn't reached lower Southeast Alaska, Jensen said.

Southeast Furniture Warehouse celebrated its first full year in 2001 with $1,150,000 in sales, Jensen said.

"I didn't have us doing a million in sales until our year three or so," Jensen said, and hopes the new store will surpass that number. Its new location closer to Costco may provide the exposure the store needs to draw more people in.

"Lots of people come in on the ferry and that's their destination really, just to go to Costco and load up their rig and head back home.

"Now when they go there they'll see the big orange furniture sign."

Emily Wescott can be reached at ewescott@juneauempire.com.



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