THE PATH TRAVELED
THE BRUCE FURNITURE STORY
by Doug Bruce, founder
In June of 1968, at 15 years of age, I pedaled my two-wheel vehicle towards the furniture store in my small hometown. Little did I know that first day on the job would open my eyes to a lifelong career of helping people have a more comfortable and beautiful home.
From the first task that morning of sweeping the front sidewalk, I set my sights on having my own furniture business. I spent five years of summers and Saturdays at that store. I wore just about every hat available during that time and am forever grateful for the opportunity.
My studies at UNL in business and marketing in the early 70s always included part-time work. These were interesting positions, but my focus was still on being in the retail furniture business. After four years, they gave me a piece of paper (also known as a diploma) which said, “You have the ability to learn. Now go do something with it!"
Along with graduating in May of 1974, I was married to someone who has since endured many years of being the boss’s wife and my sounding board … all while running a household, raising three boys, and working part-time herself. Donna has been a life and business partner second to none!
July of 1974 found us in Iowa beginning a three-year stint in the wholesale marketing division with a large corporation. This position provided me with access to successful retail store owners across the country. I asked questions, studied their operations, and logged this information for future use in my furniture business. After three moves and birth of our first son in 1976, the decision was made not to be a corporate nomad any longer. We chose to relocate to Alliance.
But we had to overcome a few minor obstacles:
- We only knew one person in Alliance.
- We had saved and saved to start our business, but we were still short on cash.
- We had no place to live once we got there and no budget for housing.
- We had a 6 month old son.
Why would someone give up the security of a great job for the uncertainty of running their own business? As I look back, it all seems a little overwhelming. My wife was gracious enough to sell her first new car to raise more funds for the store. The passion to open Bruce Furniture easily outweighed the security of a steady job! But the question remained: Where are we going to live? Every cent we had was going into the business. The building we leased for the store was formerly a plumbing shop and was in dire need of remodeling. So we lived there until the store was ready to open. I did all of the remodeling myself to save money and slept in the office. We unloaded all our belongings, put a mattress on the floor, and bathed in a tub left behind by the previous tenant. Donna cooked on a single burner hot plate and boiled water for bathing (there were no residential microwaves in 1977). Our then six-month-old son, Michael, is now a partner in Bruce Furniture. When he says he grew up in the business, he really grew up in the business!
Bruce Furniture's doors officially opened in May of 1977. I still remember the very first customer who walked through the door and the first piece of merchandise we sold: $178 swivel rocker. It was a two-person operation for the first few years in Alliance. Donna and I did everything ourselves, working seven days a week with help of high school students to deliver in evenings. The fire still burned bright even though the challenges were many. Bruce Furniture was alive!
We quickly learned that we had to run our store a little differently than the traditional home furnishings operation. The marketing gurus all said find your niche and cater to them. Problem is that we had a lot of different customers with a lot of different needs. One wanted a $2000 all-leather sofa, the next wanted to spend that same amount for a sofa PLUS a love seat, coffee table, end tables, and two lamps! Our response: "We need to try being all things to all people. We'll get that item for you!” To date, nearly 40% of our sales can be attributed to custom orders.
Ambition and family needs in central Nebraska led to the move to Hastings in 1984. Purchasing a larger store in a larger trade area presented new opportunities and challenges not faced before - such as more inventory, more employees, more advertising, and more hours at work. We brought with us the same principles that grew the Alliance store and phased those into this operation.
Being the new guy in town meant spending a few years to prove ourselves. And that's the way it should be. We had to earn our customer’s trust. They had to see us do what we said we were going to do. Otherwise, a business should never expect customers to hand over their hard-earned money!
In the summer of 1995, a customer made a statement that has defined Bruce Furniture ever since. This grand lady was looking for a new recliner. I knew her well. We attended church with her and she had purchased from us several times before. She was particular about what she wanted and asked, "Mr. Bruce, are these all the recliners you have?” I replied, “We have over 130 reclining chairs on display. Exactly how many do you want to buy?” Without hesitation, she said, "Only one. But it has to be just the right size, just the right style, and just the right color for me.” I said, "Let's find one that's JUST RIGHT FOR YOU!" As I drove home that evening thinking about that conversation, I realized that "JUST RIGHT FOR YOU" should be Bruce Furniture's goal for every customer and in every part of our business.
Our son, Michael, graduated from UNL in 1999. He had worked in the store off and on through the years, but I did not realize how much he was interested in the family business. As many have said, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Michael joined Bruce Furniture in 2000 as we opened up our third location in Holdrege. As the store manager, Michael brought new ideas, new technology, and a strong work ethic to the business that continues to benefit our entire organization. We were able to blend these new ideas with the same formulas that worked in Alliance and Hastings. I’m still old fashioned enough to believe if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
2006 saw an opportunity to grow once again with the purchase of an existing store in Kearney. This fourth location of Bruce Furniture allows us to buy in larger quantities to enjoy substantial freight savings. We can compete with the big stores in the big cities and provide our customers the best value anywhere. The Kearney store continues to grow with the community.
I thought four locations were plenty to keep track of, but Michael thought differently. My wife says "the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree." So in 2017, the purchase of an existing store in North Platte became the fifth Bruce Furniture location. We are excited to be serving that area with the same “JUST RIGHT FOR YOU” attitude we began with over four decades ago!
This expansion over four decades does not happen without loyal, trusting employees. Bruce Furniture has been blessed with hard-working people who take ownership of their job. They are a dedicated group who serve our customers with the "JUST RIGHT FOR YOU" attitude. Thanks to each and every one of you!
In the fall of 1977, my wife's 79-year-old grandfather was visiting the Alliance store. I had just returned from delivering a new mattress, and the customer asked me to move the used pieces to the spare bedroom. The spare bedroom set needed to go to a local charity, so I took care of that on the same trip. I talked with him about all the extra work and possibly charging customers for this like a lot of stores were starting to do. Grandpa Hoops grew up with an 8th grade education. He bought and sold used farm equipment during the Great Depression in an effort to put food on the table and hold on to the family farm. He spent many days delivering equipment miles out in the country and not billing the customer. He said, “Big mistake if you do differently. People deserve what they buy from you to be put in place ready to use without paying extra for it.” It wasn’t nuclear biology. Just do what's right by the customer.
To this day, Bruce Furniture offers FREE professional delivery. And we’ll never hand you a box that says "Some Assembly Required" and expect you to put it together yourself. We take care of moving pieces to another room in your home or hauling it away for donation or disposal.
The path traveled. The journey has been the reward!Learn More ►