Have you ever had a gun pulled on you in a showroom? Jerry Epperson has. Early in his career, the now-veteran furniture industry consultant was visiting a showroom, and in the back office, the owner pulled a hefty revolver from its holster and laid it calmly on the desk. Thankfully, it was (probably) a joke, and Epperson lived to tell the tale. “This industry is full of great people,” he recounts to host Warren Shoulberg on the latest episode of the Retail Watch podcast. “And there are some characters.”
Epperson himself is both. Born in a small town in West Virginia, he contracted polio as a child and, realizing that he didn’t have a future in a factory or in a field, went to college and discovered a predilection for economics and accounting. He entered the furniture industry on the financial side at a time when the business was booming and “furniture stocks were like the tech stocks of the day.”
We’re in something of a boom of our own at the moment, and though Epperson acknowledges that the pandemic-inspired home shopping spree will calm down and that new tax rules are cause for anxiety, he’s skeptical of the idea that demand will fall off a cliff. “We’ve got more people in the 35-to-54 age groups, which are the prime furniture and home-buying [demographic],” he says. “That group is going to grow every year from now until 2034. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2035, but we’ve got more people buying [until then].”
In this episode of the podcast, Epperson shares his take on where global manufacturing will go next, looks at how Ashley Furniture got so big, and delivers a stirring pep talk for an industry he sees as having low self-esteem. “In 1970, you could buy a Volkswagen Beetle for $1,800 and our bestselling sofa was $399. Today, the least expensive Volkswagen is $17,000 or $18,000 and you can still buy a comparable sofa for $699,” he says. “I’m disturbed that we don’t have better confidence, we make a better product, and I think consumers are finally coming to us.”
Listen to the podcast below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Square.
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