ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
After 26 years on Main Street Hillsboro as owner of Friesen’s Furniture Center, Inc., Andy Friesen has a program in place that will enable him to retire from the business and prepare the building for sale.
“It’s been a good experience,” said Friesen, who will turn 66 in a few days. “I’m not ashamed of any part of the business that I’ve done.”
Friesen has hired an out-of-state company to help him reduce inventory through a four-month sale that will end sometime in February.
“When we made the decision to retire and drastically reduce our inventory, we realized we couldn’t do this ourselves,” Friesen said. “After searching for help to do so, a professional company specializing in furniture promotions was recommended.”
Heading the team, which has been on-site for several weeks, is James “Bernie” and Claire Bernheisel, a husband-wife team from Georgia. They are being assisted in sales by a set of twins, Jennifer and Jenny Holloway, and by Jody Black, who is the warehouse manager.
“They are doing a great job helping us work toward reaching our goal,” Friesen said.
The sales campaign will include a series of television ads, which were shot last week. He said enough additional stock is being shipped in that he is expecting a “million-dollar sale” before it’s over.
“I want this sale to be good,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot of stock. But it’s going to be quality merchandise.”
Friesen entered the furniture business in Hillsboro when he and his brother, Alfred, purchased Franz Furniture & Carpet from Joel Franz in 1975. Franz had started the business 10 years earlier.
Friesen inherited about 3,000 square feet of floor space at the time. He has since expanded the floor space to about 16,000 square feet over the years by purchasing two neighboring buildings and “knocking some holes in the wall.”
He and his wife, Bonnie, whom he calls his “silent partner,” took over the business from Alfred Friesen in 1988 and became sole owners. Bonnie retired from teaching school three years ago. She has been doing much of the bookkeeping work since taking over in 1988.
“It’s been a great experience,” Andy said about his years in the furniture business. “I love working with people. The physical part of it has never bothered me. I’ve never been afraid of work. I’ve tackled a ton of work by myself.”
Friesen said making the business successful took a lot of time, too.
“I’d go (to the store) first thing in the morning and wouldn’t leave there until I locked the doors,” he said. “(Bonnie) would come in after school and assist me. We’ve put in some long days and hours. And now we want to reap some of that.”
“Our work ethic never hurt us,” she added.
The business has been helped by good employees, including Tabor College part-time help for all but six months of the 26-year run.
Atop the list of former employees are Dot Herbel and Shelly Padgett. Padgett helped manage the store for the past five and a half years before Friesen announced his intention to retire.
Friesen’s retirement will end some 50 years in the Hillsboro business community. He started as a kid in his father’s blacksmithing shop on Ash Street. He later joined his brother Alfred at Friesen’s Jewelry Store on Main and worked there for 13 years before moving across the street to run Friesen’s Furniture.
“He’s gone from being a welder to being a certified watchmaker, goldsmith and diamond setter, to being a furniture salesman,” Bonnie said. “He’s had a very interesting life on Main and Ash streets.”
Friesen said the secret of his success has been to sell quality furniture at a good price. His sales-many of which have come by word-of-mouth advertising, he said-have crossed the state and beyond to California, Texas, Mississippi, Florida and even Canada.
Said Friesen: “I had folks from Wichita tell me, ‘We can buy promotional furniture in Wichita, but when we want quality, we come back to see you.’ That’s a great compliment.”
Friesen said he opted for retirement now because he wants to enjoy time with Bonnie and pursue some of his favorite hobbies.
Said Bonnie: “He made the comment the other day that he’s helped the blacksmithing industry, the jewelry industry, and the furniture industry, and now he’s going to help the hunting, fishing and golfing industries.”
“Honey-do jobs are No. 1,” her husband insisted. “But we’ll probably do some traveling and spend a lot of time out at the ranch in the Flint Hills. That’s God’s country out there. The good Lord has given me so many things in nature, I have to enjoy them.”
Friesen said the public’s response to his retirement has been a mix of good wishes and sadness about him leaving the business without assurance of a future owner.
“I’ve had some people say, ‘You can’t do this-it’s going to hurt the city,'” he said. “I agree, because I brought a lot of traffic in from the surrounding area. This is not a bad little area to have a store. We’ve got a very good drawing card.”
Friesen said he was approached with several offers to buy the store before he hired the furniture promotion company, but financing was not readily available. He hopes to sell the building once the sale is over.
“It hurts me to see an empty building for the time being, but as progressive as Hillsboro is, I’m sure somebody is going to make use of that space,” he said.
Added Bonnie: “We hope there will be someone out there who would like to start from scratch. We’re going to reduce the inventory to where somebody can buy the building and start out the way they want to.”