ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When Andy Friesen decided earlier this year to retire and close his spacious Friesen’s Furniture store after 26 years, more than a few local folks were concerned about the huge void it created in Hillsboro’s downtown business district.
But what the community of Hillsboro saw as a great disappointment, John Huninghake saw as a great opportunity.
If all goes according to plan, Huninghake will be opening a new venture-Hillsboro Furniture-in the same 12,000-square-foot facility at 112 South Main as early as Saturday. A grand opening may follow the next week.
He’s excited about the prospect.
“I would not have come if I wasn’t 100 percent sure it would work,” said Huninghake, who already has furniture stores in Marysville and Concordia. “It will work.”
The minor miracle is that Huninghake found out about the opportunity here in the first place. He said he was in a Marysville barber shop when he noticed a sale bill in a farm newspaper that was lying on the floor.
“It said Andy was having a close-out sale of all his odds and ends,” Huninghake said.
His curiosity was piqued, but he said he didn’t know anything about Hillsboro. So he decided to drive the two hours from Marysville and find out firsthand.
“I came out here in July and looked the town over,” he said. “Then I asked all my dealers that had sold to Andy if he had had good business or bad bad business. They said he simply got tired.”
Huninghake said liked what he saw about Hillsboro. Specifically, he was looking to see how many banks, fast-food places and car dealerships the community had.
“Those are your three main things,” Huninghake said. “To have three dealerships in a town this size is exceptional. To have three or four major eating places is exceptional. And it’s such a clean little town. It just impressed me.”
Even so, Huninghake said he let the idea lay for a while because the economy was so poor. But Delores Dalke, Hillsboro’s mayor and a local real estate agent, and Darrel Driggers, representing the Hillsboro Development Corp., found out about Huninghake’s interest and began encouraging him to set up shop anyway.
“I thought, well, it’s worth giving it a shot because everybody was so positive about us coming,” he said.
Huninghake’s success in the furniture business started in a round about way. He grew up in the rural community of Frankfort, and began farming with his parents and brothers after graduating from Frankfort High in 1982. He also worked as a commodity broker for three years.
When Huninghake heard the furniture store in Marysville was going to close, he decided to make a career change. He bought the business and reopened it as Huninghake Furniture in January 1990.
“I just like dealing with people, and I like sales,” he said about the decision.
But the transition was not without its challenges, he added.
“The learning curve for me was major-I came right off the farm,” he said. “Luckily, I had an older gentleman who had been in the furniture business who helped me. He guided me through-otherwise, it would have been really tough.”
Eight years later, the community of Concordia, located about an hour from Marysville, lost both of its furniture stores. Some of the vendors came to Huninghake and asked him to expand there.
He bought one of the existing stores and opened for business there in 1998.
Huninghake said the key to his success so far has been applying the Golden Rule to the business setting.
“My philosophy of business is, if you treat people like you want to be treated, you’ll go far,” he said.
But he never thought it would take him two hours away from Marysville, to a town he knew almost nothing about.
“For the past six years, I’ve gone to the state track meet,” he said. “We’d come down K-15 and see the sign for Hillsboro, and I’d wonder what going on over there-but we’d always turn off to go to Wichita.
“I never dreamed I’d be here having a store. It’s great.”
It almost didn’t happen, though. Even though Hillsboro leaders were encouraging him to expand here, a few practical details had to be ironed out.
“When I first called Andy, he said he didn’t want to lease the building-he wanted to sell it,” Huninghake said. “That sort of put a damper on things right there. But I met with him for a couple of hours, we got together and reached an agreement.
“We need to thank Andy and Bonnie Friesen for letting us lease the building-otherwise, we would not be here.”
Another key piece of the puzzle was finding the right person to manage the business.
“I did not want to ask somebody to come run my store in Hillsboro because I didn’t know the people here,” Huninghake said. “So I told Delores Dalke, ‘You find me a person who is good, reliable, and a hometown lady and I’ll come.'”
Dalke connected him with Brenda Coryea, who had been managing the Kitchen Corner store in Hillsboro, and then in Newton.
Huninghake said he he’s convinced she’s the right person for the job.
“Everything’s going real smoothly,” he said. “She’s a real personable gal and knows everybody in town. I think it’s going to be a great venture together.”
As for his own involvement, Huninghake said he plans on being in Hillsboro one day a week.
“I’m going to come down and either relieve somebody here and work, or get to know the people here in town.”
Huninghake said aside from the considerable paperwork it takes to get a new store on-line with major furniture manufacturers, getting started in Hillsboro has been about as easy as could be expected.
“It’s a fabulous store,” he said of the spacious facility. “Very seldom could you ever find a store where you could turn your key, open the door and just walk in.
“I cannot believe someone else has not come in here already. Somebody was sleeping.”
Though he is confident about the new store’s success, Huninghake knows it won’t be automatic. The extended retirement sale Friesen conducted earlier this year has saturated the local market to some degree, he said.
It may take a bit longer to get established, he said, but he believes it will pay off.
“In a town this size, there’s a need for furniture,” Huninghake said. “Then you have Marion next door, with 1,800 to 2,000 people-there’s just a need for furniture in this area.”
Huninghake said he also realizes there’s no guarantee that local shoppers will shop locally-especially those under 45.
“Younger people want to shop all over,” he said. “They want to go to Wichita and spend the afternoon. You get a few of them (to shop locally), but most of them go out of town-I don’t care where you’re at.
“But they’ll come back,” he added. “We’ll have all the highest quality furniture here, but you’ll have trouble with it from time to time because furniture is a man-made thing. So you better have somebody near who can take care of it. We’ll be here.
“After they have a bad experience a couple of times (at the big city furniture marts), they’ll come back,” Huninghake said. “That’s what makes my store in Marysville tick-you have to provide a service.
“We’ll do the same thing here.”