Biltrite's success built on strong family, quality products
Randi, who appears in Biltrite's advertising, says customers sometimes register their surprise when they encounter her at the store, especially on Saturdays, thinking since her family owns the company that she wouldn't be there.
"We're not just family-owed, but very hands-on. It's our business, we enjoy this, so why wouldn't we be here everyday?" says Randi.
Randi started working part-time at Biltrite while attending Nicolet High School. She began working full-time in the family business in 2001, after returning from High Point University in North Carolina where she earned a degree in interior design. Her brother Brad also attended High Point for a business degree specializing in home furnishings marketing and management. Brad is the head of operations at Biltrite (the main office guy, in other words).
Irwin Kerns' grandson Marty and his wife, Gail, round out the third generation in the family business, along with Maureen. Marty is the head buyer. Gail handles accounting and also specializes in upholstery and mattresses.
"We do what we have to do, each of us has different responsibilities, but we all sell and help each other out," says Randi.
During the summers, the second generation comes in to Biltrite, working a day or two a week.
"Grandpa and grandma are in their 80s and still like to be in the store. It's fun to be with the family everyday. It's like a reality show," says Randi.
Biltrite has 30 employees, including two members of the Grand Avenue Club, which works to provide employment and housing to Milwaukeeans with mental illnesses.
"We hire people with integrity and experience in the furniture industry," says Maureen. This includes veterans from other family-owned stores that have gone out of business, like Biltrite's warehouse manager.
Biltrite is one of the founding members of Furniture First, a buying cooperative consisting of retail shops across the country that came together in 1994. The cooperative provides the member retailers with leverage to hold their own against large, national chains. Like Biltrite, most cooperative members are family-owned and operated and have been in business at least 40 years.
Through Mattress First, which is part of the buying cooperative, Biltrite carries its own line of mattresses, manufactured for them by one of the big "S" named mattress manufacturers (there are a few big mattress makers whose names begin with "S").
"We're not allowed to say which one," says Randi.
Maureen says Biltrite has relationships with its suppliers that are similar to those with their customers, some going back over 20 years. She says these carefully developed personal and professional relationships allow Biltrite to give their customers a high degree of service.
"Customers have come in who've been looking for a piece for a year or two and I get to say, 'Tell me what you want,' and I can often get it for them," says Maureen.
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I've bought a few pieces of furniture there and they are still looking good...even after 3 toddlers have used and abused them! We will be back in the future. I was even able to negotiate a lower price on a sectional couch we bought a few years ago. People need to remember a price sticker is just a suggested price so don't be afraid to negotiate the same as you would a car. It never hurts to ask...all they can say is no!
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