Art Van Furniture

Art Van

Art Van Furniture aims to be one of the leading furniture retailers by 2019.

By Bianca Herron 

In 1959, Art Van Elslander founded Art Van with one goal in mind: to provide customers with quality, affordable furniture and unparalleled service.

Known today as Art Van Furniture, the Warren, Mich.-based company operates more than 120 stores – 18 of which are franchise locations – throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. This also includes its freestanding Art Van PureSleep mattress stores and Art Van Flooring stores, as well as its full service e-commerce website. Van Elslander sold the family-owned company last March to Boston, Mass.-based equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners.

The team at Art Van Furniture attributes its success to three key factors: people, processes and philanthropy. “Art Van has a tremendous sense of duty to the community,” says Vice President of Franchising Keri Durkin. “Art Van Art Van Fact Boxbelieves in stewardship not just for business but because it’s the right thing to do.” 

Most recently, the company hosted a celebratory ribbon-cutting community event at its newest location in Kildeer, Ill. The grand opening of the 41,000-square-foot showroom was held Oct. 14 and attended by Village of Kildeer President Nandia Black, Art Van Furniture executives and special guest Nigel Barker, internationally renowned celebrity photographer, TV personality, radio host and author.

Expanded Portfolio

Art Van Furniture recently opened two stores in the Chicagoland area, as well as a corporate store in Michigan in January. Although Art Van Furniture has strategic growth plans for both its corporate and franchise stores, it’s focusing on growing its franchise division at an exponential rate, which launched five years ago.

Thus far, the St. Louis market is its largest franchise market with six stores, five of which will open by February 2018. By the end of 2018, Art Van Furniture’s goal is to have more than 30 franchise locations.

That push starts with St. Louis-based Rothman Furniture & Mattress, which is currently Art Van Furniture’s largest franchise agreement. The new franchise partnership will add six stores to Art Van Furniture’s growing roster, further expanding its footprint into Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri. “This is a win-win,” Durkin says. “St. Louis is a billion dollar furniture market for Art Van Furniture and we have a partner who knows the market well. Soft open will be January 2018 and in February we will have grand openings for five store locations. We’re focused on taking a great brand that’s been developed and expanding it more into the Midwest and Northeast.”

In addition to possible mergers and acquisitions, Art Van Furniture’s franchise division is also considering additional opportunities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and New York.

“The company sees franchising as a means to enter more mid-level markets at a faster pace allowing us to bring the Art Van experience to more consumers,” Durkin says, noting that the key is creating a “hub and spoke concept for expansion, feeding off nearby corporate markets.”

“Chicagoland is a great example,” she says. “Ideally we would like to have franchise locations that leverages key markets. This includes locations such as DeKalb, Ottawa, Kankakee and Joliet, which create franchise locations around the hub of Chicago. We want to leverage this model throughout our defined 600-mile radius.”

Thinking Ahead

Art Van Furniture chooses its franchise partners very carefully, according to Durkin. She adds that the company looks for shared values including passion, accountability, respect, being a team player, new thinking, ethics, being respectful and supportive.

“Those are the core values we expect not only all company employees to have, but also our franchisees,” Durkin says. “We want to see the same things in their organization because our vision is to exceed the expectation of every guest, every time. Ultimately, we want to be No. 1 in all of the markets we serve.”

Once a franchisee has signed on, Art Van Furniture provides them with several pillars of support to help grow their business, including merchandising and marketing, e-commerce, store design and construction, and quality product.

Art Van Furniture’s more than 1.4-million-square-foot Warren, Mich.-based warehouse is filled with high-quality brands, allowing its franchisees to remain competitive in the marketplace and eliminating the need for them to hold inventory in their stores, Durkin notes.

The company also has one regional operator for every eight to ten stores, which not only allows it to be nimble and agile, but very hands-on. “This is really unheard of in the industry,” Durkin notes. “Usually it can be up to 30 stores for one regional operator within an organization. However, we think taking the approach of being well invested in their business will create a win-win strategy for us.”

In addition, every franchisee receives educational training through Art Van University, an online and in-classroom training program. “All of our franchisees receive a world-class education built specifically around sales,” Durkin says. “We have course refreshers and new team members are trained through it as well.”

Classroom sessions can range between two to four weeks and are taught in Warren or Chicago. Ultimately, the company aims to provide the necessary support to its franchisees so that they can focus on the customer experience and their team members. “

Looking Ahead

Art Van Furniture aims to continue the fast-paced growth of its franchising division with like-minded entrepreneurs. Within the next two years, the company’s goal for franchising as a stand-alone business is to be one of the top 50 furniture retailers in the United States. “We would like our franchising division to be seen as a key influencer in the marketplace,” Durkin says. “Of course, it makes Art Van stronger as a whole, but that is where we would like to be.”

She adds that Art Van Furniture’s focus is home furnishings and that the company is “building everything” around the guest experience whether it’s in store or online. “We want to bring style and fashion and inspiration,” Durkin explains. “We really want to inspire customers to create their dream home.”

Additionally, Art Van Furniture is redesigning its website to not only be efficient, but also have a more unified shopping experience between its online presence and in-store experience. “The goal is unified commerce so that the guest will shop anytime, anywhere with us,” Durkin concludes. “We want to be their home retailer of choice, no matter how they decide to engage with us.”


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