By Tim Leeds
The second generation of the families that own Valley Furniture in Havre not only seem to be dealing with changing conditions, they seem to be taking advantage of them.
"This company dealt with some difficult times in the mid-'80s, and we were very fortunate that the '90s were very good. Yet we have experienced growth in the past two years," Mike Evans said.
Evans, his sister Cathy Brown, and Matt Kretchmer bought the business from Dwayne and Lilly Kretchmer, Matt's parents, in 1991. Dwayne Kretchmer's partner, Dave Evans father of Mike and Cathy died of cancer the year before.
Matt Kretchmer said the furniture business has always been one of constant change, and it's changed even faster in the past decade.
"Styles change, colors change, trends change. It's an ever fast-paced world out there," he said.
The three partners said a major portion of their business's success has been their focus on customer service.
"Some families I've known four generations of," Evans said. "We do have a very loyal clientele base. Those are definitely people we don't take for granted."
Customers who retire and move away from the Hi-Line still come back to shop in Havre, he added.
"We've always moved furniture all over the state," Evans said.
The store also took steps successfully to expand its market. Evans enlarged the store's advertising budget to begin running ads on television about two years ago, in addition to newspaper and radio advertisements. The campaign attracted new customers from areas like Great Falls, Glasgow and Cut Bank.
"The month after we started network advertising we had more sales in Shelby than we'd had in five years," he said.
The business also wants to expand into the Internet. People are using the Internet to help decide what to buy, she said, and people are calling Valley to see if they have a Web page.
Brown hopes to have a page online within two years.
"I think that's going to be a big part of success in the future," she said.
Valley has about 60,000 square feet of showroom between its two locations, Valley Furniture and Downtowner Serve-Ur-Self Furniture, Evans said.
Dwayne Kretchmer and Dave Evans decided about 27 years ago to open a second location to expand their offerings of furniture, Mike Evans said. The mid-to upper-end merchandise is displayed at Valley Furniture, with lower-priced promotional items , used merchandise, mid-range and some upper-end merchandise at Serv-Ur-Self.
The history of the store begins in 1954, when Dwayne Kretchmer and three partners bought Belland Furniture, located near Citizens Bank (now Wells Fargo Bank), and changed the name to Valley Furniture.
Gordon Suk, one of the original partners, sold his shares to the other partners in 1955. Another partner, L.E. Freeman, died in 1957. Kretchmer and the remaining partner, Danny O'Neil, bought Freeman's shares from his widow.
Dave Evans, who started working at the store in 1957, bought into the partnership in 1967. He and Kretchmer bought O'Neil's shares when he retired in 1976.
The company moved to its present location the year the building was constructed, in 1959. In 1968 the partners bought the building from its owners, S.T. and Elsie Nelson.
The partners added a budget annex on the store, with used and promotional merchandise, and expanded that by opening Serv-Ur-Self.
The modifications continue. When the current partners bought the company, they designed a 10-year plan to remodel the store. The last major phase, remodeling about 15,000 square feet of Valley's showroom, took place over the last few months.
"In 10 years we've remodeled every square inch, inside and outside," Evans said.
All of the staff, including the partners, work on setting up and maintaining displays. The staff's knowledge of what local customers want and like allows them to select merchandise that will sell.
The drought and other problems faced by agriculture producers has made business difficult for everyone, Evans said. He attributes Valley's success in the last few years to customer loyalty and expanding its market.