By Lynn Colburn
Billy’s Furniture is not only celebrating 25 years in business, but it is also still expanding. The furniture store is opening its sixth store in October in Morton and has its sights set on a seventh store in Springfield soon after.
The Morton store will open in October at the Field Shopping Center. Owner Billy McCurley says, “We are actually in there right now working on remodeling. The heating and air conditioning is being installed and soon we should be ready for the inventory.”
“Right now our eye is on Springfield,” says McCurley. He hasn’t settled upon the exact location yet, but once he does, he says they can usually turn around a location for opening within around approximately two months.
When asked what made him get into the furniture business, McCurley recounts, “You know, I wanted to find something that I could do to make a living myself. I’m a leader and I wanted to find something that I didn’t have to work for someone else. So, I just started going to garage sales and auctions buying furniture, and got in the used furniture business.”
McCurley explains, “When I opened the store 1995, I actually started in the used furniture business. I sold used furniture and appliances back in 1995 and our original building was a barn at 1048 East State St. Later, we moved up to a location near Lonzerotti’s, and in the early 2000s, we had five buildings on East State Street that people would walk from building to building to look at furniture.”
McCurley continues, “I remember back in the late 1999 or early 2000 it was getting tougher to find items. About then, a gentleman came to me and said, ‘Did you ever think about selling new furniture?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I can’t afford to do that.’”
McCurley tried it anyway and in January 2001, his first semi-truck load of new furniture rolled up. “We lined it all up on East State Street,” says McCurley, “right in front of the church. And when the semi came, I didn’t even have a storage building to put the furniture in, so they unloaded it out on the sidewalk. People were driving by and saying, ‘Oh, you have new furniture?’ We just opened it up right there for them to look at it. It didn’t even make it inside! We had it completely sold in two weeks!”
After the initial load, McCurley called the gentleman back and said he only had a few more pieces left. The man said, “Well, Billy, that’s a problem.”
He told McCurley production took about four weeks to even have the opportunity to get another delivery. “And during the early years,” explains McCurley, “I would have to wait four weeks for another truck and by then we would almost be out of that inventory.”
Billy’s Furniture moved to 617 E. Independence Ave. in 2004 and has been at that location ever since.
Over the years, McCurley found a way to make things run more smoothly, He says, “We found a distributor that will carry all of our goods and have our own trucking company that picks up the goods every week. Every Friday we have our trucks come here to the store in Jacksonville and I have another truck go to the store in Macomb. Then, they disperse it out the following week for all the deliveries.”
“I think we’ve got it down pretty well,” explains McCurley, “that’s one of the reasons why we are able to expand. With our own trucking company, we save time and cost on freight. The key to every business is ‘How many times can I turn an item?’ When we were only getting shipments every four weeks, we were only selling an item maybe once or twice a month. Now we’re selling that item five to 10 times a month. A lot of our case goods, like end tables, coffee tables, dining room stuff, we put together. And a great service we have is free setup to the home and free delivery, which many other companies don’t offer.”
“We really have changed and grown,” says McCurley.
“The funny thing is a lot of people in the last few years are like, ‘What has happened?’ And really I don’t know what’s happened. I really don’t. The growth has been in about the last three years. We’ve always been about ‘shop local’ and we try to help with local benefits and events as much as we can.”
The business he says does better with local competition. Expanding on that thought, McCurley replies, “I think it might have been at the end in 2009 or early 2010 when we lost Cohen’s Furniture in Jacksonville. That actually hurt us. People lost the ability of being able to cross-reference a good deal here in town. They would travel to Springfield to get a comparison and it was tough to get those people back when they left. I’ve found most husbands don’t want to shop much, so once they travel elsewhere, they just say, ‘OK, let’s get it.’ But when they stay here and have a few places to look around and they hear we have free delivery and setup, it gives us an advantage.”
After the Jacksonville store, the company opened its second store in Beardstown at the Beardstown Plaza. That was followed by a third store in Carlinville at the plaza there. From there a fourth Billy’s Furniture opened in Canton on East Chestnut Street and then its fifth store opened December 2019 in Macomb on East Jackson Street.
McCurley also opened a store with the idea of seeing one of his children more often. “My daughter Lily lives in Carlinville with her mom and I was trying to find a way where I can actually go and see my daughter a little more,” he says. “I thought if I started a store there, I’d be there a little more often. So, we put up that building. It all worked out well. It’s been a profitable store which basically takes care of itself, with the definite benefit of being able to see my daughter more.”
McCurley discloses a little about the rest of his family and says, “I’m a family man. I have four kids, ranging from 16 years old, all the way down to four years old. I have a son Logan, 16; Lily, 13; my son Korbin, who just turned 8; and my daughter Harper, 4. Of all children, my eight-year-old is the one who loves the furniture business. He loves coming to work with me.”
McCurley gives his work family credit also. “The success of our whole business is the people who work for us,” expresses McCurley proudly.
“They all work like it’s their own business and they are family. Plus, we still go that small-town extra mile in service. We have people who call and ask, ‘Billy, can you get us a recliner?’ We get the dimensions right over the phone, then order it, deliver it and put it together. We’ve also been lucky through the years to have repeat business with many different state agencies.”
McCurley reveals, “I have two really great people that work for me. Kenny Miller is my vice president of operations and if I’m not around, he pretty much takes care of everything. Lori Capps is a district manager and if anybody has a problem at the stores, they call Lori first and she is right on top of it and gets it taken care of.”
“Kenny and I, we pretty much travel all the time to the stores,” continues McCurley, “and we are pretty much hands-on with everything. I think we are small enough now that we can do that and I think that has helped our growth. Five days a week, he or I are at one of the stores. We have about 22 people that work for us. Eight guys do all of our deliveries for the stores. They do somewhere around 140 deliveries and setups a week.”
“Local home sales drive an increased demand for home decor, furniture, landscaping and more, which when bought locally helps our local economy,” says McCurley.
“Right now, people spending money on their homes, whether they are buying or just fixing up their current home, while remaining home during the pandemic.”
McCurley has found that “the Jacksonville way” is a model that works for all his stores. “The communities we are in are much like Jacksonville in population and patterns, he says, “If it works in Jacksonville, it works for the other stores.”
Additionally. McCurley attends three furniture shows a year and says, “We look at all the hottest items right now. I catch myself watching a lot of HGTV for the hot trends. Right now, anything barn-related in the furniture business is hot, like entertainment centers, barn doors and more.”
What other trends does he see? He says, “I see a lot more of home decor stuff. More people are buying that than before. Items such as decorative lamps, plants and rugs.”
Changing with the times and trends and great local employees has kept Billy’s Furniture continuing on a track of success. “This is our 25th year,” says McCurley, “and we’re opened to doing another 25 years.”