Rockford’s hometown merchant is taking a new step in serving its customers, as it opens a second location. See how its new store on Rockford’s east side promises to make this family company a powerful force in furniture.
Dale Gustafson’s father, Martin, taught him many things about the retail business. But the most important lesson he passed down to his son was the No. 1 rule in customer service.
“First, satisfy the customer,” says Dale, president of Gustafson’s Furniture & Mattress. “Second, make sure to satisfy the customer. And the third thing is to see No. 1.”
Martin was right on the money. This year, Gustafson’s Furniture, 808 W. Riverside Blvd., Rockford, is celebrating 87 years in business. It hasn’t always been easy, Dale says, but he wouldn’t have done it any other way. “It’s been a labor of love,” he says.
Good things continue to happen for this longtime Rockford merchant.
This fall, Gustafson’s Furniture is set to open a second store in Rockford. The business recently purchased the former American TV & Appliance location, at 6651 E. State St. The new location is 97,000 square feet on one level. The new store will offer a wide selection of merchandise and provide the business with a 10,000 square-foot warehouse.
“We’re excited about this expansion,” Dale says. “It’s energized all of us. I’ve made moves twice before, but I’ve never felt something like this. I feel ready for this addition, and the staff is behind me. This is a good place for us to be.”
The Gustafson’s staff has spent the past several weeks getting ready to open the new location. Gustafson’s East, as Dale calls it, has received a major facelift: repaved parking lot, new sidewalks, carpeting and fresh paint.
Dale says the second location will be a welcome addition for all customers and will house the largest mattress display in the Midwest. The store will present 154 vignettes, or living room displays.
“This expansion will offer more convenience for our east-side customers, as well as those traveling from the western suburbs,” Dale says. “This move was made with our customers in mind. My dad always said good customer service is the only thing that truly matters.”
Martin Gustafson grew up on a farm in Stillman Valley, Ill. His father died from pneumonia, leaving his mother to bring up 11 children. With an eighth-grade education, Martin sold mothballs and vacuums door-to-door. He was successful because of his strong rapport with customers. “He had a big heart and a love for people,” says Dale.
In 1928, Martin expanded his business and opened a store on Seventh Street in Rockford. “It was tough sledding during the Depression,” says Dale. “It probably wasn’t the best time to open a business, but he wasn’t going to give up.”
Dale went to work for his father when he was 12 years old. He headed to the shop after school, dusting appliances and dishes for the bridal registry. After serving a short stint in the U.S. Navy, Dale came home to join the family business and has been there ever since; he took over the company when he was 26. Martin suffered health problems for several years, before passing away in 1985.
“I’ve enjoyed all of our customers over the years,” Dale says. “It’s been fun working with generations of family members. Repeat customers are very important. My dad always told me that it takes 17 times the amount of money and effort to obtain a new customer as it does to retain a current customer. But we appreciate all of our customers.”
Gustafson’s Furniture & Mattress remains a family business. Dale and Trina, who’ve been married 42 years, oversee business operations. Their sons, David and Christopher, are also part of the management team. David is responsible for marketing and social media, while Christopher assists with human resources. The Gustafson’s eldest child, Kristen, is a Christian family counselor in Grand Rapids, Mich. “It’s a blessing to work with my sons,” Gustafson says. “I worked with my dad for 40 years. My sons fill a certain niche within our business.”
Trina formerly worked as a banker and as a teacher at Beyer School. She joined the family business full-time 20 years ago, as chief financial officer. “We work 10 hours a day together, we commute two hours a day and we’re still best friends,” Dale says. “She knows every inch of this business.”
In 1998, after 63 years on Seventh Street, Gustafson’s relocated to its current location at 808 W. Riverside Blvd. Located in the former 109,000 square-foot Bergner’s store at North Towne Mall, Gustafson’s has 14,000 pieces of furniture in its showroom, including 3,000 mattresses, making it one of the largest stores of its kind in the state.
At Gustafson’s, the customer is in charge of any buying decision. “It doesn’t matter if they spend $199 or $1,000 with us, every customer is important,” says Dale. “When you take care of your customers, they come back.” Dale estimates that, over a lifetime, a customer will spend an average of $50,000 on furniture.
Gustafson’s has 68,000 active customers on its mailing list, a number Dale attributes to strong customer service. “We’re not perfect, but we do a good job servicing the customer,” he says. “We don’t have an 800 number and it doesn’t take us six weeks to fix the problem. If we make a mistake, we get it right. We’ve been family-owned and operated for three generations. We’re not restricted by corporate policies.”
This past April, Gustafson’s Furniture & Mattress had another reason to celebrate. Its buying group, Furniture First, received the annual Retailer of the Year Award. The award was presented by the International Home Furniture Association in High Point, N.C. This was the first time a buying cooperative has received the award.
“It’s an honor to receive this award,” Dale says. “It means you are in good standing in the industry. We’ve been doing this a long time and our hard work is paying off.”
Dale can’t imagine doing it anywhere but in Rockford, which is evident by the recent news of Gustafson’s second location.
“We love Rockford, and the people know us here,” he says. “Our goal has always been to do a better job for our customers than our competition. Rockford is our headquarters, not a branch. Being local means we care.”
Dale also is energized by recent developments that are transforming the community. “Rockford doesn’t always get the credit it deserves,” he says. “The downtown area has really shown tremendous improvement. And we are fortunate to have a great park system and symphony, for example. There are good things going on right here in our backyard.”
For these reasons, the Gustafsons have no plans to retire anytime soon. “Work keeps you younger and healthier,” says Dale. “Besides, work is my hobby. I’m excited about our big plans on the east side. This move charts our course for the future. We’ll play a significant role in people’s buying decisions. Our goal is to fill their homes with quality, durable furniture at an affordable price. We want to honor their hard-earned dollars with good value. We’ve made a commitment to this community and we hope to be here for the next 80 years.”