Benson Stone Company is revered for being an all-encompassing home furnishing store. Travel through five generations of Benson family history and success, and learn how this business blossomed into the one-stop shop it is today.
If we renovate it, people will come.
That belief led Howard Benson and his sons to move their furniture and stone product store from a trendy East State Street location to a 120-year-old furniture factory building at 1100 11th Street, in 2001.
It was a leap of faith that paid off. The business not only thrived in the new location but also expanded to become the only “one stop” home furnishing destination of its kind in our region.
“People like to come here because we have everything all in one place for a major remodel, and we can do just about anything they need,” says Andy Benson, president.
Now employing 75 people, the regional shopping destination offers furniture, flooring, kitchens, granite countertops, fireplaces, barbecue grills, stone, a lighting gallery, and brick and landscape materials. The store also houses HearthRock Cafe, managed by Todd Cooper, whose staff serves up tasty breakfast and lunch items Monday through Saturday.
The business not only prides itself on the high quality of products it carries, but on the expert staff members it employs.
“Having good people in place who are experts at what they do and providing a consistent product have been really important,” says Howard Benson. “The move back to this part of town was a big decision, but we’re glad we did it; we’re very satisfied with it.”
“People see us as a destination and enjoy spending time here,” says Andy. “On a daily basis we have people come through who just enjoy being here.”
Indeed, it’s not unusual to find people sharing a meal at the HearthRock Cafe, reading a newspaper or even playing a game near the massive two-story stone fireplace.
The Bensons purchased the former Rockford Standard Furniture building in 1999 for $250,000. They spent another $500,000 on renovations before it opened for business 18 months later. Then in 2004, they added a glass elevator, skylights and 50,000 square feet of new showroom space. Massive wood beams were exposed and sandblasted, maple floors were polished and the cozy two-story stone fireplace was installed.
In the Bensons’ hands, the space came alive with rich sights and scents that encourage visitors to linger, including an intriguing gift shop, which since 2001 has been managed by Andy’s wife, Kim Benson. Kim is also in charge of showroom display and is the advertising spokesperson for the company.
“Even after all of the renovation, our overhead is maybe a quarter of what it would have been on the east side,” says Andy. Rather than purchasing expensive real estate, the Bensons opted to give customers a price break by investing in new product lines and the expert staff needed to support them. In so doing, they’ve provided customers with a unique experience.
“It may seem like we dabble in a lot of things, but we’re not really dabbling,” says Andy. “In furniture, kitchen cabinets and lighting fixtures, for example, our showrooms are among the largest in the Rockford area. We show many pieces that no one else carries. In fireplaces, we’re one of the largest showrooms in the Midwest because most shops don’t carry the variety of stone and brick that we do under one roof, plus the stone fabrication services.”
The Bensons find their various product lines feed off one other. And multiple specialties allow for overhead efficiencies such as a centralized bookkeeping and management system.
Andy Benson is the fourth-generation owner of a business founded by his great-grandfather in 1930. He carries on a family tradition of working hard and having the courage to take a road less traveled.
Swedish immigrant Martin O. Benson and his son, M. Howard, came to Rockford from Indiana in 1930, working as limestone cutters. They purchased what was then the Reed Stone Co. at auction during the Great Depression and struggled to keep it afloat during a lean economy, even closing it temporarily during World War II until the post-war building boom kicked business into high gear.
It’s easy to imagine how impressed Howard’s late father and grandfather would be with the way the company has expanded; it’s now a Rockford asset like no other.
“There were many years during hard times when this business didn’t have a great deal of growth,” reflects Howard. He credits its success to having good people in place.
Although the 11th Street location is off the beaten path for shoppers, it’s always been a familiar part of the city for the Bensons.
“For one thing, we grew up working in the shadow of this building,” says Andy. The original Benson Stone Co. was at the corner of 10th Street and 10th Avenue. As boys, Andy and his brother Steve pulled weeds, ran errands and did whatever their father asked of them.
The company built a fireplace showroom in the busy retail area on East State Street in 1992, but “it was pretty inconvenient to manage the two locations, and we really wanted to get everything under one roof,” explains Andy.
Becoming a destination store meant rounding out the staff’s talents.
“We knew we couldn’t personally be experts in all things,” says Andy. “So we hired good people with many years of experience in the various products to run each department. Our managers and our sales staff are truly experts in their field.”
“Some of the products we offer are pretty complex, like fireplaces and granite countertops, and they require a lot of technical detail to do it right,” says Howard.
“One reason for our success is that customers find expertise here, not just order-takers.”
Along with technical expertise, the store offers design advice from professionally trained designers.
“Sometimes people feel a little overwhelmed by the decisions that have to be made in a remodel,” says Andy. “Our designers help people coordinate among departments as they choose new flooring, cabinets, countertops – right down to helping them pick out paint colors. People love that.”
Many commercial landscapers and building contractors find what they need at Benson Stone Co., and the contractor side of the business has grown along with the product offerings.
When it comes to installing products, Benson Stone employs some of its installers and also works closely with subcontractors.
“We evaluate crews carefully and work very closely with them because good communication makes a huge difference in the end result,” says Andy. “We have a guy who does measuring, for example, who’s been doing it for 40 years.”
The business also helps customers to think through details like installing quarter-round after flooring installation or doing other finish work, moving furniture, removing and disposing of old material, staining woodwork, hooking up appliances and more.
“We travel within a 50-mile radius and serve a lot of people from the outskirts of Rockford,” says Andy.
There’s nothing simple about running a full-service one-stop destination like Benson Stone Co., but as Howard watches his grandson, Paul, become more involved in the business as another generation of Bensons, he can’t help but feel proud of the family legacy that’s making a difference to people in Rockford.
“It’s very rewarding to have the fourth and fifth generations of our family involved,” he says. “I know the future of Benson Stone is in good hands.”
Benson Stone Company at a Glance
• 1930 Limestone cutters Martin Benson and his son, M. Howard Benson, move to Rockford and purchase the Reed Stone Co., 1400 10th Ave., at auction during the Great Depression.
• 1950s Howard D. Benson (third generation) joins the business, and the stone cutting and fabrication business flourishes during a post-World War II building boom.
• 1980s Andrew and Stephen Benson (fourth generation) join the business, which expands to include brick, fireplaces, woodburning stoves and accessories. Benson Stone also fabricates and installs the first granite kitchen countertops in the Rockford area.
• 1992 Benson Stone Co. opens a 7,000-square-foot fireplace showroom on East State Street and adds barbecue grills and patio furniture to the mix.
• 1999 The Bensons purchase the vacant 130,000-square-foot Rockford Standard Furniture building at 1100 11th St. and oversee renovation for the next 18 months.
• 2001 State Street showroom is closed and the 11th St. location opens, featuring two large showroom floors of products with the HearthRock Café on the first floor.
• 2004 Grand re-opening celebrates renovation of third and fourth floors, a new glass elevator, skylights and the addition of furniture galleries, home accessories and a kitchen design center.
• 2007 Paul Benson (fifth generation) joins the business.
• 2008 Benson Stone enters the flooring business with the area’s largest showroom of carpet, tile, hardwood and vinyl flooring.
• 2013 Benson Stone purchases Rock Valley Brick on Riverside Boulevard, in Loves Park, Ill., and makes that location its main masonry, brick and stone yard.
• 2015 A complete lighting gallery is added to the second floor, showcasing more than 1,000 fixtures.
• 2016 Benson Stone is inducted into the Northern Illinois Business Hall of Fame.
The Achievement of Benson Stone
Martin Oscar Benson and his son, M. Howard Benson, could not have envisioned that the small stone shop they bought in 1930 would one day be inducted into the Northern Illinois Business Hall of Fame.
M. Howard Benson’s son, Howard, led the company’s growth in the stone and landscaping businesses, as he paved the way toward further diversification of its business model. Sons Stephen and Andrew worked to develop the stone and fireplace division, as well as the brick and masonry supply operation.
The family’s vision expanded to barbecue grills, outdoor furniture, granite countertop fabrication, and a 130,000-square-foot building on 11th Street that now includes the HearthRock Cafe and showrooms for kitchens, bathrooms and furniture.
Led today by Andrew Benson, the company employs 78 people. Andrew’s wife, Kim, handles gifts, decor and staging. Their son, Paul, is the fifth generation of Bensons involved in the business and is eager to keep the company on its track of success.
The Unique Business Units of Benson Stone Company
Furniture: Boasting a 50,000-square-foot showroom, quality, furniture, from contemporary to traditional styles, is on display for every room in your home. Also available are mattresses, home decor and a team of decorators and designers to assist customers at no charge.
Flooring:The company carries a complete array of flooring options, including hardwoods, carpet, tile, laminate, luxury vinyl tile, slate, glass, cork and area rugs. Designers are available to help customers find the perfect floor from their thousands of samples.
Kitchen & Bath: Benson Stone provides complete services to custom remodel any kitchen or bath. Eight full kitchen and bathroom displays illustrate the talent of their designers. Customers can find everything needed to complete their project.
Granite/Stone Countertops: Benson Stone provides the customer with the experience of five generations when it comes to fabricating granite, marble or quartz countertops. More than 300 unique granite slabs are on display, to be perfectly installed with the latest technology.
Fireplaces: More than 50 fully decorated and operating displays showcase Benson Stone’s 35 years of experience in fireplaces. Wood stoves, gas fireplaces, gas logs, electric fireplaces, wood-burning fireplace inserts and more are available.
Gifts, Decor and HearthRock Cafe: The first floor is home to the Home Decor and Gifts department, which includes home and garden decorations, home decor, framed art, area rugs, a women’s boutique and wine accessories. Adjacent is the HearthRock Cafe. Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe also serves unique coffee blends in a welcoming environment.
Lighting: The company features the largest selection of lighting fixtures in the region. Chandeliers, outdoor lighting, wall lights, under-cabinet lighting, multisystem lighting, landscape lighting, lamps, LED fixtures, fans and convenient controls are all available.
Brick & Stone: Fabricating stone is the heritage of the company, which began as a limestone fabrication shop in the 1930s. Today, the company provides a range of products serving residential and commercial needs, including architectural cut stone, residential and commercial brick, building stone, masonry supplies, and landscaping brick and stone.
Landscaping: Benson Stone offers a wide variety of landscaping products. Included are paving bricks, retaining walls, ponds and water features, decorative gravel, flagstones and steppers, boulders, mulch, lighting, decking, outdoor living and more.
Barbecue Grills: With 25 years of experience, the company now offers the largest selection in the area. Gas, charcoal, pellet and electric grills are available, along with a variety of smokers, pizza ovens, accessories and more. You can complete the experience by consulting with one of Benson Stone’s outdoor living designers.