Coming a long way over nine decades, Benson Stone Co. has crafted itself into a regional destination for home improvement. Step inside this Rockford staple and find out what’s made it so successful for 90 years.
Ninety years after a Swedish immigrant opened a small stone company in Rockford, his business is still running strong, having blossomed into a fourth-generation, regional shopping destination.
Housed in a 120,000-square-foot former furniture factory, Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St., is still a cornerstone of Rockford’s Midtown District and it’s now an attraction in its own right. The store’s four floors are filled with products and ideas to freshen up a home – from fireplaces, grills, furniture and fun decor to kitchen design, stone countertops, flooring, and brick and landscaping materials.
As an extra incentive to stay and shop a little longer, the Hearthrock Café, located right off the main entrance, offers homemade breakfast and lunch items, gourmet coffee and baked goods every day but Sunday.
A friendly staff, soothing music, bright lights and a clean, pleasant scent increase the homey feeling.
“This is a one-stop shop for anyone who’s remodeling or doing anything for their home,” says Andy Benson, company president and the fourth generation of Benson leadership. “It’s convenient for them, because they can come in and pick out kitchen cabinets and select the granite countertops, flooring and lighting that go with it. We can also fabricate the granite right here.”
Benson Stone hangs its hat on the quality and durability of the products it sells. Only the most sophisticated, functional and stylish products make it to the showroom floors, Benson says. Those products come from around the world.
“Some people think we only sell high-end, expensive products, but we’re actually very competitive at all price points,” Benson says. “Yes, we have a $6,000 barbecue grill, but we also have Weber grills for the same price as the big-box stores. When people come here to buy from us, they expect what they purchase to last because we have a broad selection of good, quality products.”
Benson Stone is truly a family affair, just like it’s been for 90 years. Andy’s wife, Kim, takes care of gifts, decor and staging. Their son, Paul, the fifth generation in the business, oversees granite fabrication.
An extended family of more than 70 staff members are more than just employees. They’re experts in their field, capable of offering advice and insights to bring a home project together. Their wide experiences can help to update a home’s color schemes, freshen up its surfaces and improve the look of a room.
It’s the staff’s high level of expertise and professionalism that sets Benson Stone apart from other retailers, says Benson.
“We have fireplace sales people who’ve pretty much done this their whole lives, so they’re highly experienced,” Benson says. “All of our department managers are incredibly experienced with a lifetime of experience in their field. We also have staff members with decades of interior design experience, and we have incredibly talented kitchen and bath designers who’ve been in the industry for many years.”
Benson Stone was founded in 1930 by Andy’s great-grandfather, a Swedish immigrant named Martin O. Benson and his son, M. Howard Benson. The father and son were limestone cutters when they left Indiana for new opportunities in Rockford. They purchased the former Reed Stone Co., then located at 1400 10th Ave., at the corner of 10th Street and 10th Avenue. It was being sold in the midst of the Great Depression.
The Depression and shortages during World War II made a challenging start for the family business, but in the busy post-war boom, the family business was perfectly positioned.
“As the years went on, they got into veneer stone, which is used for fireplaces and landscape stone, which can be used for patios and retaining walls,” Benson says. “From there, they got into selling brick and more of the building materials.”
Eventually, the company expanded into fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Selling stoves and fireplaces was an easy way to keep things going into the winter season, when construction and business were generally slower, says Benson. The firm also began fabricating and installing stone countertops, becoming the first in the region to join the trend.
Andy and his brother, Stephen, joined the business in the 1980s. They started by doing much of the grunt work, like pulling weeds and running errands. In the process, Andy moved his way up the company ladder before taking over leadership from his father in the late 1990s.
In 1992, Benson Stone Co. expanded from its longtime home in Rockford’s Midtown District and opened a 7,000-square-foot fireplace showroom on East State Street. The showroom also included outdoor items such as barbecue grills and patio furniture.
In the later part of the decade, the Benson family made its biggest move yet: It purchased the shuttered Rockford Standard Furniture building for $250,000 in 1999.
With a vision of long-term growth, the family spent $500,000 rehabbing the expansive old factory into a sleek, stylish showroom for the company’s many growing departments.
“When we moved in here, we only had two floors,” Benson says. “We didn’t have kitchen cabinets, flooring or furniture. Over time, we added cabinets, furniture, flooring and lighting to round out our services.”
The move paid off, because it inspired a new vision for Benson Stone and its future.
“Moving into this building changed everything for us because it gave us the space to make several changes and add additional categories,” Benson says. “Once we were in here with all this space, it was easy to add on.”
In time, Benson Stone’s two locations were consolidated under one roof.
And what a roof it was. When the third and fourth floors were completed and a grand re-opening celebrated in 2004, the showroom’s true charm was on full display. Exposed wood timbers, refurbished floors and original brick walls help to tell the story of this building’s proud heritage.
The trademark, two-story fireplace in the middle of a grand foyer welcomes shoppers and invites them to linger. A glass elevator located a few yards away ferries shoppers past four floors of furniture, home accessories and a state-of-the-art kitchen design studio. Each department at Benson Stone has steadily grown and evolved over the past two decades.
“This had been a furniture store before we purchased it, and when we opened we still had people coming in looking for furniture,” Benson says. “Adding the furniture and flooring galleries were huge for us. They really helped us get through the Great Recession.”
Furniture galleries on the third and fourth floors show off all kinds of styles and design ideas. Vignettes for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and more complement galleries with mattresses and recliner sofas. Benson Stone also carries reliable and trusted furniture brands, including Hancock & Moore, Smith Brothers of Berne, Stressless and Simmons, among plenty of others.
Since 2008, the second-story flooring gallery has been one of the largest and most diverse of its kind in the area. Set near several concept kitchen and bathroom designs, the flooring gallery features carpet, hardwood, tile and luxury vinyl options, with thousands of samples to explore.
Nearby is a lighting gallery, created in 2015 to help add a finishing touch to any home remodel. More than 1,000 fixtures representing all styles flood the gallery with light.
Down on the first floor, tables and chairs, as well as the Hearthrock Cafe, invite shoppers to pause before exploring home decor and gifts, a fireplace gallery, barbecue grill displays and a landscaping idea center. Benson says he routinely sees people from well beyond Rockford, including the Chicago suburbs, making their way to Midtown District.
“There have always been people from the outlying areas who visit Rockford to shop, but I would say we get people from a good 50-mile radius,” Benson says. “It’s pretty easy for them to drive out here and shop, versus driving more toward Chicago. On occasion, we even go further out because we also get people who come down here from northern Wisconsin.”
And while Benson Stone has become a regional attraction for home goods, it’s not unusual to see commercial landscapers and building contractors coming and going, as well. They, too, hail from a wide geographic footprint.
The company has spent years developing a rapport with area subcontractors and installers who go out of their way to ensure that every product is serviced and installed properly.
Benson Stone is open and ready for business, and the team is prepared to help people who might be investing more time in their homes during the ongoing pandemic.
“When we started doing some advertising in the last couple weeks of May, they were the best two weeks of furniture sales in the history of the company,” Benson says. “The months that followed were also great, and that’s been the trend nationwide. Everyone is staying home and they’re starting their own home improvement projects. I never would’ve expected to do so well coming out of a pandemic lockdown, but things have been good.”
This business has come a long way in 90 years. It’s gone through many twists and turns, but Benson believes the family’s crown jewel is in good hands and will continue to thrive.
“All we can do is try staying on top of everything, continually improve the way we do business and stay on the cutting edge of technology,” Benson says. “We could try looking at additional categories, but I think the best thing we can do is perfect what we already have. By doing that, we can hopefully continue to grow the business.”