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ladder takes integrity, hard work

First Person: Moving up the
ladder takes integrity, hard work

I am 26 years old and the manager of Arhaus Furniture’s Rochester store. Arhaus Furniture is a family-owned business with 12 stores in New York and Ohio, and the Rochester store is the most recent to open of the two stores in New York. To say that being the manager of such a beautiful, upscale furniture store, which represents a significant strategic and financial commitment by its ownership, is a challenge is an understatement. To say the least, it is exciting as well as having its ups and downs.
As a young woman, being in this position early in my career makes it even harder. But I have quickly learned that as the rubber meets the road, so to speak– in terms of working hard to honor the commitment I have made to Arhaus and myself–the rewards are great.
I graduated from Villa Maria College of Buffalo in May 1992 with a degree in interior design. While I immediately joined the work force in the furniture industry, I think it is important to note that while you may not know exactly what industry or career you want to enter, if you follow your heart–for those who go beyond high school–and study an area that you love, you will be able to creatively match your skills and interests in a variety of different careers. Certainly, those who choose not to further their education can have great success by using the same work ethic and creative skills. While studying interior design and dreaming about my future, I never thought I would someday be managing a furniture store.
My career started in Buffalo as a sales associate in a midpriced furniture store, and I quickly fell in love with the furniture industry. As a young woman, I had to prove myself in many ways: Could I sell? Was I reliable? Would I be able to “connect” with people I did not know and listen well to their needs? Could I juggle my life with my new career?
Those questions became relatively easy, but could I maintain my integrity and belief system, such as honesty and believing in what I sell, in what seemed to be a very cutthroat business? In fact, a recent USA Today story notes that while the economy may be rock solid, many furniture dealers report sales that are as “squishy as a broken-down sofa.” While Arhaus, with such a unique, eclectic blend of furnishings, is growing and sales are great, what would I do if sales took a downturn and my livelihood was threatened?
Actually, I felt I could not do all these things in my first two jobs out of college. The demands of the companies did not match my demands of myself. But my third job taught how important it is to find a company whose philosophy of doing business closely matches your own. Arhaus Furniture became that match.
While my first jobs included furniture reupholstery and drapery sales, as well as free-lancing as a designer, I truly loved sales, and in October 1994 I started with Arhaus in Buffalo as a sales associate. The job was a challenge and I loved it. The furniture and quality of ownership of the company were things and people I could believe in. I felt the products were great quality at reasonable prices and I knew it was the right fit when I wanted to fill my house with Arhaus pieces. After meeting the corporate management team, I made a commitment to grow with this company if they would let me. This was the best move I have made in my short career.
I was fairly quickly promoted to store product specialist, and in this capacity I had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina–the heart of the furniture industry in America–to study upholstery and leather factories, as well as be on the ground floor in terms of special product previews. With travel to Mexico and Europe–a part of the international search Arhaus conducts to find and develop unique, dynamic pieces–this exciting opportunity lay ahead for me.
After working hard to find my niche with the company and not really being sure how I was doing (the store sales numbers were good), my hard work was validated when I was invited to the new Rochester store for a week to give the store manager my input on what I saw at the store in terms of design and what I thought I could change. I jumped at the sales assistant manager’s job when it was offered–much to my surprise.
While leaving my friends and co-workers in Buffalo was sad and hard, I was definitely riding an adrenaline wave as I was keeping busy with my new job and planning a wedding, as well as commuting to Rochester from Buffalo. I really believe that good things will come your way if you are true to your heart, honest and hard-working. A few months later, the Rochester manager transferred to Cleveland and I was offered the man- ager’s position. I guess I do not have to say that I accepted.
I love my job, my staff and the store, but this position definitely has its difficulties. I have to prove myself every day to our customers. They want to be assured that this young woman can give them what they need, to be there if they have a problem and to give them the best furniture possible. I do this by being a professional. While I learned some skills from others as I rose in the industry, I also realize that my actions now and in the future will be closely scrutinized by those who work with me. I learned and will learn from mentors, and I realize my position will allow me to mentor others as time goes by.
But what does being a professional really mean? To me, it is simply listening to my customers as well as my staff–hearing their needs and concerns and giving them all I can in terms of timely service and answers. Without honesty and sincerity, no one will buy it.
I also need to prove myself to my company. They have given me a wonderful opportunity with this store and I want to make it the best I can. I work 50-plus hours in a typical week and manage a staff of seven to eight people. I have learned to be a sales coach, trainer and cheerleader. I do the paperwork, and I make sure the store is producing as well as presenting an exciting, stylish look. Our store has to always look great, and that aspect of design and helping people find pieces that fit their style speaks to my original love.
My personal life also is very important to me. In the past year I married my longtime sweetheart who supports me in my career. He loves me and helps me every day. We have also purchased our first home and there will be plenty of Arhaus furniture in it. I finally get to put my love for interior design to work for my biggest critic–me (and, of course, my husband).
At age 26, I hesitate to give advice to anyone. I have learned so much from so many others. But if I were to simply say that if you put your best into everything you do–filtered through your ethics and personal integrity–you cannot go wrong. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. Believe in yourself and care for others and the payoff will be worth it.
(If you have a story to tell, fax a one-page synopsis to Associate Editor Catherine Roberts at 546-3398, or e-mail it to rbjournal@aol.com.)

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