HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, MI — For the first time in its 121-year-old history, Grand Rapids-based Klingman’s Furniture & Design has expanded west into the Holland market.
That strategy is a departure for a historic brand built on the idea of bigger is better.
“The concept I have instead of having aircraft carrier-sized building filled with furniture is trying to have good size operations in more than one marketplace,” said Jason Israels, president of the Klingman’s.
Klingman’s is rebranding longtime retailer Hegg’s Gallery of Fine Furniture, as part of a merger agreement signed last year with owner Stacie Hegg. The 50,000-square foot showroom, at 2975 West Shore Dr., is now Klingman’s Furniture & Design Center.
The partnership excludes Klingman’s two Grand Rapids locations and Hegg’s Hart store.
A storied name
The retailer, a storied name in Grand Rapids’ history as Furniture City, was founded by Philip J. Klingman in 1896.
Klingman is credited with helping Grand Rapids’ earn its reputation as the furniture capital of the world by founding the Grand Rapids Furniture Market. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was where furniture manufacturers’ showcased their furniture to retailers.
Klingman then bought up many of the samples and sold them in his store Klingman Furniture Company, described at the time as one of the world’s largest stores.
The landmark business was a downtown Grand Rapids presence for much of the 20th century, occupying the block along Fountain Street between Division and Ionia Avenue.
After Klingman died in 1913, the business was owned by a succession of five families.
Israels revived the iconic brand sold off when his family’s furniture business was forced into bankruptcy in 2010.
He reopened Klingman in the former Thomasville Home Furnishings location, at 2984 28th Street SE, in Kentwood. In addition to the 30,000-square foot showroom, Klingman’s has a 20,000-square outlet store at 2885 Lake Eastbrook Blvd. SE.
The Israels-Klingman connection
Israels grew up in the furniture business. His grandfather, Ray, worked for Klingman’s before starting his own business. His dad, Bob, opened Israels Designs for Living in the 1970s in downtown Grand Rapids and expanded to a 28th Street location in the 1990s.
Bob Israels bought Klingman’s in 2008, when the retailer was housed at Centerpointe Mall in Grand Rapids. But the acquisition hinged on him moving the store to make way for the mall’s redevelopment plans.
He invested millions renovating the former Rogers Department Store building on 28th Street in Wyoming into a three-story showplace.
The new store never got the chance to be the success he envisioned. As the Great Recession triggered a financial crisis, banks began calling in loans or changing terms. In 2010, Fifth Third and Macatawa banks sued Bob Israels over $14 million in unpaid construction loans.
After the business’ forced bankruptcy, the Israels Design for Living showroom was bought up by Southfield-based Gorman’s, which now occupies the 28th Street location.
Even after the bankruptcy brought down the business his family spent decades building, Bob Israels’ sons weren’t ready to walk away from the industry. Jason Israels and his older brother, David, began by reopening the Windows, Floor and More, a store next to Gorman’s.
Bringing back Klingman’s
In 2011, Israels bought the rights to the Klingman name from the liquidation company.
“It’s what you know,” he said. “I know there has been years and years of foundation laid.”
He credits those deep roots for his company doing so well. In its first year, with a staff of five employees, the company sold $1 million of furnishings. Last year, sales grew to $6 million and a workforce of 35 people.
Israels is betting the company’s revenues could climb to $12 million in the coming year, in part spurred by the addition of the Holland location.
The sales are modest compared to a decade ago when the family business had a 200-person workforce and annual sales of $40 million. Still, Israels is celebrating his success and the comeback of Klingman’s.
He is looking at expanding to the Lansing market next, possibly with a partner like he did in Holland.
Israels approached Stacie Heggs about teaming up instead of opening his own store, because he liked the location. The store, visible from U.S. 31, was built to house Great Lakes Home Furnishings. Like Klingman’s, the once thriving retailer was forced into bankruptcy by lenders during the banking crisis.
He wants to bring back the higher end furniture once sold by Great Lakes. The Holland Township showroom has been updated with a variety of brands such as Wesley Hall, Vanguard, Lee Upholstery and Durham.
The Design Center continues to feature longtime businesses, Great Lakes Window Coverings and Great Lakes Carpet and Flooring.
Israels has also brought in Ryan Kanis, a longtime Klingman’s employee, to run the Holland store in the way the retailer’s loyal customer base expects. Most of Hegg’s staff – about 15 people – will stay on.
Klingman’s is introducing its new location with a grand opening sale.
Israels says he isn’t worried about competition from online retailers like Wayfair because manufacturers require minimum prices online that he can beat. Part of the reason furniture-makers charge more online is because shipping furniture directly to customer requires more extensive packaging.
When furniture comes out of the box, there is prep work that needs to be done, he said.
“Growing up in the furniture industry, we understand what is quality and value,” said Israels. “We try to find the maximum value for people. Part of it was educating our customers about expectations to meet their budget.”