Mr. Gerry Willey opened Fenton Home Furnishings 35 years ago on April 1, 1979, and since then he has grown it into a successful furniture business consisting of four locations, as well as 34 employees, including seven salespeople and ten designers. That makes him the force and the talent behind this impressive establishment, complete with a compelling life story that speaks to his remarkable achievements.
Born July 17th, 1939, Mr. Willey lived on the east side of Flint and came from very humble beginnings. He left high school in the 12th grade to join the Marine Corps in which he served from 1956 to 1959. Mr. Willey opened his Fenton store with only one employee-himself doing all the buying, selling, unloading, and pricing for the original establishment. He had two high school boys come in at 3 PM to help with deliveries. His dad had helped him covert a $400 old blue pickup to a delivery truck by building a wooden box on the top to hold all the customers’ merchandise. He has since come a long way to his present delivery fleet of five trucks.
In fact, the red-carpet delivery service now offered by Fenton Home Furnishings is unique. With each delivery, the customer can have things moved to another location in their home in order to accommodate their new purchase. That is, the professional delivery staff will move old furniture upstairs, downstairs, or even out to the garage of a customer if need be. After each delivery is completed, the client receives a special surprise gift, and a follow-up phone call a couple days later to ensure everything went as expected.
Though most merchandise the store carries is standard for the furniture business, there are also many one-of-a kind items available at each location, thereby making each store unique in its own right. All the stores have the latest in styles and fabrics in furniture as well, with experienced staff at the ready with whom customers can consult. Complimentary home design services are offered at each location to help clients choose the right furniture and accessories to showcase their homes, while custom window treatments and blinds are also available at the Frankenmuth store. “Our customers expect us to take care of them. We offer quality, style, comfort, and design experience. Our customers are informed, well-read and enjoy travel.” In order to consistently meet these customers’ needs, he adds that Fenton Home Furnishings professional staff stay up-to-date on home design shows and magazines to ensure clients see the latest design trends.
Nowadays, Mr. Willey just watches his well-structured business operate, allowing him more time to discover other adventures-including a perhaps not so well-known purchase of the Fenton Hotel from the bank in 1996. He found out quickly enough that he was not cut out for the restaurant business and sold it in 1997-content now to enjoy observing the company he so carefully constructed run successfully. “For the most part, I just sit back and watch,” he laughs, but then he becomes more serious and says, “But I am very proud of my family.” Willey has three children who are involved in the business: Nick, who is the operations manager overseeing the finances; Kristi, who is in charge of advertising, web development, and buying; and Rodney, who is the general manager. At one time, his other two children also worked for the company-Lora, worked in the office, is now the Coordinator of Education for Reverence Home Health Care & Hospice, and Gerry Jr. who once delivered furniture while going to college. He has since earned his law degree and works at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP in NYC.
“God is Good and Life is Good-only in America” is Mr. Willey’s motto. He goes on to explain, “Fenton has been good to me; (the store) has an excellent service department and our reputation has gotten us far. About 85% of our business comes from current customers and referrals. Once we sell someone, we usually have him or her as a customer for life. The reason is we ‘hug’ our customers, and they get special treatment here.”
Recently he had a conversation with his grandson who is 15 years old and a student at Powers Catholic High school. Mr. Willey asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His grandson replied, “I have no idea.” About that remark Mr. Willey says, “You know what, I’m almost 75 years old and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I never dreamed I’d sell furniture, but you know… , I enjoy it, I really do.” Ninety-eight percent of the merchandise in the store is American or Michigan-made Mr. Willey explained proudly, adding, “We strive to carry only the best, and we strive to make our customers happy.” And he seems to have succeeded in doing both for a very long and successful time.
Fenton Home Furnishings
1136 North Leroy Street