What do running a golf course and managing a furniture store have in common?
For Kyle Nelson, it’s about turning customers into friends and providing them with a good experience when they stop in — even during a pandemic.
In the midst of COVID-19, Nelson, along with his wife and two young children, returned to his hometown Dubuque in August 2020 so he could take the general manager position at Sharon’s Furniture Store. The retail operation sells furniture, mattresses and more.
It was a calculated risk.
“With limited jobs even possible we knew (this move) would lead to a change of career,” Nelson said. “So far, it has been an adventure and I look forward to things getting a bit more back to normal.”
Sharon’s Furniture has been locally owned for more than 30 years with a storefront on Central Avenue. Founded by Sharon and Bob Mueller, that couple and their immediate family owned and operated the store until last summer. Nelson had been friends with the Muellers since his childhood.
“They were looking to go a different direction for their lives. This led to an opportunity for new ownership and someone to run the day-to-day operation,” Nelson said. “It has been amazing meeting all the different people in the community.”
Nelson’s new role meant he joined forces with his father, John E. Nelson, the new store owner. Given the pandemic situation, though, neither were certain how the business would fare in the short term. Initially, they had to overcome computer issues.
Nelson’s background in a seasonal field ended up being an asset to the operation during difficult times. He had to address pandemic-caused delays in shipping and inventory management. He also revamped the marketing plan, including encouraging social media reviews.
Right away, the Nelsons began to learn how supportive Sharon’s frequent customers were.
“We have had many customers come in and let us know they have and will always buy from Sharon’s Furniture,” he said. “It only makes us work harder at providing them an amazing experience while in the store and at home with their items.”
To address their customers’ needs, Sharon’s Furniture employs five other staff, including a manager, two sales personnel and two delivery drivers.
“Everyone works as a team, and it makes coming to work such a joy each day,” Nelson said.
The store features a variety of products that Nelson considers high quality at affordable prices. This includes furniture and décor for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and home offices. Additionally, they offer items for “mancaves” like pool tables, mirrors and bar fixtures.
Their main selling point continues to be the advantages offered by a small, family-owned operation.
“We do not have the big flashy showrooms and a lot of staff. This allows us to keep our costs down,” Nelson said. “Thus, (we can) pass that savings on to the customers, on top of providing top-notch, honest customer service. I feel our customers can tell we care.”
Greg Klauer, a sales professional at Sharon’s, has a direct line to building relationships with those customers. Like Nelson, he also came from a somewhat different background, previously working in the lighting industry.
“I saw the opportunity to try something different and I figured this would be a fun opportunity,” Klauer said. “I didn’t know anything about furniture when I started.” He has been with the store for five years and enjoys the customers the most.
Klauer said it’s fun to talk with everyone who stops by. It is sometimes challenging to help shoppers find just what they are seeking, especially if the item is specific or custom. Klauer works hard to find the best fit.
Long-standing customer, CaSondra Serres has experienced this service.
“The thing that drew me to the store was that they were willing to listen to what you want but are not pushy like some retail stores,” Serres said. “They help me find that piece of furniture I need and are willing to work with me if the piece I order comes in and I do not like it.”
Serres recently ordered a dining room table from Sharon’s online catalog. She said when it arrived, the table was tiny and she wasn’t satisfied with the product.
“I called the store and expressed that I knew this was my own fault, but was there anything they could do to help me get a new table? They were willing to give me in-store credit and helped me find the exact table that fit my needs,” she said.
According to Klauer, that personal touch is why so many people stop in and make purchases. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, he seconded that customers are remaining loyal, continuing to shop locally to help keep stores in business.
“Sharon’s isn’t just a furniture store,” Klauer said. “It’s a family that is here willing to do whatever it takes to put the customer first.”
For this business, that principle has extended to the community. Nelson took an opportunity to invest locally through the Shoes for Kids program.
“(It) is a great organization that helps schools provide shoes to kids in need. (But) with the status of COVID, they are not taking shoes directly this year,” Nelson said.
Sharon’s Furniture is sponsoring the initiative, helping to secure needed donations. Nelson hopes this will lead to more community service projects.
Meanwhile, Sharon’s Furniture continues to build its product line, including new furniture offerings, and the owners are considering refurbishing their building — all while continuing the tradition of helping customers with home furnishing purchases.
“We will remain here day in day out, doing our best to provide great customer service, products, selection and pricing to our fellow Dubuquers,” Nelson said.
When he hears that new customers were told “go to Sharon’s Furniture,” he knows their efforts are paying off.