Gorman's fills Israels' outlet

January 7, 2011
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West Michigan’s relatively stable economy — as compared to southeastern Michigan — and an available niche in the market led Gorman’s Home Furnishings and Interior Design back to the Grand Rapids building it occupied in the 1980s and 1990s, said President and COO Tom Lias.

“We never wanted to leave Grand Rapids. We really enjoyed it here,” said Lias, who last week was joined by CEO Bernie Moray, Executive Vice President Jeff Roberts and Vice President of Operations John Moray in signing a lease for the former Israels Home Furnishings building at 2320 28th St. SE and the Israels Windows Floors & More at 2340 28th St. SE.

The four men are partners in the small furniture chain.

Gorman’s occupied the same 28th Street location as a Drexel Heritage store from 1981 till 1996, when it lost its lease and retreated to nurture its Motown roots.

Bernie Moray brought Gorman’s into the new home furnishings market when he bought the company, founded 71 years ago as a freight reclaimer, in 1965. Today Gorman’s has four suburban Detroit locations and prides itself on offering 100 brands of furniture at a wide range of price points.

Bernie Moray and David Israels, who will be general manager of Grand Rapids operations, said the two retailers shared the Michigan territory in several brands and knew each other well. Israels’ brother, Jason, will be operations manager.

Both worked for the furniture companies owned by their father, Bob Israels, a fixture in the Grand Rapids community for decades. Bob Israels, who owned Israels Home Furnishings locations downtown as well as the 28th Street store, bought Klingman’s Furniture, which was founded in 1896. He remodeled the former Rogers Department Store in Wyoming for Klingman’s when it moved out of Centrepointe Mall, but was unable to cover the $14 million he owned to Fifth Third and Macatawa banks and lost control of the stores last year.

“There really is not a market in the country with this kind of opportunity today, where two very major, well-known, well-respected retailers have left the marketplace at the same time,” Lias said. “So this becomes a very smart business decision on our part. The marketplace is very stable. In spite of all the downturns and bad news you hear out of the eastern part of the state, the west has maintained itself — plenty of growth, one of the few places in the Midwest growing and building.

“It provides a great customer base. I think personally that because this (Grand Rapids) was a furniture center, that the taste level and desire for quality is better here than almost anywhere in the country.”

A public auction was planned for last weekend and may extend into this coming weekend, Lias said. Then the store will be freshened up and new stock brought in. Lias said Gorman’s expects to have a “soft opening” around Feb. 1 with a grand opening anticipated in May.

Gorman’s will feature eight major lifestyles, 15 specialty shops, its contemporary line and a design center. “This is a real overview of the way people want to live today,” Lias said.

David Israels said the store is expected to employ about 40. At their peaks as sister stores, Israels and Klingman’s employed 170, he said. Those layoffs have already occurred, he added.

A design center will occupy the second floor for Gorman’s “to the trade” business, Israels said.

“We lost, really, the backbone as far as the merchandise that was there for the designers, but our design center has still stayed intact as far as a service facility and a service showroom,” Israels said.

“There will only be more opportunities. We see a stronger mix of home furnishing products that will be available to the designer. And all of the other resources that they’ve had from our design center in the past will be available to them, and all of the services. I feel it’s going to be a stronger program for them with a much more targeted organization, facility, for them to work through.”

Gorman’s joins another Detroit furniture retailer, Art Van, in West Michigan, but Moray dismissed any threat in West Michigan from his hometown rival.

“We compete in the sense of we’re both in the furniture business,” Moray said. “As far as the price level and the quality level, we’re totally different. The quality level that we provide is more upscale and, of course, designer-oriented — fashion forward, you might say.”

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