Family tradition

Family-owned Steinhafels Furniture has taken the term “family” to mean something more than just blood relation. The Waukesha-based company’s partners are chief operating officer Mark Steinhafel, chief financial officer Ellen Steinhafel-Lappe and president Gary Steinhafel. They say the company has tried to create a corporate environment in which employees enjoy coming to work and everyone is considered family.

“We are very open, and very available, and we are constantly getting input from everyone,” Mark said.

John Steinhafel and his partner formed Mueller-Steinhafel Furniture in Milwaukee on Teutonia Avenue in 1934.

“I think it was every man’s dream to own their own business at that time,” Mark said. “Our grandfather came to Milwaukee and set up his furniture store in the middle of the Depression in an old grocery store.”

John was responsible for the humble beginnings of what has become Steinhafels Inc., but it was the second generation of Steinhafels that expanded the business to what it is today.

John made each of his five children equal partners. The five of them, according to Gary, were risk takers in the industry.

“That is an important part of our heritage,” Gary said. “For them to all come in and be equal owners, and be able to get along, we think the second generation is a very large part of our legacy and what makes us authentic.”

Five members of the third generation now work in the company. Mark was the first of the three owners to come on board in 1989 as COO. His cousin Gary joined a few years later as president of the company and Gary’s sister Ellen now serves as CFO.

“We were really given a unique opportunity because of the second generation,” Gary said. “They gave us a business with a terrific reputation in the market. It was financially stable and had a very, very hard working, dedicated group of employees.”

According to Ellen, part of the company’s authenticity comes through in its unique decision making process. All decisions made in the business are made by strict consensus.

“We always talk things through, until we were all comfortable with the decision,” she said. “We always come up with a better plan by working through our differences and coming up with a united goal.”

“It’s never two against one,” Mark said. “It’s always consensus just as it was with our parents and they had five individuals.”

That respect for each other’s opinions, according to Gary, is what has kept the family business tight. And that respect for everyone’s opinion extends beyond the blood relative relationships of the owners to the entire Steinhafel staff.

“Being a family-owned business we have some of those family values manifested in our company policies,” Gary said. “We respect our employees and understand their individualities and we respect their families and their family life, and I think that’s why we have such a loyal work force.”

Part of the respect for their employees is shown in the flexible work schedules and benefit packages for the employees.

“We haven’t had an increase in health care costs in five years,” said Mark.

“We joined the Quad Clinics and started hitting corporate wellness programs hard,” Ellen said. Steinhafels put in a fitness center in its Waukesha building, and the company offers yoga classes, a wellness weight loss challenge and stop-smoking seminars.

“We are trying to proactively control our health care costs,” Gary said. “Our employees and the company are benefiting from that.”

Steinhafels also has a profit-sharing program that provides one more way to thank its employees.

Not only has Steinhafels invested a lot into its employees, the firm has worked to stay in tune with what its customers want. The owners say they continuously strive to offer customers the authentic quality they desire.

“We have embraced the changing world, we have built bigger stores,” Gary said. “We know the consumer today is time starved and wants to see a broader selection of quality products in one place at one time. They want gratification, and we are here to give them that.”

 Steinhafels offers a wide selection of in-stock furniture and mattresses. They offer same or next day delivery, often with a two-hour delivery time slot, and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.

“We really try to make everything as convenient as possible for the customer,” Mark said. “If a customer isn’t happy with a product, because it’s too big or too small or if it’s just not right, they can come back and we’ll make it right.”

Many of their family-friendly stores offer a play center for the kids with video games.

“Too often, furniture stores look alike,” Gary said. “We have really tried to make ours a fun environment where families want to come.”  

Today, Steinhafels has seven facilities around southeastern Wisconsin. The largest facility and their corporate headquarters was completed in 2002 at the corner of Highway F and Interstate 94 in Waukesha. It features a showroom, a warehouse, offices, a fitness center, cafeteria and an education center, which is open to the public for reserved meetings, educational seminars or employee gatherings and classes.

Steinhafels is in the planning stages for additional growth.

“We have been presented a couple of opportunities,” said Gary. “We already own land in Madison and in Grafton, but we will evaluate all of those options and decide what will be the best opportunity for us. Within the next year, we will be ready to announce our next project.”

The company’s owners say they are constantly looking for ways to improve their business.

“What is authentic to Steinhafels is that we are constantly not satisfied with where we are as a company,” Gary said.

The company doesn’t abide by the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality, Ellen said.

“We are more the kind of company that says if it’s not broken, break it and make it better,” Gary said. “Our goals as a company are to stay profitable, protect jobs, serve our employees and serve our customers, but most importantly we want our product, our furniture, to enhance the lives of our customers. We want our customers to be able to ‘relax’ and let us make their life more enjoyable.”



corporate authenticity


Steinhafels Inc.
• Steinhafels is not a top-down company. The partners in the company are readily available to employees and value the employees’ opinions. Employee input helped shape the design of the company’s 420,000-square-foot corporate campus in Waukesha. The company also has an employee profit-sharing program.
• The company goes above and beyond the typical work/life balance concept. The company’s Waukesha facility offers a fitness center, yoga sessions, a weight-watchers program and an art education center, which has been used for everything from employee benefit seminars, to baby showers and other celebrations. The company allows flexible work schedules for employees and a children’s play center in the store for customers. 
• Steinhafels takes the term “family” to the next level. Five third-generation Steinhafels work in the company today. Three of them are owners. Steinhafels relies on word-of-mouth employee references and has many relatives, including mothers, daughters and sibling employees working together.

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