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Andrew Steinhafel didn’t plan on working in the family business. After working odd jobs in the company growing up, he earned a degree in business and computer science. He started his career working for tech startups and a financial software company in Boston. Gary Steinhafel, his uncle and the previous company president, mentioned the possibility to him the night before his wedding, as if one major life event were not enough. About a year later, Andrew’s dad brought it up again. This time, Andrew and his wife were looking to make a change and returned to Wisconsin. That was eight years ago. In early April, Andrew was named president of Steinhafels, making him the fourth generation in his family to lead the Pewaukee-based furniture retailer. Associate editor Arthur Thomas recently talked with Steinhafel about the new role. Not only has Steinhafels had to navigate the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is also working to launch a new website this summer and open two new stores, one in Downers Grove, Illinois and the other in Green Bay.
How did you know it was the right time to take on this new role?
“The last year with the pandemic … I think the partners relied a little more heavily on myself and our executive team than they have in the past, so it was really that combination of myself as kind of being the liaison between the family partners and our professional executive team that really in the last year cemented itself, and then now with Gary wanting to step back a little bit and spend some more time in North Carolina, I think the timing just worked out really well.”
How has the pandemic shaped the industry, and what’s the outlook going forward?
“Of course, shutting our doors when we’re 98% brick and mortar, in-person, in-store sales definitely hurt us. But coming out of it with the renewed focus on the home, people not spending their discretionary dollars on restaurants or travel, that certainly has helped our industry quite a bit. We’ve had an incredible run of about nine months of setting sales records and delivery records, volume records, so we’ve certainly appreciated that continued growth and support from our customers.
“Looking forward, I think there’s a chance this could be a bigger cultural shift too. I’ve talked to a lot of people who said, ‘yeah, we don’t want to be locked down in our house for a year ever again, but we did enjoy certain aspects of it. We did enjoy spending more time with family, a smaller group of friends or spending more time at home and making their home a nicer place and better to spend time in.’ I think personally that that could be a continued focus going forward for most customers, which of course would benefit our industry.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing as an industry right now is just supply chain. We’re not unique in that, a lot of businesses and industries are seeing those challenges, from container shortages to ship shortages to raw material shortages. We’re doing the best we can to make sure we’re getting product in stock as quickly as possible. I think we’re doing better than most in our industry, but it’s still a challenge.”
How does e-commerce end up playing into the furniture industry?
“Not to overuse buzzwords or cliches, but omnichannel is really the way we’re looking at it. In store, online, how to blend those two as much as possible, and really it’s about getting out of the way of the customer’s experience and the customer’s purchase journey. It’s about letting the customer decide where and when they purchase, how they purchase and trying to make it as easy and seamless for them.”
Steinhafels Inc. W231 N1013 Highway F, Pewaukee Employees: 550 Steinhafels.com