By Steve Sears
Amy Berkowitz is proud of the fact that, through adversity, Berk’s Furniture & Mattress was able to grow its business and serve their clients during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
“Our clients have followed us for the past 50 years from the Trading Post to Berks – we’re third generation – so they’ve been loyal,” she says. “We’ve found a way to save the business and keep our clients happy and continue to grow.”
Berk’s Furniture & Mattress, owned by both Amy and her brother Justin, is a spinoff store. “My dad,” she explains, “owned the Hackettstown Trading Post with our uncle and our cousin. That was on Main Street for 53 years. That stemmed from a business in Washington (Township) called the Washington Trading Post. My grandfather started that in the ‘30s.”
Berk’s Furniture & Mattress itself has been in business since 2012 but is indeed fortified by all the prior acumen and experience. The store offers one-to-one, phone, and online chat consultation, and whichever one a customer chooses, know that the service is ultra-personal.
“In the beginning, it was all unknown; no one knew what was going to happen,” says Berkowitz regarding COVID-19, which presented a huge challenge to her and her brother. Both met that challenge. “We went in stages,” says Berkowitz, adding, “and interestingly enough, we were a little bit ahead of the curve than most of our competitors and retailers. We kind of just worked off of what people wanted.”
To start, Berk’s Furniture & Mattress presented their first ever “Floor to Door” event, where Berkowitz – stating she missed her customers coming into the store – brought the store to her customers, presenting on video via Facebook some of the store’s gorgeous floor sample inventory for sale, tax and delivery included in the final price, with curbside delivery or delivery to the buyer’s garage. Then, after furloughing her staff, she and her brother still went to the store from 11 am – 5 pm every day, initially not seeing clients but selling only online, and also themselves doing maintenance and reorganizing the store. When quarantine started to lift in April, the duo scheduled appointments daily for one customer at a time. “As soon as people started feeling more comfortable, we started scheduling more appointments, maybe two customers at a time.” It was beneficial: customers were getting the personal attention that is associated with Berk’s Furniture & Mattress.
Eventually employees started to slowly return, and the store fully reopened on June 15. “We had our biggest month ever in August (in Berk’s eight-year history),” Berkowitz says. “All because people were home. The home furnishings segment of the business has been affected in a positive way. Because of COVID, no one is traveling, there’s no spending money on any entertainment like movies, concerts, and people really aren’t going out to eat the same way. There’s no traveling, no vacations, so where the money got placed was into the homes. I don’t think the American public has ever spent so much time at home.” In addition to the in general being at home factor, Berkowitz also states that folks working from home wanted to change work areas, perhaps add desks to home offices. “Everyone is faced with looking at their homes every day and being there, saying, ‘I want to change it – now.’”
“So, we had a lot of growth.”
There is, however, a flip side. The furniture manufacturing industry has been hit very hard, first shutting down completely, and then having to implement new procedures when reopening. Also, the $600 a week surplus affected factories, who had issues getting employees back to work. Raw materials and containers weren’t coming in, China was affected (“That’s where a lot of our resources come from,” says Berkowitz), so there were tremendous delays in furniture making and transport. Berk’s Furniture & Mattress was forced to change its entire business model. “Our business model was always ‘Custom furniture – quality – quick ship.’ One of our manufacturers would do custom furniture in three weeks. Now they’re out 16 weeks. Some are out 20 weeks. Some are out 24 weeks.”
They changed everything. “We’ve found some little, different manufacturers that were able to supply goods quickly so that now we’re carrying truckloads of furniture; basically, a truck will come in with about 120 upholstered pieces at a time,” says Berkowitz. “We started trying to stock everything, just so basically the way it’s shown on the floor is just stock. Our mattresses went from coming in once a week to once a month, so our warehouse is stocked with hundreds of mattresses. So, there’s a lot we now stock, and it’s available for immediate delivery.” For those who still wish to go the custom route, Berkowitz is up front about the possible extended wait. “The availability is still there, but also things are in stock.”
Amy Berkowitz sums up 2020 for Berk’s Furniture and Mattress. “It’s through adversity that we grow, that’s how we learn, and that’s how we become better and stronger.”
Berk’s Furniture & Mattress is located at 320 Mountain Avenue in Hackettstown. Call (908) 269-8725 or visit www.berksfurnituremattress.com.