Leather furniture and Amish-made furniture -- in fact, any American-made furniture -- is popular right now, says Gary O'Reilly, who was only 25 years old when he opened his furniture company in 1977.
That's why the owner of O'Reilly's Furniture in Libertyville says he buy as much American-made furniture as he can. He also follows a simple rule: he won't sell furniture he wouldn't buy for his own home.
"I don't sell cheap sofas and other furniture because that comes back to haunt you," he said. "I sell higher-end furniture at great prices and that makes my competitors mad. They complain to the furniture reps that I sell too low. That is why I have sold more than $130 million in furniture since 1977."
The young entrepreneur was in the right place at the right time, he modestly tells people when they ask. His store was a fixture in Libertyville's Green Tree Shopping Center until 2001 when he moved to a 90,000-square-foot space in Vernon Hills.
However, as the furniture industry moved from places like the Carolinas to China, all furniture stores lost volume. So, in 2008, right before the recession hit, he sold the huge building and retired.
But O'Reilly admitted that after only ten months of retirement, he couldn't stand the inactivity and reopened in a much smaller Vernon Hills space. When the economy improved and business grew, he again began looking for more space.
So, on July 4 this past summer, O'Reilly returned to his roots, opening a 13,000-square-foot store back in his original Libertyville shopping center.
"Amish furniture and leather furniture are the hot items for me right now since most of what I sell is more traditional furniture," he said. "In addition, I buy as much American-made furniture as I can and so far I have achieved a 60/40 mix between American and foreign-made goods.
"Shoppers want to buy American -- but if the price difference between American-made and foreign-made is too great, they will usually opt for the less expensive, foreign-made furniture," O'Reilly said.
Most of the foreign-made furniture O'Reilly sells comes from Southeast Asia or China, but the leathers are made in Italy.
"I only shop the really good companies. When all of the furniture was made in the United States, everyone knew that the best stuff was made in the Carolinas. China makes both high-end and low-end furniture, so we have to shop very carefully and do our homework in order to only bring the best products to our customers," he said.
"You can definitely get good quality furniture from China and other countries. What you sacrifice is choice. There is only one dresser and one bed and one end table per set, for instance, instead of the vast array of choices you have when you order from the Amish. Their stuff is very custom and not much more expensive. With them, you choose your wood, your hardware, your pieces and it all comes in three to eight weeks," O'Reilly said.
La-Z-Boy's England line, which is also made in the United States, is another of O'Reilly's favorites. They create high-end custom recliners. Most are upholstered, but a few are made of leather, O'Reilly said, and many people opt for the $99 upgrade to a power recliner that includes a five-year guarantee on the motor.
"People love to recline but many have a hard time moving the lever to sit up again. The power recliner takes care of that problem and people love them," O'Reilly said.
"In addition, they get to us in a maximum of three weeks. La-Z-Boy works like a finely tuned grandfather clock. They have never been late on a delivery."
O'Reilly's sells a 50/50 mix of leather and upholstery when it comes to sectionals, couches and recliners, he said.
"People are very black and white about leather. They like it or they don't. I just try to educate them that leather is different from vinyl. It is neither hot nor cold and it doesn't crack. But they need to beware of other stores selling them 'bonded leather.' That is made from crushed scraps of leather and it is no better than vinyl," he said.
Sectionals made of leather or microfiber are among O'Reilly's top sellers because he displays lots of them in his showroom. Many have recliners integrated into them or chaise lounges at one end.
"They are something that it is not easy to sell on the Internet because shoppers want to see, touch and feel them and it is hard to do that through a computer screen," he said.
Besides bedroom sets and dining sets, the Amish make many flat-screen television tables and a few occasional tables for O'Reilly's -- primarily in oak, cherry and alder.
"Flat-screen television tables have been a hot seller for us ever since flat-screen televisions came out. I sell them ranging in price from $299 to $1,599," he said.
O'Reilly's Furniture is located at 1151 S. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville. For more information, visit www.orfurn.com or call (847) 367-6550.