American furniture can be made to order
Market conditions in the furniture industry about five years ago forced Gary O'Reilly, owner of O'Reilly's Furniture in Libertyville, to reinvent his business.
That is when he began buying furniture from Amish craftsmen in Ohio and Indiana, a move that allowed him to patronize American workers, but also allowed his customers an incredibly high degree of customization.
O'Reilly's customers can literally custom order anything they want, right down to the type of wood used, the color of stain and the size.
"People come in to ask me if I have a particular piece and before they even get the words out of their mouths, I say, 'yes.' They laugh and say, 'How can you say yes, you don't know what I am asking,' and I tell them that we can get them anything they want," O'Reilly said.
"I like to tell people that the only thing the Amish have in stock is wood. Everything is totally custom -- any wood, any finish, any size, any table edge, any hardware. No two sets are alike and they can even make something to match a piece of furniture you already have if that is what you want. All this and we can usually get delivery in eight weeks," he said.
Because of that, O'Reilly said 80 percent of his business is now Amish furniture. Calling his Amish furniture line "a total game-changer," O'Reilly said he sold $1 million worth of it in 2015 alone. He is even experimenting with offering custom Amish kitchens.
"All of the Amish furniture is made of solid wood, no particle board. Even plywood is only used for the shelves and that is because they don't want it to warp, which solid wood might do. In addition, their furniture is finished more nicely than any furniture I have ever seen," he said.
Currently, about 40 pieces of Amish furniture come into the showroom each week via a privately contracted freight hauler who stops at Amish workshops throughout Ohio and Indiana. It blanket-wraps each piece so the furniture is never boxed, reducing the chance of damage and also the business's impact on the environment.
"My business now falls into four main categories. I sell Amish furniture that primarily consists of bedroom sets, dining sets and television cabinets. I sell high-end leather sectionals that are my only import, but they are so well-made and so inexpensive, I have to carry them. I tell my customers that if I were a better businessman, I would mark them up," O'Reilly quips.
"The third category is my American-made fabric sofas, which have a three-week guaranteed turnaround. Finally, there are the television tables. 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 $599 to $3,299," he said.
"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 to a customer base that wants better furniture and that makes my competitors mad. They complain to the furniture reps that I sell too low. That is why I have sold over $135 million in furniture since 1977."
O'Reilly was only 25 years old when he opened his furniture company in 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 the Green Tree Shopping Center until 2001 when he moved to a 90,000 square foot space in Vernon Hills. But when the furniture industry moved 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 again and business grew, he needed more space. Instead of offering additional square footage, however, the new shopping center bought out his lease. So, during the summer of 2013, O'Reilly returned to his roots, opening in a 13,000 square foot space 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. "I buy as much American-made furniture as I can."
"Thanks to Diane Sawyer and ABC News, 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.
"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," O'Reilly said.
La-Z-Boy's "England" line, which is also made in the United States, is another of O'Reilly's favorites. The company creates 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, which come with a one-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," he said.
O'Reilly's Furniture is at 1151 S. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville. For information, visit www.orfurn.com or call (847) 367-6550.