Imperial Furniture: A Family Affair

By+Shelly M. Kurz

“I can still remember manufacturers’ reps coming in years after Dad died and reminiscing about the kind of man he was and how he always treated them like family. He loved to cook and he would often invite them into our kitchen for a meal. Some even spent the night here if it was too late to drive back,” recalls Carol Springsteen, daughter of Russ and Eleanor Klapchuk, founders of Imperial Furniture. After 47 years, Imperial Furniture is still family owned and operated, and they’re still doing business that same old fashioned way…the way in which family, not just theirs but customers and business associates alike, always come first.
Imperial Furniture opened in 1962 as Imperial Bedding Company in downtown Dowagiac. “We started out making mattresses,” says Carol. “By 1972, the company had outgrown that space so Dad found two acres here on M-51 and built the first section of the store as well as the attached apartment. This place was filled with open springs, bales of cotton and everything to manufacture mattresses. The whole family helped. I used to string buttons to poke through the mattresses to make the tufts.” Carol, along with her brothers Jim and Ed and sister Mary, also helped out with the family business by assisting customers in the store and making deliveries. Once the fire retardant laws for bedding changed in the early 1970s, Russ decided that the added expense of building on to meet the new requirements was too much. The family stopped producing mattresses and began focusing their attention on selling furniture, changing the name to Imperial Furniture. As a furniture store, they’ve always focused on quality, carrying mainly medium to high end product lines. More recently, a larger selection of home décor items, accessories and gifts enhance the room settings and furniture displays. Great importance is also placed on carrying as many American made products as possible.

Today, Carol and her husband Art own the business and it appears that history is repeating itself all over again. Not only do the strong family values that built the foundation years ago still run deep through every aspect of the business, but Carol’s brother Ed, her niece Amy and two of Art and Carol’s three children are also very much involved in the day-to-day operations. Audrey Maxey, their oldest daughter, enjoys doing exactly what her mom started out doing on the sales floor many years ago. “I liked picking out fabrics and helping people find things to go together and now that’s what my daughter is doing,” says Carol. “She’s really good, too. She has a real flair for it.” Audrey has also made a huge impact on the accounting side of the business. Up until about four years ago, all paperwork, even the payroll, was done by hand with a calculator. “Just four years ago we computerized so now Audrey has the business set up and really streamlines everything with the touch of a button. As for me, I’m still trying to figure out how to turn the computer on,” jokes Carol. Their son Art, who will graduate from high school this year, helps in the warehouse and with deliveries. The Springsteen’s middle daughter Eileen also worked at the store throughout high school but currently resides in Denver. Another valued employee, LuAnn Werblow, is surprisingly enough, not related to the Springsteens. She is, however, a dear friend and considered as much a part of the family as everyone else.

So how does this family work together all day, nearly everyday and still manage to get along? “We really do like each other and we respect each other. It’s just always been like that with us,” says Audrey. Looking back to when she and her sister and brother were growing up, Audrey said even then, family always came first. “Mom and Dad were more devoted to doing things for us kids than worrying about material things or if the house was always in showroom condition. They just didn’t worry about stuff like that.” As a family, they still enjoy getting together for dinner every now and then. Carol and Audrey like to go antiquing while Art and Art enjoy attending sprint car races and tinkering with cars, too. Friday nights in the fall you can find Art and Carol rooting on the local high school football team. They haven’t missed a game in years. Audrey, a newlywed, enjoys spending time with her husband as well as teaching dance classes in town.

This is a family who has learned the importance of balancing work and play. It’s a lesson that was taught to Carol by her father and by example, she has instilled it into her children. “Dad taught me that there’s more to life than a job, family comes first.” She fondly recalled him telling her not to worry about things she had no control over because she couldn’t change them anyway. “Dad used to say, ‘Carol, you’re always going to have ups and downs but you’ve just got to ride with them all.’ ” Although Russ has been gone for nearly 20 years, his philosophy on life, business and how to treat customers like family lives on within the walls of the business he built nearly fifty years ago.