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Liddon Furniture still adapting to the changing marketplace

December 17, 2017

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — A store that opened just before the Great Depression must be doing something right to still be in business.

Liddon Furniture was established in 1929 by William Liddon’s grandfather, Francis Bartow Liddon.

“My dad and granddad were just highly successful, very smart people,” Liddon said. “They both were hard workers and dedicated to the business. It was set up for me to be successful from their hard work.”

Liddon runs the downtown store his grandfather started.

“He owned all of the space but he had certain spaces in here up along the front that he leased out to other businesses,” Liddon said.

The building on East Main Street near the Dothan Civic Center has 44,000 square feet of space on the middle floor, top floor, and basement.

“When he started it he had a lot of employees down here,” Liddon said. His grandfather sold furniture at the store but also had salesmen who ran routes in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“They called on people at their homes and sold off the trucks,” Liddon said.

That continued until Liddon’s father moved back in 1970. Selling door to door was “getting harder and harder just the way things were changing,” Liddon said, so the business began selling just at the store.

It was a good move, and the store has continued to adapt to a changing marketplace.

“The key to our whole business has been our willingness to change,” Liddon said. “For years we sold more economically priced furniture. We still do that, we just broadened what we do.”

The store goes from an economical price point to the high end on furniture, mattresses, bedding, lighting, rugs, accessories, paint and appliances. It carries brands like Magnolia Home, Simmons Beautyrest, and Klaussner.

“I have all walks of life come in and we do business with everybody,” Liddon said. “It’s why we stay so busy. I have something in this store for everyone.”

Dick Gautreaux, a sales representative for Klaussner, said Liddon runs a great organization.

“He probably does more volume than any single store in my territory,” Gautreaux said. “He’s got a great ability to target. He does a great job with social media and Facebook.”

Gautreaux said he’s surprised by the store’s high sales volume.

“If I drew a graph, the line would be straight up,” he said.

Liddon said the store’s success is built around his employees, wife and father.

“I have really good people working for me,” he said, from a skilled sales force to delivery guys with experience.

“We’ve gone from working three delivery guys four years ago to eight now, and it’s because half our deliveries are out of town,” Liddon said. “Our business has grown so much in the last few years, unless you have really good employees you’re not going to do well. It’s important to realize it.”

Part of the growth is because of his wife, Haley.

“My wife has helped do all the accessories and the lighting and it’s really changed our store,” he said. “It’s a big part of what we do now.”

He also credits his father, who has settled in to his new position as “official program observer” for Liddon Furniture.

“All I do is observe,” Bill Liddon said jokingly. “William does a super job and I just try to stay out of the way. After 48 years I figure it’s time.”

For Liddon, the store is more than a place to earn a living.

“It’s not just a job for us, it’s kind of a legacy,” Liddon said. “I’m third generation and I’ve got four children and I hope we’ll have some of them want to come and work.”

Liddon Furniture is an example of what it takes for local businesses to thrive.

Jamie Bienvenu, director of the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority, said retailers have realized that “millenials and the younger generation are shopping local because they want the experience that comes with shopping local.”

Bienvenu said it creates a ripple effect and customers benefit because of the expertise provided by businesses like Liddon Furniture.

“Clients get that personal one-on-one experience when they go into the store,” Bienvenu said. “They get to ask questions about the product. They get to touch it and feel it. It’s different than the online experience.”

Customer service is a big part of what local businesses are doing and what they’re selling.

“It has always worked,” Bienvenu said. “I don’t think it ever stopped working.”

She said there was a period of time where what people valued was more time, and how they decided to get it was to speed up those experiences. Now she thinks people are going back to the simple values.

When Bienvenu moved here four years ago, she and her husband liked visiting local businesses.

“Any time that we went into any local store it was just a very different experience that what you get in any big box,” she said. “I think that’s why the local businesses, especially the ones downtown, are doing well because they figured that out.”

Liddon sees potential for his store and the rest of downtown.

“I’ve been working here since I was 14 years old, every summer all the way through,” Liddon said. “I’ve watched how it’s changed.”

He said it’s nice seeing new businesses like The Plant moving in.

“I expect big things for downtown over the next four or five years,” he said.

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