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Allison McLellan: born to run a furniture store

From the HGO Merchandiser

 22 October 2018     Ashley Newport 

WOODSTOCK, New Brunswick – When thinking of family businesses, people often envision a mom-and-pop shop, a medium-scale retail outfit or an operation whose name ends in “and Sons.” Those working outside the furniture world, aren’t really aware of how family oriented the industry truly is (in Canada, at least, it’s dominated by family owned enterprises at all points in the supply chain from manufacturing and distribution to retail) and how many children happily carry on their parents’ – and sometimes even their grandparents’ – legacies.

Allison McLellan, the youthful and energetic sales manager at McLellan BrandSource Home Furnishings, is one of those who was seemingly born into his role. But while he’s only been working in his family’s Woodstock, New Brunswick store full-time for a little over a decade, his journey is even more impressive when you consider he got his start as a sales manager when he was in his first year of high school.

“I’ve been working full-time for 13 years,” McLellan says. “I started working for my parents when I was 18, but I was there part-time all through school. Arguably, I’ve been there my whole life. [Growing up] you don’t go to babysitters, you just go to the store.”

Allison has become something of a jack-of-all trades within the family’s retail operation. Here he is assisting with an appliance repair at a customer’s home.McLellan’s parents – John and Carol McLellan – have owned the single unit operation since 1980 and continue to manage the business. McLellan’s sister is also involved and is currently working as an administrative assistant.

As for how McLellan Home Furnishings ultimately got started, McLellan says his father’s journey in the industry began long before the family business was born.

“My father was a service tech for Sears,” McLellan says. “He was an appliance repairman and he decided that he wanted to work for himself. He was ambitious enough to go out and start selling and serving appliances in 1980. He started with Whirlpool appliances, and he sold those and fixed them.”

While the elder McLellans are still actively involved in day-to-day operations, they’ve been watching their son grow in his role, one that now involves managing people, managing products and seeking out new and on-trend items for the showroom floor.

Under McLellan the younger’s watch, the store’s product offerings – which used to revolve around appliances almost exclusively – has expanded. It now includes BrandSource’s – the primary go-to-market strategy for the Saskatoon-based Mega Group – entire assortment.

“I would say we’re about half appliances now, just based on the fact that we’re one of the only sale/service places around now. We sell furniture, bedding, home décor and outdoor furniture as well,” he says, adding the company added outdoor furniture about two years ago.

What’s most surprising about McLellan’s journey is began so early. While many industry veterans bounce from place to place before finding their calling or carving out their own niche, McLellan never strayed far from his parent’s store. In fact, even though he’s done tours of service and been mentored in other stores, his family’s operation has been his main employer since his teen years – and he’s been taking on leadership roles since the beginning.

“I started as a sales manager and I started at the age of 14. I would go there every day after school and help salespeople meet their goals,” McLellan says, confirming he was indeed managing people when he was just a year out of elementary school.

His role with the company has, of course, grown over the years. “I’m still a sales manager, but now I look after human resources, advertising, merchandising, the buying and all the store policies. Pretty much everything except accounting,” he says, adding he tries to maintain a slightly more hands-off leadership style.

“I have my salespeople who help me out quite a bit and I try to help people make their own decisions. I don’t micromanage. I guide people as best as I can, I let them learn.”

McLellan’s store is, like the town it’s located in, modest in size. One of about 140 or so BrandSource bannered stores in Canada, it currently employs 10 people and occupies about 17,200 square feet of space, including the warehouse.

While some might assume it’s simply convenient to take on the role in a family business, those that have understand working closely with parents and siblings has its challenges (especially when one occupies a demanding position in an retail segment that’s always faced more than its fair share of hardships). That said, McLellan says his role has also given him the flexibility – and freedom – to enjoy life beyond the showroom floor.

“I think that it’s mostly been the flexibility to be your own boss that’s been most interesting to me,” he says. “I have a love for the industry, I love helping customers find the products that they need and helping them solve problems. I don’t think I could work for someone, I grew up working for myself and working for my parents. It’s not in me, I don’t think.”

If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s his enthusiasm for activities outside the showroom – and how he isn’t afraid to say his job works for him because it allows him the time to enjoy the great outdoors. “I love to spend time and travel with my fiancé, we love to Jeep and fish and snowmobile. We golf, and I love to spend time with the Rotary Club, we do a lot of socials and things like that,” he says.

“We live on the lake and do a lot of boating and swimming. We live in rural New Brunswick, so we spend a lot of time outside. I don’t see myself living anywhere else, we love to be outside. We live in Canada where it’s winter nine months of the year, so you have to make the best of your situation.”

Click here to read the rest of Ashley’s profile of Allison McLellan….

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This HGO article was written by:
Ashley Newport
Ashley Newport

A regular contributor to HGO Merchandiser, Ashley Newport is a Toronto-based freelance journalist who writes primarily for trade and business publications. Her specialties include food, hospitality and emerging social/business trends.

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Home Goods and its accompanying newsletter - HGO This Week - covers the furniture, bedding, appliances, consumer electronics, accessories, lamps and lighting and floor coverings product sectors of the big ticket home goods market in Canada. HGO is also a forum for the dissemination of market research and hard-hitting articles on best practices for Canadian retailers.

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