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Jim Fee of Stoney Creek Furniture: Lessons from the pandemic

From the HGO Merchandiser

 18 May 2021     Michael J. Knell 

BRIGHTON, Ontario – COVID-19 has been a life altering event. This is now old news but almost everyone agrees it has contained a multitude of teachable moments. So, HGO approached eight influential independent furniture, mattress and appliance retailers and asked them to share what they’ve learned. They all seem to agree that either despite or because of it, this tragedy has made better human beings and better businesspeople.

Each week for the next eight, one of these responses will be highlighted here. To read the entire report, check out the Spring 2021 edition of the HGO Merchandiser by clicking here.

I want to thank each of these energetic and thoughtful industry leaders for taking the time to consider the questions and respond fully. Aside from some minor editing to ensure clarity, their answers are presented as submitted. 

Jim Fee, president
Stoney Creek Furniture; Stoney Creek, Ontario

 What have you learned from the pandemic, both as a businessperson and as a human being?

Cashflow, cashflow, cashflow…. the original lockdown came after a soft back end to 2019 and after shipping the bulk of our backlog through November and December. With January and February typically being soft for both written and shipped sales, cash on hand and backlog of sold goods were stretched thin. During lockdown money mostly went out, with little coming in. It was a challenging situation for any business. While you can’t control the timing of a pandemic and closure, the situation certainly sharpened the focus on preserving cash.

Jim FeeI learned the value of having associations, buying groups and friends to network with. When you are in the middle of it, trying to educate yourself on how to operate your business and how to protect your employees, it was amazing the amount of information that was provided by the North American Home Furnishings Association (HFA), Mega Group, AVB BrandSource, the Retail Council of Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and others. It was plentiful and invaluable. Getting on phone calls, zoom meetings and webinars became a daily routine. Talking to fellow retailers throughout those months was also a great help – we were sharing insights and understanding of rules. The way Mega stood up to assist their membership was commendable and extremely helpful. All of the things I’ve listed showed the support available and that we were not alone.

Something I always knew, but was reinforced by this pandemic, is just what a great team I have here with me. They were there to assist and support me as we all worked our way through this. That core group did whatever was needed to keep our business going, even in a limited fashion, and to keep communicating with our customers. I’m very thankful to them.

Personally, this situation tested me. It was very stressful. All the what-if’s and worst-case scenarios ran through my mind. Sleep was limited. What I found surprising though, was after I had done all I could do, still staying engaged and learning, I came to the realization that, at least for a while, it was beyond my control. And from that I found an inner calm and started sleeping well. Strange, considering the challenges at that time.

How has it changed your business, your approach to business and how you see its future?

As for Stoney Creek Furniture, our web site, chat service and digital advertising became of much greater importance. That will continue. Inventory, that was in stock, also became the most important thing to promote. With the supply chain still in disarray, having available inventory will be key for some time. We brought in items that hadn’t been part of our regular line-up before, even new vendors, based on what inventory was available. Consumers are very much focused on their homes right now and we all have to do our best to fill those needs. Hopefully, that renewed appreciation for the home will continue for some time.

Phoenix AMD
Cocoon by Sealy
This HGO article was written by:
Michael J. Knell
Michael J. Knell

Michael is the publisher and editor of Home Goods Online. A seasoned business journalist, he has researched and written about the furniture, mattress and major appliance industries in both Canada and the United States for the past three decades.

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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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