By Mario Toneguzzi
The history of Tepperman’s home furnishings store started as a dream when Nate Tepperman began his peddling career selling door-to-door in Windsor, Ontario in 1925.
Today, Tepperman’s has become one of Canada’s largest home furnishing stores with a unique way to do business going back to the company’s roots.
Andrew Tepperman, grandson of the founder and current company president, said his grandfather left Russia right after the Revolution in that country and came to Canada.
“I think he had a Grade Five education. English was not his first language. No money. I think he worked at odd jobs. We don’t know a lot and then in 1925 he started going door to door selling rugs and blankets,” said Tepperman.
“This is really interesting. He needed to differentiate what he was doing. So he would sell it on credit and every week he would go back and collect a nickel and what’s amazing fast forward to today we use that exact same model and we still do in-house credit where everyone else uses banks. We follow the exact same thing he did from 1925. So, when times get tough, we work very closely in a different way with our customers and that’s always been a differentiator for us.”
Tepperman said his grandfather eventually got a bicycle so he didn’t have to walk door to door and then got a pickup truck and eventually opened his first brick and mortar store - all within the same area in Windsor.
“He never expanded. He went from 1925 to 1970 one store, one location in Windsor. And he unfortunately drowned in 1970 when he was 70 years old. He was on vacation in Florida. So my father Bill Tepperman was 36 at the time and was kind of thrust into the leadership position of the business and my father continued to build up on the legacy and then in 1983 he expanded to Chatham and then 1992 expanded to Sarnia and in 1997 expanded to London,” he said.
“In 2006, my father retired, and I took over as president and my brother took over as secretary-treasurer. We had four stores at the time, and we continued to grow the stores. We outgrew London so we closed the store that we had been in for 10 years and in 2008 we built a very large facility in London just down the street and today it’s our largest store. It’s 85,000 square feet of showroom and 150,000 square feet of distribution space. It’s pretty large. It’s joined together.”
Within each of the six Tepperman’s stores, a second brand operates that used to be called the Bargain Annex, which was developed in 1984, but today is called Outlet at Tepperman’s.
“The Outlet is a separate entity. Different salespeople. Different dress codes. Different products. Everything’s completely different. It’s located within the store and a lot of the stores have separate entrances too,” said Tepperman.
The company carries furniture, appliances, bedding and electronics.
“In terms of what we do, if you combined Leon’s, The Brick, Best Buy, Sleep Country, and put them all together, that’s really the type of categories of what we sell and a very similar demographic,” said Tepperman.
“What’s different with us - it’s not just history as we’re 94 years old and Leon’s is 105 years old - but about four years ago we hired a designer out of New York who gave us this really interesting concept that we tested in Kitchener and it was so inspirational, the showroom, that we’ve rolled it out now to all of our stores. So there’s this consistent approach.”
“With all the online challenges going on today, we had to make a choice. Invest more in the online world or are we going to create an amazing store experience? We put a lot of money into the showrooms so when you walk in everything from the treatments - the lighting, the colours - we try to create a really nice, inspirational fun environment.”
Tepperman’s has courtesy electric car chargers, free popcorn and coffee all day, a kids’ movie and colouring area. There is a welcome information centre when customers arrive. Courtesy candies.
“It was interesting. I was doing some work with Junior Achievement the other day and I was teaching some Grade Five students about business and there were 25 kids in the class, so I asked them all have you heard of Tepperman’s. And all of them put their hands up because we’re in Windsor and we’ve been here forever, and I asked what do you like about it. And every one of them said popcorn,” said Tepperman.
“It was amazing. It’s sort of like this is my farm team for the future. Twenty years from now they’re going to remember that and come back I think.”
Tepperman said there is a lot of vacant retail space that keeps popping up. Ancaster was not on the company’s radar initially as it was looking more towards Guelph or Brampton for expansion. But when Sears went out of business, all of a sudden this “amazing location next to Costco” was too good to pass up.
“We always operate on a 10-year plan. Our current 10-year plan ends in the year 2025. And it’s more let’s wait to see what comes up, what opportunities come up, rather than us aggressively going into Burlington or Barrie or something,” he said.
Stores start at about 40,000 square feet up to 85,000 square feet for the showrooms.
The company also has two distribution centres. One in Windsor which is 100,000 square feet which has been in the same location since 1950. The London distribution centre is 150,000 square feet.
Tepperman said two other big differentiators for the company are its work within the community and environmental leadership.
“We do a ton in the community. We would need days for me to tell you everything we do. Some big things would be like our scholarship program where we’ve given out almost $700,000 in post-secondary education scholarships to kids,” he said.
“Also our sustainability programs are really interesting. One of our six guiding principles is about environmental leadership. One of our goals is to divert 100 per cent of our waste from landfills by 2025.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com.