By CJ Dablo
The Munro brothers looked comfortable enough in their furniture showroom last Monday evening to prop their feet on top of a coffee table. Seated at one of their living-room sets on display at their west store of the House to Home Furniture on Lakewood Boulevard and Stearns Avenue, Long Beach business owners Kent and Gregg Munro acknowledged there’s a lot of a history they’ve inherited– and a lot of history they’re about to put behind them.
“One of our problems I think we’re going to have is getting people to understand that we’re a different company,” said Gregg Munro. He acknowledged that his family used to operate their furniture stores from the same two locations on the east and west sides of Lakewood Boulevard. Wall Units Home Furnishings used to occupy what is now the east store of House to Home Furniture. Munro’s Furniture occupied the west store. When they operated Munro’s Furniture, the Munro Family also had other locations in Orange County with stores in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa and a warehouse in Huntington Beach.
After more than four decades of business, when the Munro family officially closed their stores towards the end of 2010, the brothers decided they weren’t through with selling furniture. Kent and Gregg Munro decided to form their own company. They reopened only the Long Beach stores this year under their exclusive leadership.
The Munro brothers grew up in their parents’ furniture business when the family started their company in 1965. From the time they were teenagers, Kent Munro, now 45, and his younger brother Gregg Munro, 42, took on just about every role in the family company. The boys delivered and eventually sold the furniture. It was a true family affair; another brother, their father, mother and grandfather also helped run the business.
Telling the story behind their family business can reveal so much about Long Beach history. The city of Long Beach used to be a furniture destination in the 1960s, according to their father. In a telephone interview, Doug Munro easily rattled off the names of competitors who closed their doors in Long Beach ages ago: Frank Bros., Lloyd’s of Long Beach, the Davis Brothers, Aaron Schultz.
Doug Munro said that out of these iconic home-furnishing stores, the Munro family business managed to survive even when times were tough for the furniture trade. The Munro men acknowledged they stayed in business because they could adapt to changing trends.
“I think it’s because we were very flexible and changed with the times. A lot of stores came and went,” Doug Munro said, “and they [the former furniture stores] just became archaic.”
While the Munro family started the business when wall units were popular, they also learned to offer higher-end furniture, including authentic Amish furniture. Later, oak became a best seller, and other styles have come and gone.
From the 1980s, Kent and Gregg Munro recalled one fad– an egg-shaped chair (the kind you might see on Mork & Mindy, a popular sitcom from 30 years ago). “The Egg Chair” not only exuded kitsch charm, but it also offered a radio with built-in speakers.
The business evolved over time. Through the years, the family expanded their store space as neighboring tenants moved out. They even expanded to a store across the street that had been the home of RB Furniture.
But while the Munro men remember well the styles that have influenced modern Southern California home décor, they recognize that times were hard before the painful decision was made to close down the family business.
“The past two years [have] been probably the toughest two years of our family’s existence, as far as I’m concerned,” said Gregg Munro.
By 2007, the family business had expanded into Orange County, but a recession took its toll on the furniture business.
“The furniture industry really started feeling the effects of the recession a lot sooner than a lot of other industries because we were much more tied into the housing market,” said Gregg Munro. His father simplified the situation.
“The simple fact of the furniture business: if you don’t sell housing, you don’t sell furniture,” said Doug Munro, who also pointed out that during a recession, customers will only replace furniture one piece at a time. “We all faced the reality,” he said.
Then Mrs. Munro became gravely ill, and by 2009, their father decided to retire to care for their mother full-time. The family held a retirement sale that summer. But the recession lasted even longer than they had anticipated.
“Finally we were looking at things, saying, ‘Hey we got to make some changes here. We got to do something. We can’t just sit here and keep doing the same thing and hope it gets better,’” said Gregg Munro.
By spring of 2010, they had planned to close two of their stores with future plans to reopen them under a different name, and, at the time, they announced a closing sale. But when the they began to see that the financial outlook had not improved, the family announced that they would go out of business altogether. A “going out of business” sale began in the fall of 2010, during which time they liquidated all of the stores.
The brothers said they understood that, to outside world, it may have looked as if they have been closing for two years.
“And it’s so hard to explain to every customer . . . You don’t have 30 minutes to explain to every customer about the full story, the sequence of events and how it happened and how it’s led to what we’re doing right now,” said Kent Munro.
After the family declared that they were going to close the business, the brothers realized that they needed to decide what to do with their own careers. They only knew furniture, and there weren’t many jobs in a shrinking market. After reviewing the financials for their Long Beach businesses, they determined that the stores on Lakewood Boulevard were profitable. The boys decided to strike out on their own, this time as partners.
Lounging on a leather sofa, the Munro men pointed out the changes they’ve made to their store. This time, the stores under their leadership were going to offer more products from Amish country than the family had offered before. Through a local contact, the brothers had already developed relationships with about 50 Amish families from Indiana and Ohio. They’ve parked a buggy made by Amish craftsmen from Indiana by a front window. They were eager to talk about the quality of the Amish work and the new bedroom and dining sets that were scheduled to arrive soon.
“And a lot of people recognize it right off,” Kent Munro said. “This is well built furniture. This is worth the money. And it’s affordable and it’s going to last.”
They also pointed out their new line of Ekornes Stressless recliners and sofas from Norway. The sleek recliners in their showroom were leather models with sweeping gentle curves. Their furniture won an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association.
At House to Home Furniture, they have split up the inventory between the east store at 2198 Lakewood Blvd. and the west store across the street at 2189 Lakewood Blvd. At the east store, they will feature more moderately priced furniture, but they also offer customized Wallbeds. At the west store, they offer higher-quality furniture.
Both stores just opened within the last few weeks, but a special grand-opening date will be announced later this year.
Father Doug Munro said he’s proud and confident that his sons will carry on a great tradition of customer service. After all, the brothers said they’ve now sold furniture to three generations of customers: children and grandchildren of customers who were originally served by the Munro brothers’ father and their grandfather.
“Our family started in Long Beach, and we’ve always done well,” said Gregg Munro. “We’ve had a great customer following.”