Member Profile: Walker Furniture Celebrates 75 Years Thanks to Continued Growth ConceptJune 22nd, 2015 by gainesvillechamber
This aphorism has been a Walker family guiding business principle for three generations. Today, it takes on special significance as Walker Furniture celebrates 75 years in business with a Ribbon Cutting ceremony tonight at 6 p.m. at the SW 47th Street location.
The Walker Family moved to Gainesville from South Georgia after Ledger Walker’s family’s farming livelihood was shaken by the Great Depression. Ledger wanted his son, Benny, to get an education and sought out Gainesville for its proximity to the University of Florida. Soon after arriving, in 1940, Ledger Walker opened Walker Furniture. The company joined the Gainesville Area Chamber the same year.
“My father believed and I believe that it is important for businesses to support their community, and Chamber membership is how we have done that,” Benny said. “My father also believed if you take care of customers, they will take care of you,” said Benny. In fact, Benny recalls Ledger built his business model on the concept of growth rooted in customer care.
Ledger Walker’s instincts on growth and customer care were right. Today, after 75 years in businesses and being voted “Gainesville’s Best Furniture Store,” Walker Furniture has done everything but grow smaller. When Benny Bought the business from Ledger in the 1970s, he put his father’s words to practice, continuing to build what now is among some of the region’s longest-running businesses. The first store was a 1,600 sq. foot front downtown Gainesville. Though it has been reconfigured some due to the expansion of 8th avenue decades ago, the original location still stands today in three locations between Main St. and 6th St. The company also undertook a 29,000 sq. foot expansion in the late 2000s on SW 74th St.
Benny says success is great, but also a lot of hard work. His advice for new or future business owners?
“Every day is a challenge in the business world,” said Benny who names finding and keeping good employees as a top priority. “Have good employees that you can give authority to. And be honest.”
Benny Walker’s daughter, Mary Kate Walker, who now runs the Southwest location has done just that. She said the store’s main passion remains pleasing customers.
“You cant please everyone,” she said. “But we can try to provide people with a nice addition to their homes. We like to make people a little bit happier.”
Mary Kate says she clearly sees the benefits of Chamber membership in opportunities to network with other business owners. She also appreciates staying in-the-know about local business scene developments through Chamber publications.
“So much is changing in Gainesville,” Mary Kate said. “You can go to the Chamber and they’ll help you out with anything.”
After stopping briefly to recognize and celebrate the current 75-year milestone, Walker Furniture will continue to meet the challenge of marketing furniture in an digitally driven environment.
“Keeping up with changes will remain our focus,” says Mary Kate. With an increasingly technologically advanced world, people are losing the experience of in-store furniture buying. Bridging the gap between the online shopping experience and the “bricks and mortar” store has been a challenge.
“I try to help customers understand that buying online is not the same as buying in a store,” Mary Kate said. “Sometimes colors and textures are not accurate on the screen, and people end up less satisfied with their purchase. We want to continue the personal contact with the customer, even as we move into an increasingly digital age.”
Today, Ledger Walker’s wise words regarding growth still ring true. “We never forget them,” said Mary Kate. Which is why, despite changing times, growth remains in stock at Walker Furniture.