A walk through a Stickley Audi & Co. furniture showroom, such as the one in White Plains, reveals a rich history living in harmony with a decidedly modern approach.
Furniture both contemporary and traditional — interspersed with an early American formality here or a playful infusion of Hollywood glamour there — is displayed in the most welcoming series of room vignettes.
And as expected, there is a treasure trove of the company’s trademark Mission furniture, a style that originated in the late-19th century and is perhaps most associated with the Arts and Crafts movement in America.
It adds up to a grand tour of the fine-furniture company’s styles, a reach encompassing a wide array of customer tastes that nonetheless serves as a testament to what’s described on the company website as “The Stickley Difference.” That says, in part, that great furniture “creates and carries memories across time,” and that strong design, craft and construction “lend permanence and meaning to what would otherwise be just an object.”
Those words remain at the heart of what L. & J.G. Stickley, Inc., owned by the Audi family, is all about. With headquarters in Manlius, in New York’s Onondaga County, Stickley has been a manufacturer of premium solid wood and upholstery furniture since 1900. The company owns and operates three manufacturing facilities and more than a dozen retail showrooms; markets its furniture in the U.S. and around the world through a network of dealers; and employs nearly 1,300 people.
WAG recently caught up with Aminy Audi, chairman of the board, CEO and wife of the late Alfred J. Audi.
Can you share a brief history of how you and your husband got into the business? What was the company like back then — and what did you see in it that encouraged you to take the chance?
“My husband grew up sleeping in a Stickley bed. He went to Colgate University and his fraternity was furnished with Stickley. Then he joined his father’s business in New York. (E.J. Audi Fine Furniture & Rugs). They were the largest Stickley dealer at the time. Alfred’s father was a very good friend of Leopold Stickley and a great believer in the quality of the Stickley product. When in 1974 Mrs. Stickley, who inherited the business from her late husband, decided to either close or sell the business, she called my husband and said, ‘Alfred, you are the only one who loves Stickley enough to keep its quality. Will you buy it?’ Thus began our journey of revitalizing the company that at that time had 25 employees and $235,000 in annual sales. There had been very little investment in the plant during the last 20 years. Most of the workers were retiring and it took a very long time to deliver the furniture, yet many people were willing to wait.”
What were some of the biggest challenges along the way?
“The challenges were finding and training employees, having enough capital to invest in inventory and upgrading the factory and opening new dealers who had over the past few years given up on Stickley. The most encouraging thing was the loyalty of the Stickley customers and the support we got from the community.”
Was there a specific point — a collection, an award or a milestone — that let you know you had “made it”?
“There were several milestones along the way — our move to a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Manlius, New York, in 1985. We have had seven expansions since. Reissuing the Mission Collection in April of 1989 was perhaps the most pivotal moment. This was instantly hailed as ‘the revival of the fittest.’ This collection continues to grow and evolve with the additions of new designs and finishes.”
How has the industry changed over the years? How have consumers changed over the years?
“The industry has changed greatly. Several family-owned businesses have gone out of business or been bought by large publicly traded companies. Many furniture factories have closed and moved manufacturing out of the United States. The customers’ shopping habits have shifted from merely shopping in brick-and-mortar stores to augmenting this with research on companies’ websites and, at times, purchasing online. E-Commerce is here to stay.”
What keeps Stickley Audi & Co. relevant to today’s consumers?
“We are a vertically integrated company. We have three manufacturing facilities and a very loyal network of dealers. Our retail division (Stickley Audi & Co.) includes 14 company-owned showrooms and two more opening in 2017. We have recently added a Contract Division and have furnished several high-end hotels and university residences. We continue to introduce new products and finishes that resonate with today’s consumer. We have very well-trained and qualified designers on our showroom floors. We continually make major investments in our people, our facilities and infrastructure.”
What are some trends and/or key product launches for this year — and how much do trends affect what your company does?
“Our most recent launch includes Studio by Stickley, which features the Modern Loft that is a highly edited and curated collection. This can be seen in our White Plains showroom and on our website.
“While we monitor trends and incorporate colors and finishes that appeal to today’s consumer, we are mindful that Stickley is furniture built to last and to be passed from generation to generation. Our unique construction features and our emphasis on quality in every aspect of the business sets us apart and defines the Stickley difference.
“In addition to Stickley, our showrooms feature other furniture lines as well and offer a very impressive collection of rugs and accessories. Our talented designers make house calls and can enhance the customer’s shopping experience.”
And finally, would you do it all again if you knew what the years would bring?
“While there have been times, especially in the early years, when I doubted the wisdom of our decision to buy Stickley, overall I would do it all over again. It has been such a rewarding journey, not simply in helping revive and grow such an iconic brand but in creating a welcoming work environment for people from 38 nationalities who work and live in harmony and contribute to the overall economy.
While I am very proud of what my late husband and I contributed to the growth of Stickley, I am equally optimistic about the future under our son Edward’s leadership and the very talented team we have in place. I am very grateful to our customers who keep investing in Stickley, enabling us to keep everyone working without any layoffs even during the latest economic slow down.”