Monday, August 21, 2006

Open for Business

Open for Business
Furniture firm finds footing in Fairfield
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

Ashley Furniture HomeStore held its grand opening Wednesday in Fairfield. It's the first of nine area stores to be opened in the next few years. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

A small group of entrepreneurs decided to dip its toes in Solano County, testing the waters a bit before further immersing itself in the Bay Area's retail furniture market.
Though a small roof fire Tuesday afternoon threatened to damper its grand opening festivities the following day, Ashley Furniture HomeStore in Fairfield celebrated as planned, confirmed one of its four owners, Roy Corn.

"We worked all through the night," Corn said. "And the fire department's effort was tremendous - they really did a lot to help us keep the integrity of the store."

In fact, Wednesday morning visitors to the 50,000-square-foot store would've been hard-pressed to find any evidence of a fire at all. Clearly present, however, were some of the features Corn feels make Ashley HomeStores special, including an in-store cafe, children's play area complete with video games, and - adjacent to the kids zone - an area Corn imagines will be frequented by fathers, husbands and boyfriends: Rows of armchairs and recliners arranged in front of a large-screen TV tuned to sporting events.

"What makes us most unique," he said, "is we have just as much invested in accessories as we do in furniture." Because of the volume of Ashley Furniture's purchases, he explained, its stores are able to sell accessories from around the world that compliment its vast line of home furnishings. Its merchandise, Corn said, is a "high-end look at affordable prices."

Each Ashley HomeStore is independently owned and operated by a licensee affiliated with Arcadia, Wis.-based Ashley Furniture, which, Corn noted, is now the No. 1 selling brand of furniture in America, as well as the No. 1 domestic furniture manufacturer and the country's No. 1 furniture retailer. Corn described the merchandise as having, "a high-end look at affordable prices."

Napa resident Britta Wallace concurred. She stopped at the store Wednesday to peruse its stock, and noted, "The prices are great and the quality's good, middle-of-the road." Though she doesn't shop often for furniture, Wallace said, the store's open floorplan and design makes it easy to navigate.

Corn, along with partners Ed and Christine Corn and Darrin Martheas, already owns a HomeStore in southern California, has another in Rhonert Park scheduled to open within a few weeks, and will soon open a distribution facility in the Santa Rosa area.

The partners' first big foray into the Bay Area market, Corn said, is the new Fairfield store, and a 69,000-square-foot distribution center near Vacaville's Nut Tree Airport that will also serve as the distribution center and call center for future Bay Area stores. The two local facilities will employ more than 100 people when all positions are filled, he said.

"We wanted to come and hit some of the growth areas first," Corn explained. "The growth of the region is similar to where we have our first store in Murrieta, where there's sort of a sister-cities situation." That made the partners comfortable in their decision to locate first in Solano, he said.

In the next three years, they plan to open eight more 50,000 square foot Ashley HomeStores Bay Area cities. Though they've yet to decide upon locations, Corn said they hope to open a Fremont location in May 2007.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

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