My Biz: Everyone is 'family' at Bills Brothers in Cedar Rapids
Inventory constantly changing at decades-old furniture store
Katie Mills Giorgio
CEDAR RAPIDS — You never know what you’ll find when you pop into Bills Brothers Furniture in Cedar Rapids.
Owner William Bills said they carry a rapidly-changing inventory of well-priced furniture — everything from couches and dining sets to beds, mattresses and dressers. They also carry home decor items, rugs, wall art, pots and pans and some small home appliances.
“A lot of people tell us they didn’t realize we had such a mix of merchandise,” Bills said. “We are definitely not your generic cookie cutter furniture store. We have some customers that come in regularly and call this their ‘happy place’.”
It’s a happy place for Bills too, since coming into the family business full-time in 1983.
“I love sales and working with our customers,” he said, “although I am usually stuck in the office doing administrative tasks like the book work and payroll.”
Bills works closely with his brother Mike, who co-owns the store. Their father — William Sr., who is now retired — first opened the store in 1972.
“We started out with a very small store,” Bills said. “We actually shared the building with a gas station.”
Over the years the company began to grow. They purchased additional buildings to serve as warehouse space. They also survived the flood of 2008 — in which 11 feet of water filled their buildings — to reopen their store downtown in January 2009. Today, Bills Brothers owns five buildings on the southeast corner of downtown Cedar Rapids.
Bills said they moved to their current showroom location in 1999. Originally planned as warehouse storage space, Bills said once they set foot inside, the plan changed.
“The three of us owners — my dad and my brother and myself — walked in one day and a light bulb went off that it would make a great showroom,” he said. “Remodeling started that week.”
The move transformed their showroom space from 7,000 square feet to some 15,000 square feet.
Bills Brothers also has some 35,000 square feet of warehouse space across their five buildings.
“When you are in the liquidation sale business, you have to buy in large quantities,” Bills said.
Bills said that while he handles many administrative tasks and making stock orders, his brother is in charge of hunting for and scouting out liquidation options all across the United States.
“The neat thing about our inventory is that is changes daily,” he said. “You won’t walk in and see the same thing every time. And it’s pretty unique in our store that you get your furniture the same day you buy it. You can take it right off the floor.”
Bills said that Realtors looking to stage homes they have listed are frequent shoppers.
“Some merchandise is regular stock we buy direct from the manufacturer or vendor,” he said. “Then any item that is marked ‘as is’ — really about 90 percent of the merchandise on our floor — means the piece was bought through liquidation. It doesn’t mean it is damaged.”
Another facet that sets Bills Brothers apart, Bills said, is that their salespeople are not commissioned.
“We think that makes the shopping environment really nice for customers,” Bills said.
Bills said they often get questions about their hours. They are only open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and are closed on Sundays.
“You see, my dad worked retail for years and years and knew firsthand that working in retail and having a family is hard to do,” Bills said. “We value our employees and treat them like family here, so we want to make sure they have time to spend with their families.”
Marketing-wise, Bills said they continue to look for ways to connect with an appeal to their customers. Last year, for instance, they changed up their marketing strategy to optimize online shopping opportunities, turning their website into an e-commerce site.
“We have items you can purchase online that we have in stock,” Bills said. “Then we put the unique, one-of-a-kind pieces on our Facebook page to showcase them.”
Bills said that outsourcing their social media to a marketing firm has been a tremendous investment, as they saw their Facebook page gain nearly 6,000 new followers in the last year.
AT A GLANCE
Name: William Bills
Company: Bills Brothers
Address: 303 Eighth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 363-5010
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