September/October 2015 Celebration Corner

By Barbara Spector

How Turner's Fine Furniture of South Georgia celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The Business: Turner's Fine Furniture was founded in 1915 by M.W. Turner Sr., who originally sold hardware in Pelham, Ga. He and his son began selling used furniture during the Depression and later transitioned to new furniture sales. Today, there are four Turner's Fine Furniture locations and six Turner's Budget Furniture locations in South Georgia.

The Family: The store is owned and operated by two fourth-generation brothers, CEO Fortson Turner, 50, and CFO Austin Turner, 47, along with Fortson's wife, Nan, and Austin's wife, Allison. A third brother, Scott, left the company in 2006 to pursue a career in real estate. "We miss him in the business, but it's been a good thing for him," Austin Turner says.

The brothers' parents, M. Wright Turner III and Elizabeth Turner, are retired but serve as advisers on business matters, Austin says.

The Celebration: Between March and December, the company is giving away a total of $100,000 in furniture gift certificates and $100,000 to local charities selected by the furniture winners. Winners are selected by a drawing. Shoppers complete entry forms in the stores; no purchase is necessary, and winners are selected from entries submitted in all ten Turner's locations.

Each month, 28 gift certificate winners are selected: one for $5,000, one for $1,000, two for $500, four for $250 and 20 for $100. Each amount is matched with an equivalent check presented to a charity of the winner's choice.

"I have to give my father credit for coming up with that [idea]," Austin says. "It was just something that we wanted to do, to give back. And with [the anniversary] being 100 years, we thought $100,000 was a good number to use. We obviously wanted to give back to our customers with the free furniture, but then we also wanted to give to the community too."

The Planning: Austin says the celebratory giveaway "required some extra planning, but as far as execution, it was not a lot of extra work." Turner's advertised the drawing on its website and in a variety of media, including newspapers, radio and TV, Austin says.

Involving contest winners in the choice of charities was an important component, according to Austin. "We thought it would be a good way for them to be a part of that donation," he says. The contest rules stipulate that the charities must have a 50(c)(3) designation and must meet guidelines set by the company.

Organizations designated by winners of the May 2015 drawing included the American Cancer Society, a homeless shelter, churches, the Humane Society, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, hospices and a pregnancy care center.

The Response: "I've been able to meet a lot of people," Austin reports, "and it's been a great experience to be able to present them with those checks." Many local news outlets covered the anniversary promotion.

The Advice: For family business owners contemplating a milestone anniversary celebration, "it's just a huge opportunity to make a statement about your company in the community—that you're a part of the community and you support the community and are thankful for the community and how it's supported the business," Austin advises. "That's probably the main thing for us: We're thankful for the community and the support that we've gotten, and we wanted to give back."

The Future: Fortson and Austin Turner each have two children; the oldest fifth-generation member is in college. It's too early to tell whether any of the fifth generation will want to join the business, Austin says. "They do work and help us in the summer, working in the warehouse, working in delivery, doing different things," he notes. "Which is kind of how we got started—in high school, working in the warehouse and going on the delivery truck."

The Challenges: "Our greatest asset is our people," Austin comments. The biggest challenge, he says, is the need to continue to find exceptional employees as the company grows.

"The main thing with our company is, we've really been fortunate in the employees that we have," Austin says. "We've got a lot of employees that have been with us 10 years or more, and we've even got some that have been over 30 years that are still with us. So it's important to us to keep [the business] going, obviously to serve our customers, but for the employees also. And we couldn't do it without them."

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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