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Chariho Furniture: celebrating 25 years in business

October 12, 2012

Chariho Furniture is celebrating 25 years of serving South County. Pictured above: Chariho Furniture owner Ed Smith, right, his mother Carol Records, center, and his daughter Stephanie, left.

WYOMING—Ed Smith, owner of Chariho Furniture, opened up his suit jacket and pointed to the red, white and blue American flag stitched inside.
“People say, ‘You can’t buy American-made clothing,’” Smith said. “It’s got to be American-made. I don’t think this country would be in the position it’s in if people felt that way.”
For Ed Smith, “Made in America” is more than an empty slogan. Chariho Furniture prides itself on selling only American-made solid-wood furniture. They carry over 100 different brands, 20 of them Amish, and they specialize in pieces made to the customer’s exacting specifications. Everything can be customized, from the wood to the fabric to the finish to the hardware.

“If people prioritize good furniture, that’s our customer,” Smith said. “We have something that people will drive from New Hampshire to buy.”
Chariho Furniture is a true family business, with Smith’s mother Carol Records and daughter Stephanie on the team. The company has grown for 24 of the 25 years since its founding, and Smith believes there’s plenty of room to keep on growing.
“We’re helping the economy,” he said. “Every time we sell something, it’s jobs. It’s the factory owners, it’s the factory workers, it’s the trucks that bring it to us, it’s the support staff. You need jobs to have a good economy, and we’re supporting that.”
Smith and his business help support the community, as well, donating five percent of every mattress sale to local charities and non-profits. On top of that, Smith said, they have made generous contributions to community projects like the Arcadia YMCA, and Smith has been a member of the Rotary Club for 25 years.
“We’re big believers in giving back,” Smith said.
The story of Chariho Furniture begins with a 19-year-old Ed Smith, who got hired to do odd jobs for a local furniture store. Eventually he began doing repairs, upholstering and finishing. In 1987, right after Smith got married, the store went out of business.
Smith decided to open his own furniture store with $3,000 from his wedding and a loan borrowed against his parent’s home. The early years were anything but easy.
“’Rocky’ is a good term,” Smith said. “For the first two years, I had to keep convincing my wife that some day I’d be able to take a reasonable pay out of this business.”
His conviction paid off, and Chariho Furniture saw consistent growth until the recent recession left Smith with stagnating profits and a big decision.
As his competitors went out of business or switched to furniture manufactured in Asia, Smith began to question his business model. In the end, though, he decided to stick with what he knew best and never compromise on quality. Today, he believes it’s the reason Chariho Furniture is still going strong.
“I think we have rebounded so much faster than our competition because we didn’t send mixed messages out there,” Smith said. “We didn’t advertise $999 leather sofas from China. We knew we were losing that customer. That’s fine. We never deviated from the plan of ‘we believe in what we do.’ It’s got to be solid-wood, it’s got to be American-made.”
Though Ed Smith, 47, is far from ready to leave the business, with his mother considering retirement his daughter Stephanie has shown interest in learning the trade.
“I just like the interior design part of it, and I like how everything you can do is custom,” Stephanie said.
Right now, Stephanie is finishing up her psychology major and communications minor at Rhode Island College, but she hopes to explore her post-graduation options by learning more about her father’s business.
“I never really encouraged her or discouraged her,” Smith said. “It was gonna have to be her decision if she ever walked through these doors. I think it’s great that she’s checking it out.”
Stephanie has her own ideas about how Chariho Furniture can grow its business by expanding its interior design services. With 25,000 square feet of showroom space and a mattress depot next to the original location, Ed Smith believes he can do more without branching out to new locations.
“I want to be hands-on,” he said. “I don’t want to manage multiple locations. We’re already drawing from five states. I’d rather expand on what we’re doing.”
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Chariho Furniture and Mattress Depot will be offering up to 4 years of no interest financing as well as a weekly drawing for a flat screen HD TV with no purchase necessary for the entire month of October.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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