General Manager Mark Jesperson, leaning on the counter, along with Robert Hanson show off the firearms selection at Bill's, something that did not exist only two years ago. The idea to start bringing sporting goods into a furniture store setting originated with an employee's suggestion.
Camping and fishing gear are the newest additions to the Sportsman's Corner at Bill's.
It's easy to go over the mountain to buy stuff. Almost everyone in the area does it.
It seems the general feeling is that "we can't get what we need in Price."
Not true, says Mark Jesperson, the General Manager at Bill's Home Furnishings.
"I know we can get almost anything anyone wants in what we sell," he said in an interview on Wednesday. "But if you don't have it on your floor people don't seem willing to wait anymore. They want it now."
But thinking that retailers in our area don't sell a lot, or aren't as good of dealers as those over the mountain is a mistaken idea. Many businesses that handle everything from vehicles to sundries are top notch in the area. Manufacturers know this.
Take Bill's Home Furnishings for example. Recently the store won the Best Independent Vortex Dealer Award for Utah. Vortex is a top line optics manufacturer producing scopes, binoculars and other kinds of optical equipment. That award the store sold more optical equipment than any of their other independent dealers in Utah. A big deal in that the store has only been into sporting goods sales in the last two years.
"We are unique to them," said Jesperson. "We are the only dealer they have that is a furniture store."
Bill's Home Furnishings is a story of a home grown business that has done well in the area. While many enterprises over the years have come and gone, Bill's still is here despite the changing nature of retail business and the economics of the local area.
The store was started by Bill Knott in the 1970s. At the time he had the idea of forming the business he was working as the sales manager for Price Trading Company which also handled furniture. He was also working at night at the Plateau Mine.
He began his store in a little front on West Main Street in Price that had about 1500 feet of showroom space. After about two years of working at the store and for the mine, Knott decided it was time to go full time at the store.
In 1978 the store moved to where the Hair Hut is now located, which gave the considerably more space. The business had grown and needed the space.
About seven years later Knott purchased the building they are presently in. It had been a grocery store and was remodeled extensively so the furniture business could move in. The building was also added onto later and now has 18,000 square feet of showroom space and a 8,000 square foot warehouse.
All this growth took place during good and bad economic times. Jesperson says that happened because of the business model they have always operated on.
"The idea was to always have big city selection, carry top brands, have competitive pricing, good financing and last but not least neighborly service," he said.
The store has changed in what it handles over the years, which led them to the award they just received. Furniture was always the center of the business, but the sidelines have been good for the bottom line, and continue to be. In the same vein the store has also dropped some things over the years. Some didn't work out for one reason or another. Others just phased out because of the times.
"For instance at one time we were one of the only places in town to rent betamax and VHS movies," said Jesperson. "We also rented the machines to play them because at the time they were so expensive. That finally was phased out as things changed."
Jesperson could name many other things that the store does not carry anymore too. However, it is what they have started to carry that is now important.
"Our sporting goods sections started when an employee told me we should start carrying Camo clothing lines," he stated. "That was about three years ago and I said 'I don't know. We are not a clothing store.' But we did just to see and it began selling like crazy. At Christmas that year we couldn't stay in King's Camo gear."
Then a customer came in and told Jesperson that if they carried guns he would be interested. He started checking around with manufacturers, other dealers and with the ATF and found he could make it work legally and supply wise, but he still wondered about it financially. But once they started having a few firearms in the racks they began to sell. So what began as a few rifles and shotguns, has now turned into a full line with some of the top gun lines in both those and pistols as well.
"This year we have created one entire room for clothing and camo gear," he said as he gave a tour of the new areas. "We have also set aside one wall for camping gear," he said as he showed off the fishing and camping area of the store.
The sporting goods now takes up a good portion of the store and plans may be in the works for some expansion if the items continue to grow.
"The point is after Pinnacle Sports closed their doors there was a void in the community that needed to be filled and we have been filling it," said Jesperson. "Now we have something other than stereos and televisions for those who walk in and want to see more than furniture."
But selection, while important, is not the only factor. For years Bill's has offered in-house financing that helps those that need credit. While Jesperson says that in the last couple of years people have not been using that option as much, it is still viable for many people.
Neighborly service is another plus and something one can't get from big box stores over the mountain.
"We estimate that $2 million of furniture, appliance and electronics business goes over the mountain each year, but what people need to realize that they cannot offer the service we do to them," he said.
Many big stores sell items that have manufacturer warranties on them and when the customer has a problem all the do is say to the customer is "Call this 1-800 number."
"The difference is that we will help customers with their problems," he said. "We can act as a liaison to get things done for them."
The business was also built on the needs of the community. In the early days of the store someone called Bill on Thanksgiving Day because their refrigerator had gone out and he came down to the store and helped them get a new one. The stores reputation was built on that kind of service.
"That's one of the reasons I think we have thrived because we care about our community," said Jesperson. "We will continue to provide personal service and find top of the line goods to serve our customers."
And who knows what other kinds of awards could come Bill's Home Furnishings way?