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ADifferent Kind of Success Story

When Manuel Capo fled Cuba with his two oldest sons in 1966, he arrived in America as a political refugee eager to start a new life. Combining their background in the furniture industry with a drive to succeed, the Capo family established its retailing roots on American soil. By adding a strong focus on customer service, the family has built El Dorado Furniture into a 10-store chain that continues to grow.

An innovative store concept and a unique customer-service perspective have helped the chain uphold its tagline, “A Different Kind of Furniture Store.” This commitment also has earned the chain many accolades, including the “Best In Customer Service Award” from the Retail Systems Alert Group (RSAG), Upper Newton Falls, Mass.

El Dorado’s CIO Jesus R. Capo chatted with Chain Store Age’s senior editor, Deena M. Amato-McCoy, about how the successful, three-generation-old, family-run business has created its unique shopping experience and how it plans to expand its signature customer service beyond its South Florida home.

HEADQUARTERS: MiamiANNUAL SALES: $175 millionTYPE OF BUSINESS: Furniture retailer

Chain Store Age: Your company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Tell us about the history of the company and your family as well.

Jesus R. Capo: In 1966, my father and two of my older brothers escaped from Cuba in a small boat after Fidel Castro and the Communist regime took over. Since I was only 6 months old, I stayed behind with my mother and other brothers. We waited for them to send for us, which they eventually did.

My father was a furniture retailer in Cuba. Once he got to Miami, he started manufacturing furniture for the Cuban community there. Since Cuban immigrants had little money, this affected the direction of his business. He created merchandise, including rocking chairs and bedroom sets, out of discarded trash and leftover wood from local manufacturers.

My father rented a small space in a warehouse and allowed customers to pay off the merchandise at $5 a week. Realizing that manufacturing was an expensive venture, he got a $10,000 loan from the Small Business Administration to fund his move to retail. In 1967, he opened his first showroom, El Dorado Furniture. The store was named after the sailboat in which my father and brothers fled from Cuba.

CSA: Is the whole family still involved in the business?

Capo: Yes. My father, who is 80 years old, is still involved in the day-to-day operations. In the early days, my six brothers and I all worked for the store just to help the company survive, and we are all still involved across all operations.

CSA: How big is the company today?

Capo: We have 10 stores (averaging about 100,000 sq. ft. each) throughout South Florida, and did approximately $175 million in sales last year. We anticipate doing about $200 million in sales for 2007. We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished, especially considering the state of the marketplace.

CSA: What do you mean?

Capo: To start with, the real estate market is lagging, and that’s taking a toll on furniture sales nationwide. Meanwhile, competition is growing, as everyone is trying to get into our niche.

For example, Wal-Mart is the No. 1 furniture retailer in the country, and The Home Depot also has strong furniture sales. Meanwhile, long-time retailers such as 50-year-old-plus Modernage Furniture and Levitz Furniture recently went into bankruptcy.

CSA: How do you compete?

Capo: As nontraditional furniture retailers enter the space, we need to be more creative in how we compete. We know we can’t compete on price, because there is always someone lower than you. Instead, we focus on our strengths. For us, this is exceptional customer service.

Customer experience really drives our business. We credit our strong customer service to good training. We want to ensure that no matter which store shoppers visit, they will receive the same experience. Our store prototype, which we refer to as the Boulevard concept, cements that strategy. It is featured in nine of our locations.

CSA: Tell us more about your store prototype.

Capo: Customers enter through a main hallway—we call it the Boulevard—that emulates the feel of Main Street. It has realistic building facades, old-fashioned streetlamps and benches that give the feeling of being in an old town. On the weekends, we offer entertainment, including live musical performances.

The Boulevard leads into 15 unique galleries, or individual specialized furniture stores. Each gallery is defined by category, price and style. We try to stimulate shoppers’ senses by controlling the music that is played in each room. We also use scent technology to enhance the environment. For example, in the rooms that feature bedroom sets, we use scents that promote calmness.

CSA: How do the stores stay current?

Capo: We use analysis tools to understand our best-seller categories, and remodel our stores and inventory every few months to keep our assortments fresh.

CSA: What is El Dorado’s policy regarding delivery?

Capo: We feature a same-day delivery service. This is a big deal, since most furniture companies deliver orders within three months. And it’s especially important to visitors from cities that don’t have an El Dorado showroom.

CSA: These services helped you achieve the honor of Best In Customer Service at the ERI Awards, presented at the recent ERI eXchange, the Conference & Expo for the Extended Retail Industry. How is winning this award a coup for you?

Capo: We were surprised and ecstatic. The award is especially important to us since it is one of the few honors that is actually based on the “customer experience.” Since that is our constant focus, it’s a great feeling to be recognized for our efforts in that area.

CSA: What are the company’s long-term plans?

Capo: First, we plan to begin selling merchandise online this summer. This is a good opportunity, since most furniture Web sites give very little product information online. We hope to be the Amazon.com of furniture.

We hired people from pure-plays and furniture companies, as well as a creative team. We will start by selling merchandise throughout Florida; then we plan to expand the service nationally.

We also plan to saturate Florida with our brand. We hope to enter the Gulf Coast by early 2008, and encompass the state within five years.

© 2014