Tri-City Furniture is well stocked for the holidays

One step into Tri-City Furniture, an Auburn mainstay since 1957, and it’s abundantly clear that the family-run business has plenty of inventory for Small Business Saturday and beyond.

Everywhere you look you can find quality, American-made furniture. It may take a bit longer if you want a custom piece, but the selection they have in-store provides people plenty of options to upgrade, in a timely manner, their living space.

“We have lots of furniture,” said Kathy Kilbourn, who alongside her husband, Lee Kilbourn, is a second-generation family owner of the iconic business in the heart of downtown Auburn. “Come get it. Or get it delivered. We have everything. Special orders are still available. They just take a little longer.”

The main showroom is jammed with recliners, accent chairs, sofas and other furniture. Serta mattresses and even more sofas can be found upstairs. The couple make a concerted effort to buy from American manufacturers whenever they can, resisting the urge to flood their space with cheaper imported furniture.

“We believe that American manufacturers create far superior products,” explained Kathy Kilbourn.

That deeply-rooted belief began with the store’s founder, the late Ronald Fahrner, Kathy Kilbourn’s father. It’s a business model that worked well back in the day and continues to be a successful formula for Tri-City Furniture. As their reputation has grown, so has the geographic area they serve.

“We’re still growing,” said Kathy Kilbourn. “We’re doing deliveries six days a week all over the state. We’ve been to Harbor Springs, Kalamazoo and Bedford Township. We had a woman come in Monday to try a lift chair. She’s coming in from Davison to pick it up.”

The Kilbourns consider themselves lifestyle consultants because they do much more than sell furniture. They routinely do home visits that allows them to measure specific rooms and design floor plans to provide clients with different ideas to enhance their space. They also do a lot of commercial work.

“I’ve decorated over 70 assisted living centers,” Kilbourn said. “I’m currently doing a project in Punta Gorda, Florida. I don’t see demand slowing. We redo offices, meeting rooms and also redesign structures in public spaces such as churches.”

Lee Kilbourn said the pandemic helped spark demand for furniture. It’s virtually impossible for manufacturers, challenged by labor shortages and COVID-19 related issues, to keep up.

“People were quarantining and wearing out their furniture at home,” said Lee Kilbourn. “They started looking more closely at their living spaces and wanted to make improvements. If we’re going to be in lockdown, let’s make our home as comfortable as possible. Home improvement projects became a way to be productive and help people deal with the stress and anxiety brought on by COVID.”

“Let’s say an American manufacturer was getting 100 orders a week,” said Kathy Kilbourn. “Now they are getting 900 orders a day. Less people and fewer components are slowing them down.”

Tri-City Furniture getting in front of the global supply chain issue means customers can find better deals on what they have in stock. Prices are going up, so “If you’re going to buy, buy sooner rather than later,” advises Kathy Kilbourn. “If you buy now, you have the advantage of paying last year’s prices. We have products coming in daily at great prices.”

Tri City Furniture has solid wood furniture made by American manufacturers as well as Amish bedroom pieces, dining room sets and accent pieces. True to form, the store carries Serta Mattresses, a leading mattress manufacturer headquartered in Michigan.

“Serta is top notch,” said Kathy Kilbourn. “We work with leading manufacturers in America. That helps us find just what our customers are looking for. We pay attention to every detail: size, color, depth and fabric. We aren’t interested in selling a piece of furniture that doesn’t suit your room or body.”

Tri-City Furniture has hired two new employees this year to help keep up with demand for their home furnishings. Americans aren’t necessarily noted for their patience, but the Kilbourns feel people are beginning to understand the supply chain issues and labor challenges that are causing so many disruptions across the business landscape.

“It’s been kind of a perfect storm of circumstances,” said Lee Kilbourn.

“People, not machines, build furniture,” said Kathy Kilbourn. “When manufacturers lose employees to higher-paying jobs, that’s a major setback. It takes six months to teach someone how to sew, cut a frame and upholster. It’s a skilled job.

“If you buy furniture from us, you know you are supporting American workers and getting a quality product,” said Kathy Kilbourn.