A Publication of WTVP

Lippmann's Furniture is a fifth generation family business, and though it's undergone changes over the past half century, the family is still committed to the philosophy of founder M. Walter Lippmann: Sell a wide range of products to a variety of customers.

Today, Lippmann's is a full-line interior design store. "We offer full design service from new construction, advice on floor plans, space planning, design of ADA-accessible space, flooring, window treatments, wall coverings, furniture and accessory selection, and placement-anything you need to complete the interior of your home," said Lippmann's Vice President Mike Wiesehan.

Merchandise Manager Kathy Wiesehan Crank said the company's current offerings represent how Lippmann's mission has evolved over the years. "In addition to home furnishings, we try to be the leader in design styles and display. Our knowledge will save the customer time and money, and our service is a true value."

Several other evolutions have occurred, mostly involving expansion. Moving from four employees back in 1950 to the 48 Lippmann's employs today and increasing floor space are the most visible changes. After a devastating fire in 1968, Lippmann's was rebuilt bigger and better, doubling in size from 10,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet. In the 1980s, another decision to expand resulted in the store's current 30,000 square feet of space.

The next logical step was exploring different locations. "In the late 1980s, the family decided to expand to a new market, opening in Bloomington in 1987," Wiesehan said. "In 1992, we decided to expand even further. We relocated the Bloomington store to its current location in Normal and expanded in the Peoria market as well. We opened our Pioneer Parkway store, Parkway Home Furnishing, which doesn't offer the same services the other two stores do, but sells only furniture."

Wiesehan said he attributes the growth of the business mainly to his grandfather, the founder. "He was able to see opportunities in Bloomington and Peoria and set his goal."

Over the years, Crank said that not only has the company undergone changes, but the industry has as well. "Going way back, I think the first change was the onset of specialty stores that would separate out certain categories of our business. Then came the trend of not buying local and/or doing research on the Internet. I feel the Internet has been a positive in that it helps educate the consumer on different quality stores, so they can make a conscience buying decision. Most recently, the amount of imports that have poured into what was always a primarily made-in-the-USA industry has posed a learning curve. It's brought some interesting design elements and different mediums into the industry-different wood species and wicker in unique applications, for example. On the other hand, it's also brought the opportunity for more quality problems, which were foreign to products made here."

She said this aspect of the industry has actually been among the most difficult the company has faced this year. "The biggest challenge has been dealing with imported products and educating our staff and consumers on the different expectations they bring to the industry. The most rewarding aspect, of course, is seeing the completed homes of our customers."

Because of the stiff competition in the area, it's natural for customers to make comparisons, but Wiesehan said that can lead to potential misperceptions. "For our company, one misperception might occur when customers compare us, price-wise, to other furniture stores or to other ways to buy furniture. We aren't just a furniture store; we're an interior design store. I feel if the consumer compares the actual quality of the product we sell-not just a sofa for a sofa-they would agree that we're an unbelievable value."

In terms of the interior design industry as a whole, Crank said the popularity of shows such as Trading Spaces has affected the industry both positively and negatively. "On the positively side, it's brought to light the need for a professional interior designer. On the flip side, there's a misperception that a room can be designed without sitting down with clients and finding out what's right for their lifestyle, that it can be done in 48 hours, and that it can all be done-no matter what their needs-for under $1,000. It puts everyone's project into a cookie-cutter mold."

Wiesehan said seeking out employees who are able to contribute all of the services Lippmann's provides for clients is an ongoing challenge. "Recruiting and retaining employees isn't easy. From the design aspect, we do welcome internships from the colleges and universities, and, of course, word of mouth is sometimes the best recruiting tool."

The employees who do make the cut, however, become part of a half-century tradition. "We've been in business here for more than 50 years and plan on staying," Crank said. "We're a company of sincerity and business ethic that tries to do the best for our consumers. Our goal, from my grandfather's first customer to now, is that our family of customers love their home so we may be proud of the job we've done for them." IBI