Forty years ago, Gloria and Larry Fritts moved to Louisville from St. Louis to open up a dedicated Ethan Allen furniture store. Having spent many years in the furniture industry as a buyer for stores, Larry was offered an opportunity that was considered revolutionary in the furniture business then: Ethan Allen presented him with the chance to be the exclusive retailer in the Louisville market. At the time, furniture stores sold many different lines, and both furniture stores and department stores that sold furniture had complete control over the placement and inventory of all the lines, as well as the training of the employees. Ethan Allen, however, decided to sell its furniture in dedicated stores, owned by individual owners in each city. Here’s why.
Ethan Allen decided that the only way to get its furniture in front of the customer was to create their own stores, where the only line sold was theirs. Individual business owners bought the Ethan Allen stores and became owner/operators, similar to owners of Chick-fil-A and Waffle House locations; the owners just owned one store and fully operated it. The Fritts moved to Louisville, building their showhouse on Linn Station Road in Plainview in 1975. To set the scene, at that time in what is now the bustling Linn Station Road area, there was only an Arby’s, a gas station and a Holiday Inn. The Plainview neighborhood was only six houses deep down the main drag of Timberwood Drive. The Fritts moved across the street from their business to the Plainview apartments, where they could keep an eye on the shop, literally.
The Fritts called their store Carriage House Interiors, and the large, 18,000-square-foot showroom had more than 60 coordinated room vignettes. The pair was very involved in the building of the showroom, and their son Steve, newly graduated from the University of Missouri, moved to Louisville to help his parents build and open the store. He said there was never any question that he was going to move back to help them; he just did not realize in 1975 that he would be doing the job as his lifelong career. He made the move and has never looked back.
Eventually, the Fritts stopped being an exclusive Ethan Allen distributor and diversified their lines. But they kept the business model the same. Though they had 18,000 square feet of showroom space filled with furniture, they don’t like to call Carriage House a “furniture store.” Gloria and Larry reversed the typical mode of thinking when they started. Their intent for this store was customer-driven, not product-driven. Instead of showing the product to the consumer and showing only what was on sale, Carriage House asked the consumer what he or she wanted and produced it.
Larry Fritts passed away in 1991, and Steve and his mother, Gloria, ran the business together until she passed away in 2007. Today, Steve stays on alone, carrying the family traditions his parents began, offering superior, customer-driven service.
The pros at Carriage House want customers to use their complimentary design service to help guide them through this very personal process of decorating their homes. Right now, there are seven designers at Carriage House, all of whom can sell you a piece of furniture off the floor. However, they would rather present you with many more options that are more fine-tuned to your needs.
Steve is not a designer, nor does he claim to be. But he knows what he likes, and he stays on-trend with what the customers like, as well. His team presents its customers with all the choices his parents would want to offer them. Here is a look at everything 18,000 square feet has to offer, and it’s more than just furniture:
A lot can happen in 40 years. Trends change. Attitudes change. We asked Steve what the longest lasting trend is for 40 years. He said hands down, it is the leather club chair. The worst trend he has seen in 40 years, in his opinion, was the oversize pine furniture, or as he calls it “the Paul Bunyan” furniture line.
Considering they started with just a promise of a new way of doing business, Carriage House now carries more than 50 furniture resources and hundreds of accessories in this multibrand store. This is the reason local businesses survive: persistence, attention to detail and allowance to be flexible with the trends, all while paying close attention to the consumer, a detail that Steve — and his parents before him — have down pat!
Carriage House is located at 9801 Linn Station Road in Louisville. Learn more at (502) 426-4594.
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