A few months ago, the owner of Nancy Newcomb’s furniture store told her that the building would soon be sold, leaving her to make another important decision.
For 25 years, Newcomb has reinvented the St. Louis Park, Odds & Ends Furniture business again and again to stay afloat. She sorted through changes in manufacturing, the rise of digital retail and the arrival of new competitors.
The pandemic has sparked a boom in furniture sales as those forced to stay at home have taken up residence. But consumers took a turn, and then inflation hit.
“Furniture sales are slowing but prices are rising,” Newcomb said. “So the furniture industry is in a tough spot right now.”
And there was something else.
“I’m 70,” she said. “Then it’s time to retire.”
The store, at 5108 Cedar Lake Road, is closing. A closing sale is in progress and the last day is looming on June 24th.
In 1997, Newcomb was a womenswear buyer with connections in the retail world when she discovered the potential of selling slightly damaged furniture at a fraction of its original cost.
At first it operated as Scratch n’ Dent Furniture Warehouse. Then, as manufacturing moved to China, stained furniture became less available from domestic operators.
Around 2002, she renamed the business Odds & Ends and instead moved into selling model showroom furniture. Newcomb gradually added closeouts and other inventory direct from manufacturers.
She focused on fashion-forward furniture resembling what people saw on home decor TV shows. She kept overhead low to be able to sell at competitive prices. Its marketing strategy relied on customers building awareness of the store.
During its peak years in the mid-2000s, Odds & Ends sales reached $3 million. This changed after the real estate crisis led to recession in 2008. Sales never reached this level again.
Over time, Newcomb gradually streamlined his business. She cut a few employees before moving the store to a no-frills warehouse showroom. Since 2015, she only employs herself, her sister and her son.
“You don’t see a vibe here,” Newcomb said. “When you go to strip malls or large malls, the expenses are very high.”
Annual sales have averaged $1 million in recent years. Regular customers of Odds & Ends are loyal customers who replace furniture every few years. She also often sees the children of the regulars making their first purchases there. And recently baby boomers who have downsized to apartments, requiring smaller-scale rooms, have been part of the mix.
Another group included home stagers who liked his products. Janet Lawrence of Set to Show in New Hope turned to Odds & Ends, especially when she immediately needed a lot of furniture quickly to stage a new client’s home.
“I think Nancy was really good with trends,” Lawrence said. “I could find a modern, clean look that appeals to people in general – not too contemporary, not too traditional.”
Meanwhile, Newcomb’s discount competition has grown over the years and continues to do so with the rise of Amazon and Wayfair and Bob’s Discount Furniture entering the Twin Cities market with three locations.
Todd Peter, regional manager of Bob’s Discount Furniture, said the retailer’s size and its relationships with manufacturers help drive lower prices, although supply chain issues are making delivery more difficult these days, so texting and chatting about delivery status is essential.
“With all the product delays, as a business you need to have a great relationship with your customers,” he said.
A few road construction projects over the past decade have disrupted the action at Odds & Ends. But nothing came close to the challenge of stopping COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.
Then, Newcomb said, she felt really lucky to work with understanding parents and for the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. “Thank God it was family,” she said. “They were really good about not getting paid for a while.”
The closure was followed by a furniture boom, with restless customers immediately wanting new sectionals.
“Our format was set up so you could buy right off the floor and get it right away,” Newcomb said.
The recent success of Odds & Ends is based on the strong teamwork between the three members of the family. Newcomb ran business operations, while her sister Rachaelle Brady and son Guy Newcomb focused on customer service and sales. Rachaelle is also planning to retire and Guy is considering his next steps.
They say they will miss their daily interactions.
“When we’re at work, we talk about family,” Guy Newcomb said. “When we’re at family events, we talk about work.”
Although Nancy Newcomb is calling her next phase of retirement, she also plans to find work. “I’ll probably stock shelves somewhere, something that’s low-stress but active,” she says.