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Press: Johnny Janosik A Profile of Business Success & Community Giving

Furniture Today

Janosik: Be honest, be fair and support the community

Tom Edmonds -- Furniture Today, 11/3/2003


Laurel, Del.— Johnny Janosik got off a bus in this small town as a teenager with $1.98 in his pocket. Thanks to a lifetime of retailing, he's got much more than that now, and he is intent on giving a lot of it back to his adopted hometown.

Founder and owner of two furniture and bedding superstores that bear his name, Janosik is still in touch with his business. He has reached retirement age but still knows what's happening and participates in strategic decisions.

But he has left day-to-day responsibilities to professional managers and he has dedicated himself to giving back to the community that gave him such a bountiful life.

"I would feel like a hypocrite if I didn't give something back," he said.

Janosik also is issuing a challenge to other furniture retailers to do more to support the needy in their communities.

"The people in our industry need to know that it all comes back to you many times over," he said. "This does bring you business."

Janosik grew up poor in Virginia during the Great Depression. As a teen, he moved to Laurel to live with some family friends.

During World War II, he joined the Navy and served in the Pacific Theater, suffering an injury when a suicide bomber crashed a plane into the USS Louisville.

A hands-on businessman

After the war, Janosik returned to Laurel and tried his hand at several jobs, and in 1953, started his own television repair shop in the town. In his autobiography, "Back to the Basics: The Johnny Janosik Story," he tells some wild tales about nearly getting electrocuted on a customer's roof — he says he's accident-prone — and some of the other adventures that come with being the hands-on owner of a small company.

Over time, the business in downtown

Laurel grew to include appliances and then, in the early 1960s, furniture. Janosik remembers driving an hour to Baltimore to pick up five 10-piece living room suites for $114 each.

"We would sell them and make $100 profit on each of them," he said.

While Janosik, who has always worked side by side with his wife, Mary Louise Janosik, had a nice little business going, he was still selling, delivering and repairing himself as recently as 1978 when he made the controversial decision to move his store out of its downtown location to Route 13 South a few miles away.

By the mid-1980s, he was ready to surrender the appliance and television business to the national chains, a decision that he now calls "the best thing we ever did."

And while Janosik recognizes that his company has benefited from the recent growth around Laurel and Dover, Del., he also believes the company survived and thrived for 50 years because of a simple credo: "Be honest, be fair and work your butt off to take care of the customer."

Focusing on the consumer

He and Mary Louise say they never would have guessed that Johnny Janosik Furniture would become the $40 million-a-year business it is. It has all worked out, he guesses, because of that focus on the customer.

"I'm not the most educated person, but I have two eyes and two ears that help me pick up on ideas that work," he said.

"We want to be like Sears by satisfying the customer, and we're big enough to do that now."

But Janosik's primary interest now is the Janosik Family Charitable Foundation, a subsidiary of the Delaware Community Foundation. He works for several community organizations and is a generous donor to those and many others.

He budgets about 1% of sales, probably $450,000 in 2003, for charitable donations, and that doesn't include the time that he personally devotes to projects.

Just as he was with his business, Janosik is a hands-on participant in his philanthropy. When a good-works project needs doing in Laurel, it's not uncommon for Janosik to bring trucks, equipment and men from the store to get it done. When flowers in a park need to be planted or pruned, Janosik will grab one of his grandchildren and they will do the work themselves.

John Schwed, mayor of Laurel, said Janosik is reliably generous and often he works behind the scenes to make things happen.

"People don't know the depth of what he does to help this community," Schwed said. "The key thing about Johnny is that he is a doer as well as giver."

This summer, municipal and state officials were on hand in Laurel to dedicate the new Johnny Janosik Park. Johnny and Mary Louise Janosik, surrounded by their children and their grandchildren, were obviously delighted.

"The best part about all this is I'm seeing it all while I'm alive," he said. "Most times, people are honored after they're dead.

"I've found that the best feeling you can have comes when you help someone else."

Johnny Janosik Furniture at a glance

  • Business: A 50-year-old, two-unit retailer drawing customers from five mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia.
  • Buying groups: Style Trend & FMG
  • Galleries: Berkline, Broyhill, Kincaid, La-Z-Boy, Lane, Pennsylvania House, Thomasville
  • Employees: 305
  • Annual sales: $40 million in 2002; projects $44 million for 2003

Keys to growth

  • Relentless advertising: Johnny Janosik Furniture runs ads on television and on the radio 52 weeks a year.
  • Sales training: Each new staff member trains up to six weeks, with pay, before they hit the floor.
  • Broad selection: Price points on sofas start at $399 and go all the way to $2,499, and higher for leather.
  • It's in stock: The company has a large inventory at $7 million, but it's an important component to closing sales and satisfying customers.
  • Efficient service: Johnny Janosik strikes a delicate but necessary balance between controlling costs and still paying attention to critical details.
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