By Ray Allegrezza, Special to Furniture Today
HOUSTON — Bill Ward, a well-known and well-respected icon of the furniture industry, is bringing his years as a driving force in the furniture industry to help make the Houston Furniture Bank’s newly-opened North Furniture Outlet here a resounding success.
Based on Ward’s ability to put Star Furniture in the passing lane of the industry’s fast track during his tenure there as President and CEO from 1998-2018, observers are more than confident that Ward, who now serves as a consultant to Houston’s Furniture Bank, is more than up to the task.
With more than 40 years of furniture industry experience, Bill Ward began working at Star Furniture while still in high school and would eventually become the president and CEO from 1998 to 2018.
During that long and successful tenure, Ward help Star Furniture became a dominant factor in the Houston market, thanks, in part, to his leadership style that is heavily focused on quality, integrity and high levels of customer service.
Houston Furniture Bank’s North Furniture Outlet, located in a prominent shopping center on Sawdust Road, opened last fall to a warm reception, and Ward and others close to the project say the desirable location offers the potential to grow the organizations impact while simultaneously being able to serve more local families in need for the furniture backs products and support.
For almost 30 years, the Houston Furniture Bank has been “Making Empty Houses Homes.” Observers point to the operation’s amazing statistics as evidence that the organization more than delivers on that slogan.
More than 35,000 families and 100,000 individuals have received Furniture Assistance services through the organization. Working with more than 45 nonprofit partners, dozens of furniture companies and countless, generous Houstonians, every month, Houston Furniture Bank helps over 100 families, provides beds to 80 children, and recycles more than 2,000 mattresses. Helping families in need, keeping furniture and mattresses out of our landfills and providing jobs as a second chance employer, Houston Furniture Bank is also doing very significant and measurable good in the Greater Houston area.
Over the years, the Furniture Outlet has enjoyed the support of giants in the furniture industry, both in terms of donations and in terms of leadership. In the early years, Jodie Hoffer of Hoffer Furniture was instrumental to the founding and development of the very first Furniture Outlet, known as the “Bargain Bazar, in 2008.
In his recent role as consultant to the Houston Furniture Bank, Ward is the first to admit that, “Opening and maintaining a successful Furniture Store is no easy task! As anyone in the furniture Industry will tell you, it’s a diverse market with a lot of consumer choice and an expensive business with a lot of built-in costs, like rent, payroll, trucks, utilities and insurance,” he confirmed.
Even so, Ward maintains that the Houston Furniture Bank’s new Furniture Outlet represents a huge opportunity for continued, self-sustaining growth.
The Houston Furniture Bank board, advisory board and leadership have been working together with Oli Mohammad, the group’s executive director, to oversee the expansion, setting up best-practices and applying years of combined industry and institutional experience to ensure the new outlet’s success.
Randy Lavercombe, a retired furniture representative for Ashley Furniture, has been very successful in getting the word out to the industry about the potential impact of furniture donations. The new location has also been visited by Mark and Brad Taylor of Landmark Furniture and Youval Meicler of Texas Mattress Builders. During the holidays, Ashley Furniture, the American Society for Interior Design and Elizabeth Cole Design descended on Houston Furniture Bank North with new, donated bedding for children in need.
Now, with Ward on board working to make sure the new furniture outlet gets off to a speedy and successful launch, the group’s already strong bench has become ever more formidable.
Other industry veterans, including Ellen Robinson, one of Ward’s longtime colleagues at Star Furniture who served as director of training and education, said, speaking of Ward, “There was no part of the business that he couldn’t teach.”
Beyond his comprehensive knowledge of the furniture industry, Bill Ward is committed to giving back. Said Ellen Robinson, “Bill Ward is deeply ethical. He does everything for the right reason.”
That comment is not surprising considering that Ward began working at Star Furniture while still in high school. It immediately became apparent that Ward was a gifted salesman and a big-hearted, team player.
During his career at Star, Bill Ward worked his way up, from part-time helper, to salesperson, to store manager, to store supervisor, to vice president of operations, finally becoming the president and chief operating officer.
Since arriving in North Houston, Houston Furniture Bank has been met with an amazing community that is eager to support the mission. Neighbors are donating their furniture, volunteering their time, and enjoying one-of-a-kind finds and great deals in the Furniture Outlet. People are finding out about the Furniture Outlet at Houston Furniture Bank by word of mouth. “Every month, we are connecting with more people and getting closer to our goals,” said Ward. “Still, we have a long way to go and we can only do it with the continued and expanded support of the community.
“It’s an unfortunate need that the furniture bank has to exist,” Ward admits. “Furniture is essential, but so many of our neighbors simply don’t have access to the essentials in life that we take for granted like a sofa to sit on or a table and chairs to sit on with your kids and help them with homework or eat dinner. Or even having a bed to sleep on. Houston Furniture Bank, together with our neighbors, and our friends in the furniture industry, can end children sleeping on the floor!”
When asked about his vision and goals in his consulting role at the Houston Furniture Bank, Ward said, “My goal is to set up the retail side of Houston Furniture Bank and help train, hire, and get people going in the right direction to have a legitimately run retail operation.”
The veteran retailer went on to say, “I think with my background, I can help solidify the retail side profitably enough to be able to support the charity side. We rely on grants, which are less consistent. The idea is to develop a sustainable business model that will allow us to sell enough furniture to fund our programs, to keep kids off the floor, to support Oli Mohammed’s original vision, that every person should have a sofa to sit on, a dinette to eat at and a bed to sleep on. In a city like Houston, I believe we can do that and that’s what’s driving me,” said Ward.
For more information about the Houston Furniture Bank, click here.