Super Amart Story
From tragedy to triumph, the Amart Furniture story
A 14-year-old lies awake at night in the dark of an immigration hostel feeling insecure, confused. He can't speak the language or understand why his family must struggle so desperately to scratch out a living in this new land.
How this boy creates the beginnings of a great furniture chain is a unique and inspiring tale. It's a story of humility, determination and a belief in a fair go, principles that still guide Amart Furniture today.
"I was terribly insecure, I didn't speak English and with 12 brothers and sisters, we were always struggling," Amart Furniture founder John Van Lieshout remembering his early days in Australia. The son of hard working Dutch migrants, Van Lieshout tragically lost his father three years after arriving in Australia leaving a single mum to look after 13 children. Naturally he went to work.
By chance Van Lieshout's first job was in a furniture store "I got a job in dispatch, sweeping the floors, cleaning the toilets, whatever was needed and then at 18 I ended up in sales". Van Lieshout was selling furniture his own family could not afford, and the impact of that was profound. "We had so little money, I was always cost conscious and I was seeing these margins and thinking, you don't have to make margins like that, why couldn't people get good quality furniture at a price they could afford?"
Four years later, Van Lieshout met his wife and they started saving for a family home, but a few years later their plans changed.
Instead they invested their savings in a tiny tin shed with a concrete floor in suburban Brisbane. At 23 Van Lieshout went into business, and unlike his competitors, he was determined to sell quality furniture that everyone, including his family could afford.
"Everything starts and finishes with quality furniture at an unbeatable price" was his guiding principle.
Natural disaster floats Amart Furniture
Van Lieshout knew that smart, bulk buying could make his furniture even more affordable but his first store Artline furniture didn't have the space. So three years later with very little capital, he took another gamble establishing the first Amart Furniture store at Kessels Road in MacGregor, Brisbane.
It was 4,000 square metres, full of quality furniture at affordable prices and unlike anything Australia had seen before.
As chance would have it, that first Amart Furniture store opened shortly before the devastating Brisbane floods of 1974. An inland sea covered 200 square kilometers, tragically 14 lives were lost, and 13,000 properties were under water along with John Van Lieshout's ArtLine Furniture store.
"We had no insurance, the place was underwater and we were just about bust," Van Lieshout said. However, most other retailers were also underwater and flooded homes needed new furniture and luckily Amart Furniture was high and dry.
"We were the only ones who had furniture and naturally we were flat out."
One of Australia's fastest growing retailers
While the founder sold the business and retired in 2006, Amart Furniture has continued to grow, doubling in size since 2009. The new owners expanded and today Amart Furniture has a network of 55 stores nationwide while the first store at Kessels Road in MacGregor is still going strong.
For CEO Lee Chadwick, success has been built from the belief that non-one should be asked to pay over the odds for quality furniture.
"We are continuously enhancing the depth and quality of the range to ensure the brand fulfills its promise to deliver exceptional quality at unbeatable prices. But what really sets us apart is our collective focus on exceeding customer expectations. The customer is at the heart of everything we do and we set exceptionally high standards," Chadwick says.
Chadwick is a hands on CEO and is constantly visiting stores and his team members "If you are serious about delivering extraordinary value, you have to be across the detail, you have to know what's going on in-store, you need to be connected to your customers and the people who are looking after them."
Today Amart Furniture employs more than 1,800 and many of those employees have been with the brand for years.
"Amart Furniture really nurtures it's employees, and like me people can start off in dispatch and work their way up to become store managers or national managers," says General Manager of buying Steve Norman.
"I love to see people who work hard for their money buying quality furniture for far less than they would elsewhere, it's a wonderful feeling," Norman said.
General Manager, Sales & Operations Scott Pears, another long-term employee who, like Norman, also started in dispatch, sees the strength of Amart Furniture in its commitment to continuous improvement.
"Retail is constantly evolving. 15 years ago we were just trying to fit everything in, now the stores are much more about the customer experience and we are very focused on working to make that better all the time," says Pears.
For 45 years Amart Furniture has never lost focus on satisfying its customer "I don't think there are too many retailers who stand by their products the way we do."
You buy it. We back it.
CEO Lee Chadwick continues to build a customer centric culture where everyone is driven to deliver extraordinary value.
"The thing I love about Amart Furniture is that everything we do is about delivering value to our customers, from buying good quality furniture at the right price, to expert staff who provide great service, right through to delivery and beyond."
"People can buy from us with confidence and know that if there is a problem, we'll fix it."
"At Amart Furniture you buy it, we back it."