The Rossi Family Shares Their Business Secrets

Dominic Rossi on surviving the influx of big box furniture companies.

You have to know how to do everyone else's job before you can do your job.


Dominic Rossi III doesn't know how many times his father spoke these words to him, but they left a lasting impression. He had them in mind in the warehouses as he taped up boxes for his family's furniture business. He had them in mind as he drove with other workers through the Chicago snow to deliver entire living room sets. Instead of spending his teenage years being groomed in financial comfort, Dominic entered his family's luxury furniture business the hard way. He earned a place in the executive’s chair via the truck driver’s seat, and the suit via the workman’s coat.



And it paid off. Today, Dominic, the representative of Rossi Home Furnishings’ fourth generation, sits across from me, surrounded by some of the finest furniture available in Chicago’s massive western suburbs. After having worked behind the scenes for so long, he now runs the company’s 30,000-square-foot showroom, which occupies a dominant spot along the highway in Downers Grove, Illinois. Situated among a legion of big brand companies such as Best Buy, The Great Indoors, and Bed Bath & Beyond; the Rossi store is a powerful testament to the ability of small businesses to survive in an era of heavy corporate power. Dominic, with a warm smile and one of the few “real” Chicago accents I’ve heard, is quick to greet me personally, giving me all the respect I would expect had I been a new customer ready to purchase my own luxury set. As we sit, he tells me the story of his rise in the company and the importance of participating in every job related to the business as casually as if the table we sat at were in his own home. All of this comes from his upbringing, he claims: working at all levels has helped him to maintain a welcoming, familial style; and, in a business sense, it has allowed him to run the company more efficiently. “When my guys tell me that it took two hours to install a bedroom set, I know that it takes only one because I’ve done it.” And Rossi has no plans to let the tradition end with him: “When or if I have a son, he’ll go through the same training.”



By the end of our conversation, I am aware that I am not getting any special treatment; Dominic has afforded me the same warm attitude that he extends to all his customers. “We have an unbelievable name in this industry because of the way we treat our customers. We treat them like family. We don’t look at our customers as another sales ticket; we look at them as friends and a part of our family. You know, that’s the advantage of someone coming here to a small, family business: you get a little more treatment. You keep people like that. That has really made us flourish, that “personal touch.”



And hard work and a sensitivity to change have helped, too. The story of Rossi Home Furnishings begins in the streets of Chicago in 1902, when a young Jack Rossi saw a man climbing into a truck containing an overstuffed sofa. The man, it turns out, was taking worn furniture from railroad cars, repairing it, and selling it at his own shop. Jack saw a great opportunity in this line of work, and was soon repairing and selling his own furniture. Eventually the business became large enough to relocate to 26th Street and Kedzie, where the Rossi family was strategically located to attract the attention of customers in the city’s colorful early days. The company began to focus on rare and unique furnishings, and as they had found a profitable market niche, the Rossi family prospered. Since then, the Rossi family has tried to manage a delicate balance between traditional and contemporary style, while maintaining a reputation for uniqueness and luxury. They have survived in an age when very few pieces of furniture are still made in the United States.



Much as it did in the early days when the business was headquartered on Kedzie, location still plays major role in the company’s success. “We’re in a lot of high-end communities’ backyard,” Rossi says, referring to the company’s new Downers Grove location. “These are all direct draws for us.” Nearby Naperville is consistently ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 places to live in America, and the western suburbs as a whole are in the midst of an impressive boom that shows no signs of slowing. With all this wealthy development comes a host “We have an unbelievable name in this industry because of the way we treat our customers. We treat them like family. You know, that’s the advantage of someone coming here to a small, family business: you get a little more treatment. You keep people like that. That has really made us flourish, that personal touch.” of families looking for furniture for their new homes, and Rossi Home Furnishings is located right in the thick of it.



There are, however, a number of other large furniture stores in the area, including a Wickes just across the highway. Similar companies might be daunted by such competition; Rossi, however, prides itself on offering an entirely different experience from these stores. Part of Rossi’s strength in the industry arises not only from their unique choice of furniture, but also from the use of their impressive design staff. The majority of the interior designers that Rossi furniture employs are design school graduates certified by the American Society of Interior Designers. Yet Dominic smiles and adds, “Some of them are just great housewives who have good ideas. Just because you’re an interior designer doesn’t mean you’re any better than a good salesperson with a lot of creativity and who knows how to work with different people and personalities.” Kim LaMotta, one of the company’s designers, enjoys her position there because of the great freedom given to her. “Customers nowadays don’t really get custom furniture,” says LaMotta. “You often go in and what you see is what you get. Here people have a choice. Dominic takes a lot of pride in the fact that we are different. You know your nextdoor neighbor isn’t going to have the same furniture.”



And then there’s the process. Dominic explains that visitors to Rossi furniture don’t have to do the extra work of finding furniture: “You come on in, and after we’ve met you and we’ve met your personality and we understand what your lifestyle’s going to be, then we’ll put together a presentation that best suits that. And after we’ve made these presentations, the successful businessman can come in here and say, ‘I like this, this, and this,’ and be done with it, and then it’ll arrive in his house and he’s happy.” Yet if the Rossi family has learned any one key lesson during the years of their success, it’s that there is no one tried and true method for keeping a business such as theirs up and running. Change is the key. “If we did things the same way we did things even five years ago,” Dominic says, “we wouldn’t be in business.” One of the many changes has been the introduction of a website (www.rossifurniture.com), and Rossi Home Furnishings has been quick to distinguish itself in the task. After only a short period, the website has proven to be one of the company’s most valuable assets. Ever innovative, the Rossis have departed from the click-and-buy style of so many online furniture sites: there is nothing that can be bought from their store online; the site is instead meant to attract visitors to come see the store. With the use of an elegant Web interface, visitors not only see the furniture that can be found inside the store, but how it will look in an actual home outside of the showroom. “It’s been great, our website,” Dominic says. “We’re getting more and more subscribers and people are getting good information from our website and coming into our store. I think a lot of people are researching before they take a trip into a retail store. They don’t want to make a wasted trip with gas prices the way they are, they don’t want to make a trip and be disappointed.” In addition, there is a room planner that helps users map out their apartments with models of their most common furniture shapes and sizes to minimize the hassle of measuring a room for new furniture.



Rossi is also experimenting with expanding their target market, including pieces that are more affordable for the average budget. “One good point where we have changed is that we have a little better value so that most people will be able to buy something here,” Rossi says. “We used to cater to a strictly high-end crowd; now we’d like to be able to sell something to someone just getting married or just getting out of college.”



But in the end it all comes back to family, and the Rossis remembering that enduring advice: you have to understand everyone else’s job before you can understand your own. The Rossi story is just as much a story of fathers and sons as it is about prosperity, change, and innovation. “Family’s a real important part of family business,” Dominic says, smiling after receiving a quick call from a relative. “Sure, it’s tough at times, but I eat lunch with my father, my brothers and sisters, my uncle – just about every day – for business. You know, we work all day, we like to eat, and we come back to work. So it’s just the atmosphere that we have that a lot of people don’t have in business. A lot of people don’t like what they’re doing and they can’t wait to go home at 5 o’clock. Here, we enjoy our work and we enjoy our customers.”



Sitting in the gallery on one of his own chairs, Dominic Rossi really does look like he’s enjoying himself, and he looks very much at home. Indeed, unlike so many other businesses, the furniture industry is deeply rooted in family life. And because the Rossis live and work in such an environment, they have achieved that rare circumstance in which home and work are the same. Rossi Home Furnishings extends a genuine sense of home to the customers, delivering a unique experience that won’t come from a big-brand furniture store. They bring the comfort of their home into the customer’s home.



That comfort is evident in every inch of the gallery. As throngs of commuter vehicles whoosh by on the highway outside and weary suburban shoppers file in and out through the revolving doors of nearby strip malls, there is a feeling of security inside the Rossi store. While the surrounding furniture giants and their furniture seem temporary, the Rossi name endures. And Dominic seems to know that Rossi isn’t going anywhere. He is perfectly aware of what the big guys are doing, “because I’ve done it.” But he also knows what his business is doing, “because I’ve done it.” The Rossis will continue to endure and prosper for a long time to come, as long as they remember to stay close to the work itself. They have revolutionized themselves to stay with the times, but have also kept their founding principles. The changes they have made, and the lasting name they have maintained, are all for the best.





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Reader Comments


Friday, October 23, 2009 at 5:26 PM
Aunt Celeste says:
Dominic,
Great to hear you have done so well . I was going to stop by in August when I was in Elmhurst visiting but there just wasn't enough time. I was also going to crash Christopher's wedding but the wedding I was in for was in Oregon Il and just did not have enough time. Aunt Kim tells me about all the kids when we talk. Maybe when I retire and move back to Chicago you will hire me! Ha Ha Ha I will probably never retire. I have worked here 8 years now, and have made Vegas my home. I always think of you guys during market, wondering if you are here or not? Next time we should get together.
Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 10:38 AM
cheryl kowalski says:
Dear Mr. Rossi,
Upon reading this ariticle,I am even more impressed about the Rossi name and the values it stands for. I too am from the south side of Chicago with a 2nd generation making roots here and family values, strong work ethic and "placing yourself in someone else's shoes" was a ideal my family stood by. I also think thats what people and customers want and expect. That will also set you aside from the rest. ITS also nice to have a healthy balance of work and life to be a better and happier person so you can excel in your business. Changing with the times is also a necessity. In these tough economic times, you have to make adjustments to survive. I have in the past held many positions and have done various tasks so I can understand and appreciate what others jobs are and can empathize when problems arise. If you find you have a need for a person with many years experience in the Retail Furniture Industry, my strongest in the showroom presentation and creative ways of thinking outside the box, please don't hesitate to email me as I would be proud to share any ideas I have with you.
thank you and much success.
Cheryl Kowalski
Saturday, May 17, 2008 at 6:45 PM
Trevor says:
I worked with the Rossi family for almost 8 years at their Downers Grove location. What a great experience. Leaving the Rossi family, when I was ready to start my own business, was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The store environment was anything but Big Box, the merchandise was gorgeous, and the clients, staff, and the Rossi family felt like MY family. SHOP AT THIS STORE!

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