How Art Van Elslander grew a furniture store from what he learned as a teenager Featured

9:47am EDT July 5, 2011
Art Van Elslander Art Van Elslander

From an early age, Art Van Elslander learned the value of hard work by watching his immigrant father run the Detroit bar that adjoined to the family’s home.

By the age of 16, Van Elslander had acquired an eye for style by selling men’s clothing. In this job, he learned the value of developing a personal brand as he learned about fabrics and colors and the importance of presentation.

That eye for style and the elements he learned selling men’s clothing were helpful when he started his first furniture store in 1959. He mortgaged his home to open it, and he worked as its only employee, often staying open until he had made a sale.

But he stuck with it, and he had the fortitude to go where he anticipated the business would be, not where it currently was. This approach allowed him to beat the competition and has earned the company its place as Michigan’s No. 1 furniture retailer and America’s largest independent furniture retailer -- quite a feat because all 37 locations are within Michigan.

In addition to expanding to 37 stores from his single shop, the business has grown to employ 2,500 people, many of whom stay with him for years. Thirty-five percent of his employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and many of them are second- and third-generation employees.

He’s also earned numerous industry awards, and has been inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame. But he hasn’t let success go to his head; he remains committed to giving back to the community, and he’s provided millions of dollars to support Michigan.

How to reach: Art Van Furniture, (586) 983-3001 or www.artvan.com