Photo: For Andrew (left) and Noah Tepperman, the furniture business is all about family values. Photo courtesy of Tepperman’s.
Tepperman’s – Leading With “Value” And “Values”
I recently led a leadership workshop and a few staff members from Tepperman’s attended. In a reflective activity I asked what three things Tepperman’s represented. It was interesting that education, family values and philanthropy were listed immediately. It made me realize what a positive impact this three-generation family business has had on communities. These successful business leaders go up against big box competitors through a value based service, using a collaborative model spanning 93 years.
Nate Tepperman started this family legacy in 1925 selling home goods door-to-door after his arrival from Russia. In 1929 he opened his first store on Ottawa Street moving to Ouellette and expanding to a 30,000 foot showroom.
In 1958 Nate and Rose’s son Bill joined management and in 1981 they expanded to Chatham; Sarnia in 1993; London 1997 and finally in Kitchener in 2016.
They are now the largest independent home furnishings store in Canada with almost 500 employees and Andrew and Noah, the sons of Bill and Rochelle at the helm.
How do they compete with big box chains? It’s simple — they are “different.”
There are two sides to Tepperman’s — the “Servant” side and “Service” side and both reflect the same values. They have created a “caring” sense of family in the workplace collaborating and making people feel valued.
Their style of servant leadership and focus on “paying it forward” results in higher employee retention as staff treat everyone with dignity and feel a part of making their communities better.
Their desire to evolve and improve has created a focus on sustainability resulting in Environmental Leadership Awards for initiatives like: free electric car charging, waste tracking, using TPO membrane roofs, LED lighting and styrofoam emulsifiers.
Tepperman’s leadership has three levels of contribution: first up, company-wide examples — all participate in the scholarship program (over $1 million by 2025) and raise funds for United Way.The next level of philanthropy is investing in store specific projects unique to each community such as the C.P. Holiday Train raising money for the Inn of the Good Shepherd in Sarnia. Another project in Kitchener distributed $50,000 to 10 programs and Windsor’s Junior Achievement partnership in schools teach financial knowledge, work preparedness and entrepreneurship.
The last type of service is employee driven, involving ongoing monthly and annual staff volunteer programs.
What is the key to their family success and longevity? Andrew and Noah reply: “Our family strives to maintain an ethical style of business that creates loyal repeat customers through a positive shopping experience.”
Part of that experience is financing terms with customized payment plans. They are the only retailers that don’t use third party banks. This strategy originated when Nate Tepperman realized he could differentiate by offering in-house family financing which created greater loyalty and allowed greater payment flexibility during economic downturns.
— Tepperman’s (@Teppermans) March 6, 2018
In an August 2017 article by Norman DeBono of the London Free Press, Michael Pearce, a Business Professor at the Western University Richard Ivey School of Business, who specializes in the retail sectors, gave his opinion on the Tepperman’s success: “It’s all about their ability to focus on the local market, they know what is appropriate for people in their area and do things that resonate with consumers there.”
According to Forbes magazine “only 10% of family businesses pass to the grandchildren generation.” (The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it and the third generation blows it!)
Keys to success are good planning, financial discipline and seeing themselves as stewards of a greater good.
This stewardship and sense of community responsibility is the reason the Tepperman family will be around a rare fourth generation and that’s what I consider “value with great values.”
Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh is the Director of Leadership and Training for the United Way’s Leadership Windsor/Essex program(LeadershipWindsor-Essex.org). She is a recently retired Principal and Chief Communications Officer for the Catholic School Board with over 30 years of experience as an educator, administrator, and community leader. She is also an entrepreneur, owning a number of successful businesses over the years, allowing her to sharpen her business management skills in areas such as marketing, sales and social media.