A few months ago, the landlord at Nancy Newcomb’s furniture store told her the building would soon be sold, leaving her to make yet another major decision.
Over 25 years, Newcomb reinvented the St. Louis Park business, Odds & Ends Furniture, again and again to stay afloat. She sorted through changes in manufacturing, the rise of digital retailing and arrival of new competition.
The pandemic sparked a boomlet in furniture sales as people who were forced to stay at home feathered their nests. But consumers turned a corner, and then inflation hit.
“Furniture sales are slowing down but prices are going up,” Newcomb said. “So the furniture business is in a tough place right now.”
And there was something else.
“I’m 70 years old,” she said. “So it’s time to retire.”
The store, at 5108 Cedar Lake Road, is winding down. A closeout sale is on and the final day looms on June 24.
In 1997, Newcomb was a women’s clothing buyer with connections in the retail world when she learned about the potential in selling slightly damaged furniture at a fraction of its original cost.
She operated as Scratch n’ Dent Furniture Warehouse early on. Then, as manufacturing shifted to China, blemished furnishings became less available from domestic operators.
Around 2002, she renamed the business Odds & Ends and shifted to selling showroom model furniture instead. Newcomb gradually added closeouts and other inventory direct from manufacturers.
She focused on fashion-forward furniture resembling what people were seeing on home decorating TV shows. She kept overhead low to be able to sell at competitive prices. Her marketing strategy relied on relied on customers spreading word about the store.
During its best years in the mid-2000s, sales at Odds & Ends hit $3 million. That changed after the housing bust led to recession in 2008. Sales never again reached that level.
As time went on, Newcomb gradually streamlined her business. She cut a few employees before moving the store into a no-frills warehouse showroom. Since 2015, she employed only herself, her sister and her son.
“You don’t see ambience in here,” Newcomb said. “When you go into strip malls or the big malls, the expenses are very high.”
Annual sales averaged $1 million in recent years. Odds & Ends’ steady clients have been repeat customers who replaced furniture every few years. She’s often seen the children of regulars make their first purchases there as well. And recently, baby boomers who are downsizing to apartments, needing smaller-scale pieces, became part of the mix.
Another group included home stagers who appreciated her products. Janet Lawrence of Set to Show in New Hope turned to Odds & Ends, especially when she immediately needed a lot of furniture fast to stage the home of a new client.
“I do think Nancy was really good with trends,” Lawrence said. “I could find a modern, clean-lined look that appeals to people in general — not too contemporary, not too traditional.”
Meanwhile, Newcomb’s discount competition has increased over the years and continues to do so with the rise of Amazon and Wayfair and the likes of Bob’s Discount Furniture entering the Twin Cities market with three locations.
Todd Peter, a Bob’s Discount Furniture regional manager, said the retailer’s size and relationships with manufacturers helps procure lower prices, although supply-chain problems are making delivery rockier these days so texts and online chats about delivery status are critical.
“With all the delays in products, as a company, you have to have a great relationship with your guests,” he said.
A couple of road construction projects in the past decade disrupted the action at Odds & Ends. But nothing came close to the challenge of the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020.
Then, Newcomb said, she really counted herself lucky to be working with understanding relatives and for the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. “Thank God it was family,” she said. “They were really good about not being paid for a while.”
The shutdown was followed by a furniture boom, with restless customers who wanted new sectionals immediately.
“Our format was set up so you could purchase right off the floor and get it right away,” Newcomb said.
The recent success of Odds & Ends relied on the strong teamwork between the three family members. Newcomb ran the business operations, while sister Rachaelle Brady and son Guy Newcomb focused on customer service and sales. Rachaelle also plans to retire and Guy is considering his next steps.
They say they’ll miss their daily interactions.
“When we’re at work, we talk about family,” Guy Newcomb said. “When we’re at family events, we talk about work.”
Although Nancy Newcomb calls her next phase retirement, she also plans to find work. “I’ll probably stock shelves somewhere, something that’s low stress but active,” she says.