SHREVEPORT, La. — Crews work around the clock to load and unload about 70 trucks that come through the Ivan Smith Furniture distribution warehouse each week.
Rows of couches and other furniture are stacked floor to ceiling throughout the 133,000-square-foot building, which can hold 1 million cubic feet of merchandise.
In the well-organized chaos, men scurry around like ants, sorting and hauling the bulky items.
At 5 a.m. employees start shipping trucks out to go to each of the company’s 46 stores twice a week.
Every piece of furniture has a tag on it, with its model and serial numbers. When scanned, it allows the company to trace each person who touched the merchandise to help keep inventory accurate.
Trey Smith, whose grandfather started the company more than 50 years ago, said the warehouse has the flattest concrete in Shreveport, which is needed for its lift system to stack the furniture. It also has more sprinklers than any other building, he said.
“We unload a minimum of 12 semis a day,” said Trey’s father, Ivan Smith Jr. “I’m real proud of the way they do things downstairs.”
Smith’s office is on the second floor of the company’s headquarters and main distribution warehouse, hidden in an industrial park on the outskirts of Shreveport, La.
Smith’s father, Ivan Smith Sr., started the family business in 1961.
Smith, 67, began working for his dad’s other retail store, selling shoes when he was 12. He became employed at the furniture company in 1969 and came on full-time after graduating from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene.
“I did what anybody else wouldn’t do,” he said of working for his dad.
Smith bought the business from his father in 1976 and soon began adding additional stores.
He opened a second store on Jewella Avenue in Shreveport, buying a building and sticking his neck out to expand, he said. The store ended up doing double in sales what he expected for the first month, he added.
“My wife did let me gamble in the furniture business,” Smith said of his wife of 46 years, Gloria.
There are now 42 Ivan Smith Furniture stores across East Texas, North Louisiana and South Arkansas. They also have four Ashley Home Stores, excluding the one in Tyler.
His sons, Trey and Jonathan Smith, are carrying on the family legacy, both working in management for the growing furniture business.
Nearly seven years ago Ivan Smith Furniture opened a store in Tyler after Smith bought Terry’s Furniture here.
Because Ivan Smith Furniture moved from 920 WSW Loop 323 to the much larger space at 1921 ESE Loop 323 on April 1, it allows them to display more furniture, such as living room, bedroom and dining sets, as well as rugs and accessories.
Smith said Tyler is the third largest town he has a store in, after Shreveport and Monroe/West Monroe.
“It’s the largest retail building that we have,” he said of Tyler’s new 43,000-square-foot store next to Hobby Lobby. “From our point of view, Tyler has a very healthy economy.”
Mark Whatley, broker for Burns Commercial Properties, said he rarely sees a retailer the size of Ivan Smith Furniture take over a big vacant commercial space in Tyler. The 43,000-square-foot space has been vacant for about a year, since Ace Hardware moved.
Ivan Smith Furniture’s move leaves the 28,000-square-foot building it was in available for lease, Whatley said, adding that it was built in 1993 for Terry’s Furniture.
A grand-opening ceremony for the Smith’s new Tyler store is set for April 24.
Smith has about 625 employees, with 16 in Tyler, he said, adding that they will add more local workers and may have to add another delivery team because of the store’s expansion.
In addition to the massive distribution center in Shreveport, there’s also a smaller, offsite warehouse across town that unloads about seven trucks a week. A warehouse in Emory sees four to five trucks per day.
Smith is proud of all of his employees, especially the ones who have been with him for decades.
“Mr. Smith is very humble about what he does,” Dona Toney, a re-buyer who has worked for Smith for about 10 years, said. “But somebody made this company what it is.”
Trey Smith, 39, is in charge of operations and has been working for his father since 1998. Jonathan Smith, 33, is over merchandise and has worked there for about 11 years.
“Trey calls me chief delegator,” Smith said, adding that he doesn’t make it to the office as much as he used to, leaving it in the hands of his sons.
Smith also is proud of the relationships he has built with his furniture suppliers throughout the years, as well as his customers.
“We have really tried to develop a relationship with our suppliers that is really long-term. … Relationships are huge,” he said.
The furniture business is all about being economical, Smith said.
One person works in the payroll department, paying all 625 employees companywide. A training room for employees at company headquarters doubles as a backdrop for commercials and photography.
Trey Smith said they were the third furniture company in the nation to recycle Styrofoam, which they started seven years ago. It allowed them to get rid of all of their Dumpsters at every one of their stores, and the waste doesn’t end up in landfills.
In the distribution warehouse, there are large, loud machines working to condense the Styrofoam down into a jumbled mass of plastic that looks like it’s been wrapped in Saran Wrap. They sell it to recycling manufacturing companies, which turn it into resins that are used in things, such as ice chests and shoes, he said.
They also recycle a tremendous amount of cardboard and sell it to paper mills, and plastics are sold to make decking, he said.
The warehouse has color corrective lighting, as true to sunlight as possible, so touchups can be made on furniture if needed. All damaged furniture is repaired onsite.
After lots of research, Trey Smith said they installed a compressed natural gas station at the warehouse in September. He believes this was the first furniture company in America to do so. They now have 10 delivery trucks, six semi-trucks, two maintenance vehicles and three service vans that run on natural gas.
Smith said they do large business in American-made products.
“We’re selling more and more product made in America,” he said.
Smith tries to sell to the masses but at the same time has increased special order business 300 percent from 2012, he said, adding that they include everything on the company’s website, with furniture lines the stores might not have in stock.
Ivan Smith Furniture has been nominated as Retailer of the Year from the National Home Furnishings Association. The award will be given at the Carolinas Furniture Market.
Smith doesn’t think the company will win, but he said it is a big deal to be nominated.