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808 W. Riverside • Rockford, IL • 61103 • 815-636-8608 •

What is a dime worth?It is much more than 10 cents for Gustafson's Furniture and Mattress, a Rockford fixture founded by Martin Alexander Gustafson on Valentine's Day in 1928. Originally a small store located just south of downtown Rockford on Seventh Street, Gustafson's has grown into what is now northern Illinois's largest furniture and bedding display."My dad was a farm boy. He walked off a farm in Stillman Valley," recalls Dale Gustafson, Martin's son and now the CEO at Gustafson's. "My dad started at the bottom. He burned down dead horse hooves to make glue. He was in the sanding room and the cabinet building room. He started building furniture before selling it."In its early days, Gustafson's sold mostly washers, dryers, refrigerators, and appliances, and also offered a bridal registry. Dale spent much of his childhood working in the family business, now in its third generation. At 10 years old, he worked in the back loading room, and by 15 he had become active on service calls that often included installing gas pipe. He went to college in Iowa and earned a business degree before returning to his roots."My dad taught me about the university of hard knocks. You really need both," Gustafson says. "My dad had a couple of principles that we still use today. First are the three laws of business. Rule one: satisfied customers build your business. Rule two: satisfied customers build your business. Rule three: see rule one."That service-oriented mentality yielded more business and brought about Gustafson's eventual move from Seventh Street to North Town Mall on West Riverside—a 97,000 square feet increase in floor space. Recently, Gustafson's entered into a membership with the Furniture First Buying Group, a purchasing co-op of more than 500 stores. The program allows Gustafson's to keep costs lower for their customers."And the other principle from my father is a quote, which hangs in North Carolina at the home furnishing show: ‘Nothing happens ‘til something is sold,'" Gustafson continues. "You can't pay commission, can't satisfy your customer, you can't pay the light bill. So sales are paramount."By late 2015, Gustafson's expanding sales led to the opening of a second location on East State Street, bringing its total showroom capacity to more than 200,000 square feet. Primarily an appliance store 87 years ago, Gustafson's now offers furniture, bedding, home décor, and design services."Behind every successful story there's a successful woman," says Gustafson, preferring to share credit. "I'm married to one of them. My bride, Trina, of 42 years has a photographic memory and is CFO. But more importantly, she is the furniture buyer. She knows what sells, has a great memory, and knows who ships on time!"Gustafson's sons—David, 35 and in charge of marketing, and Chris, 31 and in charge of operations —are also part of a leadership team that is intent on keeping the Gustafson family business in Rockford."Bigger isn't better. Better is better," Gustafson says. "I like what we do. The people of Rockford know us. We have 70,000 customers. We just want to be better at what we do."And that modesty can be traced back to February 14, 1928."Our first day sales were 10 cents: one vacuum cleaner light bulb," Gustafson says. "Those were humble beginnings."

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