Within minutes of speaking with Shorty Hayes, it’s clear that he’s not someone who’s scared of a little risk. He’s got an eye for opportunity and a willingness to seize the moment. And those traits certainly have served him well as an independent business owner — a title he’s held for almost 13 years.
Shorty and his wife, Allison, are the ambitious owners of Amarillo Furniture Exchange, a thriving operation based in the Texas panhandle. Members of Nationwide Southwest, their path into retail wasn’t typical. They weren’t following in the generational footsteps of those that paved the path before them, and neither had planned on pursuing entrepreneurship. Instead, their story begins with a chance encounter while visiting Allison’s family in Amarillo, Texas.
During that visit with family, Shorty happened upon a “for sale” sign in a Once Upon A Child store window. At the time, the couple was already feeling the pull to move closer to Allison’s family following the birth of their child. That unassuming sign sparked a wild idea. Within two weeks, the young family had sold everything they owned, packed up their lives in Arkansas and purchased that Once Upon a Child store — and bought into the children’s resale franchise of the same name.
Reflecting on that fateful decision, Shorty recalls, “We intentionally downsized, taking three steps back in order to take 10 steps forward into the future.” Clearly his intuition, coupled with his shrewd business sense, served him well. Within the first year of franchise ownership, they had tripled the store’s year-over-year sales.
The following year, Shorty expanded the store’s physical footprint, moving into a larger, 10,000-square-foot space. More space equaled more merchandising opportunities, and Shorty soon started selling complementary used furniture, such as bunk beds, twin beds and children’s desks.
While the expansion made good business sense, it quickly caused conflict with fellow franchisees. Word spread, and customers began bypassing their local Once Upon a Child stores to visit Shorty’s more extensive selection in Amarillo. Eventually, corporate flagged the Hayes’ store. When they demanded that Shorty discontinue furniture sales, he did so. And two days later took over a 4,000-square-foot space in the same strip mall to open Amarillo Furniture Exchange.
“We basically threw a new sign out front and went all in on furniture sales,” Shorty says candidly.
What quickly became evident for him was the need to diversify beyond the gently used market and experiment with selling new furniture. “Nothing’s made to last anymore, so the furniture wasn’t holding much value,” he explains. “Customers were using it a couple of years and then would get rid of it. We were up against the choice to either become a thrift store, which is what 90% of what used furniture stores do, or to go out of business.”
After accessing their options, Shorty decided to pivot yet again and start selling new products. It was right around that time that their local Nationwide Southwest Member Support Member, Arcadio Rivera, came knocking with a compelling invitation.
“He invited us to Nationwide’s meeting at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas,” Shorty recalls. “No risk, offering to pay for travel and expenses just to hear them out. After attending a few meetings at the event, we knew the opportunity was legit, so we signed up as members.”
At PrimeTime, Shorty and Allison were connected with better vendors and finance companies, two key things they needed in order to grow. Shortly after, they expanded their footprint again, doubling in physical size.
In their first year as an independent business, the couple hit $300,000 in revenue. Two years later, after diversifying into new furniture and joining the Nationwide family, they hit the $2 million mark. This year, they’re projecting around $3 million. And they’re creating those results in a market with a population of less than 200,000 people.
“After getting access to everything that Nationwide has to offer is when we really saw big growth, and it’s how we got into the model we now use,” he shares.
That model, a new take on what he considers to be an outdated furniture store concept, aims to meets younger consumers’ demands for convenience while also providing rent-to-own customers with an experience beyond anything they’ve had before.
Billing themselves as “the no-credit-needed headquarters in the Texas panhandle,” Shorty offers all of his customers $10 down financing on anything in the store for 90 days with no interest.
“We first ask them how much they can realistically pay off in three months,” he says. “Then, we fit their need to the price they can afford to pay off in 90 days.”
The approach is working on several fronts. If gives all customers the preferable option to purchase versus lease, while still keeping the store’s default rate under 2% with most financing companies. And because of this, the store enjoys a 95% approval rating with its financing programs. Shorty reports that close to 40% of customers return within 90 days to repeat shop. And those numbers just continue to grow.
Another way they’re winning? Availability and convenience — both high priorities for younger consumers. “The younger generation is more impulsive,” he says. “They grew up being told ‘you’ll get it in two days.’” So Shorty makes sure he uses every square foot of space as efficiently as possible to deliver on those expectations.
“I have as much in a 10,000-square-foot store as a 30,000-square-foot store would have,” Shorty explains. “Anything I sell in my store is in stock.” So plenty of options are available and ready to take on the spot. No waiting.
Ultimately, Shorty says a key to his success is his team’s commitment to staying laser-focused on the wants and needs of their core customers. And finding inventive ways to answer those demands. “Everything we do is to create customers for life,” he says.
He certainly has a knack for that. And other business owners have taken note. To date, Shorty has licensing agreements in three states, with more opportunities in the works. Thirteen years since stumbling upon that for sale sign, the unexpected retailer has evolved into a sought-after business mentor.