A lot has changed in the world since 1890. Here in the United States, we’ve seen 22 presidential administrations go through the White House. Light bulbs and telephones were still in their pre-teen years. The Titanic was but a twinkle in shipbuilders’ eyes (perhaps it should have stayed that way…). Major League Baseball was just 21 years old that year, and the National Football League wouldn’t come into existence for another 30 years.
Heck, we’ve seen two global pandemics in that time.
However, since August 1890 one thing has remained a constant — at least in Loudon, Tennessee, a community of a little more than 5,000 people just southwest of Knoxville — and that’s Greer’s Home Furnishings.
John Greenway Greer opened his home furnishings store on Grove Street in downtown Loudon, and now, more than 130 years and five generations later, Greer’s still calls Grove Street home.
Today, Greer’s is owned and operated by Bo Carey, the great grandson of John Greenway Greer. The business is recognized as the oldest furniture store in Tennessee. Bo is joined in the business by his son, John Carey, who represents the fifth generation of the Greer family.
“This company survived the Great Depression, two world wars, lots of financial downturns, and everything from nature crises to fires and everything else,” Bo said during a recent interview on the Independent Thinking Podcast. “We’ve survived, but it’s mostly because my ancestors have known to change with the times and to be ahead of the times and take advantage of what we have that makes us different from the big chain stores.”
Bo also credits the company’s success to their longstanding residency on Grove Street. “My great-grandfather paid for this building 100 years ago,” he said. And that contributes to Greer’s low overhead costs. That, combined with opportunities to purchase product through Nationwide has allowed Greer’s to remain competitive, according to Bo.
While the name and location remain essentially unchanged, customers visiting Greer’s in 2020 walk into a store that’s vastly different from the Greer’s of the late 1800s. At that time, Greer’s was primarily a hardware store filled with home commodities and farm implements — pots and pans, nails, hammers and saws and the like. In the 1920s, John Greer’s sons — the second generation of owners — brought the business closer to what it is today, introducing appliances, furniture and many other products for the home.
Despite the change in inventory, Greer’s Home Furnishings is always mindful of where they came from.
“Customers can come in and see the old portraits of the founders, five generations worth,” Bo explains. “They would see some of the mementos from the past. We have a little bit of a museum look in here to highlight our past. But for the most part, we’re just trying to sell name brand furniture at very competitive prices and take care of our local customers.”
That commitment to caring for the community — especially in a very small town like Loudon — is something that’s been passed down from generation to generation within the Greer’s lineage.
“If we sold a chair or mattress to the fellow down the street and he didn’t like it, he personally would be hollering at me in church Sunday,” Ham Carey, the grandson-in-law of Greer and third-generation owner, said. “In a small community situation, and I used to know about everybody in town, you wanted to be kind to your neighbors. My father-in-law and uncle before me told me that, ‘Say the right thing, and back up your word. Be as solid as your word.’ It’s a matter of being straight and honest with your customers. And that, I think, is what’s kept us in business.”
And looking ahead, Bo’s son John already seems to have learned a lot of the same lessons that were bestowed upon his father and grandfather.
“The key is to preserve the history while also adapting to current trends,” John said. “Changing is important, but also keeping the company history and what it stands for, the values, intact. You’ve got to be able to adapt to the different products that are coming through. But also from an operational standpoint are things that change in marketing and advertising, changing with all the technology that’s happened in the last 20 years.”
From the technology standpoint, John is leading the charge with Greer’s online presence — both with their RWS-built website and their social media presence.
“I’m working on everything from pricing the website to putting up advertisements, social media advertising and marketing, the Google and Facebook reviews — that’s where I contribute most of my time at the moment,” he said. “And what I take pride in is, we can see that it’s working. We get a lot of response on our Facebook posts and on our website. We are able to track our numbers and see how many people came here from the website, whether it was them calling from a Google search or them using directions to get here from Google.”
What’s clear in speaking with three of the five generations of the Greer’s lineage, the business is set up to succeed well into the future. Their ability to remain true to the core values of the company while being able to adapt to changing product needs and economic conditions has allowed them to serve their community for well over a century. And if they continue to operate that way, it’s not hard to imagine Greer’s celebrating another 130 years.