207: Nastasi’s Shares the Secrets to Its Four Generations of Success

Written by Rob Stott

March 21, 2024

The odds of a family-owned business making it past the second generation are never really great. So, the fact that Oaklyn, NJ-based Nastasi’s Fine Furniture & Mattresses is currently a fourth-generation owned and operated independent retail store is simply miraculous. But, as owner Matt Lawson put it, his family would have it no other way. Their growth and evolution as a company is all by design.


Rob Stott: All right, we are back on The Independent Thinking Podcast, coming to you live from primetime down here, out here, I should say, in Las Vegas. Mr. Matt Lawson, appreciate you taking the time and jumping on a podcast with us.

Matt Lawson: Yeah, no problem.

Rob Stott: I’m sorry we had to travel 3,000 miles. We could have done this right across the river.

Matt Lawson: Wouldn’t that be convenient?

Rob Stott: Maybe next time? That would be nice, right? No.

Matt Lawson: Yeah. We enjoyed the plane ride out.

Rob Stott: Yeah, right. Not so bad. You get to be here at primetime.

Matt Lawson: Yeah, why not?

Rob Stott: Right, of course. Well, it’s great to be able to do this from Nastasi’s Fine Furniture & Mattresses, Oaklyn, New Jersey, right?

Matt Lawson: That is correct.

Rob Stott: Right across the river from Philadelphia.

Matt Lawson: That is correct.

Rob Stott: And a neighbor of sorts. So it’s great to be able to have you on and dive into your business.

Matt Lawson: Pleasure.

Rob Stott: Start with right there. Give us a little background on yourself and a little bit about the business and your path into being owner today of Nastasi’s.

Matt Lawson: I’m a third-generation owner. I’ve been with the business now for 50 years. And it was started originally from my grandfather in 1942. And my uncles and my mother, they were in the business, active. And I’ve been a big part of it for 50 years now. We have three floors of furniture, 20,000 square foot. My two sons are running it with me. We have mattresses, we have living room, dining room, bedroom, all types of great furnishings.

Rob Stott: Well, I understand too, sons are involved. That means fourth-generation business, right?

Matt Lawson: That is correct.

Rob Stott: They plan to stick around? Is that the plan? Do you guys talk about that?

Matt Lawson: One’s 31, the other one’s 28, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere soon.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. That’s so cool to hear, because I’m sure you know, and being in this independent retail business, the data points that are out there about surviving even past the second generation. So what’s that mean to you, knowing fourth-generation owners are on the horizon?

Matt Lawson: It’s almost like an obligation. It’s like you can’t quit now. After being in business for 82, 83 years, I mean, it’s like something that just want to just keep carrying on and keep going. You want to show other businesses that it can be done.

Rob Stott: For sure. And I know a lot of that has to do with evolution, right? And early days of your business, I know it wasn’t always furniture and mattresses. So talk about that. I think you guys have a unique history.

Matt Lawson: Well, actually, it started out with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, door to door.

Rob Stott: Yeah, that’s incredible.

Matt Lawson: And we went into the appliance business in the early ’40s and grew into the furniture business. And it was in Camden, New Jersey. And it was a very, very prosperous business. And then we moved into Haddon Township. And the furniture and the appliances just steamed along for many, many years. And five years ago, we made a choice that maybe we should just be all furniture, mattresses. And it just works out really, really well.

Rob Stott: Do you remember those early days of the business?

Matt Lawson: Oh, absolutely.

Rob Stott: Were you running around? Was it always something you felt you would fall into, or what were you doing as a young boy running around that store?

Matt Lawson: Well, just watching the salesmen sell, going back there and watching my uncles getting the truck ready for deliveries. And it was just a great, great experience.

Rob Stott: Was it always in your mind that this is what you wanted to do?

Matt Lawson: I really never really thought about it. It’s more like all the dominoes fell in place.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, that’s pretty cool. And I have to imagine, I’m used to asking, it’s neat to be able to talk to the third, knowing fourth’s on the horizon. Do they have an option if they wanted to go? You mentioned-

Matt Lawson: Not at this point.

Rob Stott: Right? No, that’s cool. That’s awesome.

Matt Lawson: They’re in for the long haul.

Rob Stott: They’ve made that commitment. No. You mentioned the evolution, right? So to make that decision, talk about doing that. What was it like for you as a business? What kind of things were you considering as you made the decision to focus on furniture and mattresses?

Matt Lawson: You had to be loyal to one thing, especially in my market. And I figured that, you know what? To deliver appliances and hook appliances up, I mean, that was our key focus. So I had to be good to one thing. So I chose the mattresses and living room and dining room and bedroom. And custom furniture was a main thing that we picked up. So when you come into my store, I mean, you could buy good American lines from the Amish community and pick out your own finishes. We have 15 different finishes on our bedroom and dining room. We have Canadel furniture from Canada. You can choose your own chairs, you can choose your own tables, you can choose your own color, you can choose your own wood. And it really worked out well. And there’s a lot of people out there in this market area that want that choice. And the same thing with our living room. We have great lines like King Hickory, Flexsteel, Craftmaster. And just moving along, and it’s working out really well.

Rob Stott: What’s one thing that you … obviously, focusing in on products is something you guys have done really well. Another area of the business, what’s the one thing if you had to pick out about Nastasi’s, that you think you guys excel at as an independent retail business?

Matt Lawson: Well, I think we try to give our customer great values on better products, and our follow-up, our service, the way we handle and work with a customer. And if they call me up on the telephone, “Matt, this is not right. What can you do for me,” it’s a very serious situation with us. We’re going to make sure that we take care of that customer and they’re happy and they’ve made the right choices.

Rob Stott: What would you tell someone, our market, our area of the country, the Northeast and specifically Philadelphia area, what’s it like in that business? What do you guys do to ensure success in the Philly Metro area?

Matt Lawson: Well, Philly Metro, I think what our customer wants is choice. They really want to make sure that they made the right choice. And it’s a big purchase for them. They just don’t want to buy a sofa. They just don’t want to buy a dining room or a living room or a set of bedding. They want to make sure that the purchase is purchased right, because things aren’t … they’re not cheap.

Rob Stott: Yeah, for sure.

Matt Lawson: They want to get their value.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no, it makes a lot of sense. And does the … I don’t want to say stereotypes, but the cliches about the people in our market. Do you think they hold true? And do you see that in … I think people hear the sports stories and they think about the fans in our area. Does that carry over to the type of client, how they are, the people in our area?

Matt Lawson: I think people are really, really genuine. When you really start talking to that customer, they’re nice people. And they want to be friendly and they want to be treated right.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. Turning the question around, I asked you an area you think you guys excel at, what’s an area you want to improve as a business?

Matt Lawson: Well, that’s a good question. I want to be able to get my merchandise in on time, and I want to be able to deliver that merchandise like the customer wants it to be. I want them to have something that they really, really want.

Rob Stott: Yeah. So how are you addressing that?

Matt Lawson: Well, we’re constantly making sure our fabrics are up-to-date, making sure our styles are new, making sure we have the right styles, the right colors, making sure we have a little bit of new stuff on our floor, and make sure we have stuff on our floor that always sells. So making sure nothing’s discontinued. Up-to-date products.

Rob Stott: So what do you guys do to follow those trends? Obviously being at a show like Primetime, you get to see product up close and talk to these vendors. But what other ways do you do it?

Matt Lawson: Oh yeah, talk to a lot of the vendors. We’ve been talking to the different bedding guys and everything. And everything seems to be working out real well. It’s a great show. It’s an amazing thing that they put together here.

Rob Stott: Yeah. How about other than Primetime, do you read up on industry news? What are you doing to stay on top of trends? Talking to customers?

Matt Lawson: We’re always at the furniture market. We get Furniture Today magazine. It’s a constant uphill battle.

Rob Stott: What are those trending products? What’s selling real well at Nastasi’s these days?

Matt Lawson: Believe it or not, solid wood furniture, choose your own finish. It seems like the Amish manufacturers out in Ohio and Indiana are really making a wave.

Rob Stott: Okay. Anything else? Any other products?

Matt Lawson: Products, bedding’s good. Dinettes. People are not buying that big, giant breakfront anymore. It’s more of a table of chairs, a buffet case.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. You’ve mentioned the markets. So obviously, High Point close to you. I imagine that’s what market you’re used to attending. I know while you were here this week, we bussed a bunch of you guys over to Las Vegas market. What was your impressions of that campus over there?

Matt Lawson: Oh, it’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I’m glad to see that there is a market out here on the West side, because I spent most of my time at High Point. And now that I know that, yeah, Las Vegas has a market too, it’s a great place to do your business. And beautiful weather, nice mountains.

Rob Stott: What’s your impressions of … I know it’s different, right? High Point, there are a lot of buildings. I know there are three tall buildings right here out in Vegas market. But just talk about the campus and what it was like to walk through them.

Matt Lawson: Oh, it was good. I enjoyed myself. Everything’s a little more compact. It’s easier to go through the different manufacturers, where in North Carolina, it’s a bigger place.

Rob Stott: For sure.

Matt Lawson: Two different types of marketing.

Rob Stott: No, that makes sense. So the showrooms, again, compare and contrasting High Point to Vegas; what was it like walking through these showrooms?

Matt Lawson: Smaller, more direct. But High Point’s got everything. Bigger showrooms. More to see, more to view.

Rob Stott: But I think too, right, we had quite a few members that had never been. To see the product like that in that sort of setting, organized by vendor, a unique opportunity to see. It’s kind of like the vendor giving you their take on how they’d merchandise things. Is that helpful as a retailer to see that?

Matt Lawson: Well, Primetime makes it easier to make a decision, because they do a lot of work for you and you’re not as confused. So they give you a program, direct you in the right places. And it makes it a lot easier.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about local … Are you a sports fan. You follow the local sports teams?

Matt Lawson: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: So I don’t know if you heard the news today as we’re sitting here, did you see who we signed?

Matt Lawson: No, I didn’t.

Rob Stott: Saquon. He’s an Eagle now. I don’t know if you have any Giants friends, but that news became official today. Hey, you should go tell them. I don’t know. How do you feel about that? We’re on WIP now.

Matt Lawson: After last year, we could sure use him.

Rob Stott: I know, right? No joke. Record prediction, what do you think?

Matt Lawson: Record prediction? I think we’re going to do good this year. I think we’re going to get our cards lined up, and I think we’re going to come out playing ball.

Rob Stott: Fingers crossed. But we got a full baseball season to get through before we get there. And I know we’re looking forward to that.

Matt Lawson: I’m looking forward to that. I think we’re going to do well too.

Rob Stott: Fantastic.

Matt Lawson: I think this is Philly’s year.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, one last business question, right? So you have that fourth generation. Anything you’re doing now to prepare them? I know they’re heavily involved in the business as well, so they’re getting that hands-on experience, but do you do anything, or is it something you’re intentionally going about sort of preparing them?

Matt Lawson: Well, I’m just trying to teach them the work ethic. You have to put your time in. It’s not a 40-hour week. You need to put that 50, 60 hours in. And you got to more or less sleep it, breathe it, and eat it. That’s owning your own business.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome, and I think a great way to end. So Matt, I truly appreciate it. I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I know you’ve got … the show just opened, but a whole floor to explore still over the rest of today and tomorrow. So we appreciate you being here and appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us and record a podcast.

Matt Lawson: Thanks for having me.

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