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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 5, 202212:00 AM EST

Third-generation furniture retailer seeking new options after Ashley sale

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Howard Fineman sells his five Ashley HomeStores and distribution center to 1915 South, which plans to renovate and expand.

After 20 years building up area Ashley HomeStore locations, Jacksonville business owner and investor Howard Fineman is “rewiring,” not retiring.

Furniture-industry trade outlets reported May 17 that 1915 South, an Ashley HomeStore licensee, took over the four Jacksonville stores, one in Georgia and the distribution center, all led by Fineman.

Fineman confirmed June 17 the deal closed May 18 for an undisclosed price.

He operated three Jacksonville Ashley HomeStore locations in St. Johns Town Center, River City Marketplace and along Blanding Boulevard near Orange Park; one in Brunswick, Georgia; an Ashley HomeStore Outlet in CB Square at 9317 Atlantic Blvd.; and a 65,000-square-foot distribution center in Flagler Center in South Jacksonville.

The Ashley HomeStore at St. Johns Town Center.

Fineman, 55, said by email he is exploring options while continuing as chairman of Fineman Global Investment LLC, a family office team to manage his investments and charitable endeavors.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the servant leadership role our company has had in our local community over the past almost two decades, especially in the area of community involvement and charitable efforts, as well as of our efforts to prioritize, invest in, and celebrate our employee-owners,” Fineman said by email June 16.

“Always about paying it forward and serving others… I personally feel that the new owners will continue that legacy and build further on it” Fineman said May 17 on his Facebook page that Ashley HomeStore did more than $500 million in transactions and furnished more than 1 in every 4 homes in the market over the past 20 years.

He also said the store made charitable contributions to more than 70,000 families including the Hope To Dream program launched in 2010.

Also, his Ashley stores were 100% employee-owned, so “almost every employee will end up with a payout from the sale of the company and still gets to continue their career with one of the best brands, with one of the best operators, and in one of the best markets in the nation.”

1915 South plans to invest $2 million into remodeling the stores, starting this year and concluding in 2023, and possibly doubling the store count in the market, news sites said.

Russell S. Turner Jr., CEO of 1915 South, is the manager of the LLCs that own the stores sold by Howard Fineman.

Thomasville, Georgia-based 1915 South filed five limited liability company names Feb. 18 in Florida for the Ashley HomeStore locations. Russell S. Turner Jr., CEO of 1915 South, is the manager of the LLCs.

Turner told the news sites that Jacksonville is a $50 million sales market for Ashley HomeStore and he believes it can grow to $80 million or more.

What the sale means

The Home News Now and Furniture Today industry news sites reported that 1915 South closed on the deal with Fineman’s SFTF – Swing for the Fences. 

Fineman set up several SFTF companies. The news sites said 1915 South is buying SFTF’s four Jacksonville stores, the one in Georgia and the distribution center.

Reports said the flagship Ashley HomeStore in St. Johns Town Center is Ashley’s new 7.0+ concept. 

Fineman said the 45,000-square-foot showroom has been an anchor tenant since St. Johns Town Center opened its first phase in March 2015. The store underwent a complete multimillion-dollar renovation over the past year.

The news sites reported that Turner said the acquisition and expansion plans will push 1915 South’s annual sales run rate past $200 million and increase employment to 800 from 600 people. 

The sites said the 200 or so SFTF employees will be among the biggest beneficiaries of the acquisition. They have been owners of the business through an employee stock ownership plan Fineman established in 2018. 

The sites said it was the only 100% employee-owned HomeStore licensee in the network of nearly 1,100 stores globally, and the employees are set to receive the bulk of the undisclosed proceeds in their individual retirement accounts. They all were invited to stay with 1915 South.

“My No. 1 focus is on the employees and the brand — and the brand included the customers,” Fineman told the sites.

“I believe this is the right time to benefit the employees because the HomeStore program is hitting a critical point. There is a lot of reinvestment and growth that’s needed, and I believe the strongest operators will have the lowest operating expense and the greatest market penetration.”

He said Turner is that kind of operator. “And it’s very good for the employees, who keep their jobs and have a big chunk of money going into their retirement plans.”

1915 South has posted job openings for Jacksonville.

Home News Now said 1915 South ranks No. 75 on Home News Now’s inaugural ranking of the Top 125 U.S. furniture and bedding retailers with estimated furniture and bedding sales of nearly $145 million in 2021.

The news sites said Turner, a fourth-generation furniture store operator, and Fineman have known each other for years.

Turner said he had been interested in opening in Jacksonville even before he converted his furniture store holdings to HomeStores a few years ago.

The Jacksonville operation has been well run, Turner said.

1915 South’s biggest expense immediately will be remodeling the five stores, the sites said.

Also, 1915 South will open a HomeStore Outlet this year in Pensacola and a HomeStore in Valdosta, Georgia, east of its Thomasville, Georgia headquarters.

That will increase its store count up to at least 28 by year-end, Home News Now said. Both will be in former Gander Mountain spaces.

The Jacksonville acquisition extends 1915 South’s territory across six Southern states along the Interstate 10 corridor from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Florida’s East Coast.

A lifetime in the business

Fineman is a third-generation furniture retailer, starting in the family furniture and credit business in the mid-1990s after graduating from law school, the sites said.

He had a connection with Arcadia, Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture Industries LLC from the start. In early 2002, he joined corporate to help develop its HomeStore program when there were about 50 showrooms.

Howard Fineman said he will continue as chairman of Fineman Global Investment LLC, a family office team to manage his investments and charitable endeavors.

Home News Now said Fineman left in 2005 to launch the Jacksonville market, one it said had not worked out under a previous licensee. 

Fineman said June 17 he relocated to Jacksonville in 2004. He helped to choose the St. Johns Town Center site in 2003, when developer Ben Carter and Simon Property Group were designing the retail project “and the site was still wooded land and 9A hadn’t even been completed.”

Florida 9A is now Interstate 295, completing a loop around Jacksonville.

St. Johns Town Center opened its first phase, including Ashley HomeStore, in March 2005.

“Feels like a lifetime ago,” Fineman said.

Fineman says on his Facebook page that after almost 30 years in the home furnishings industry and building the Ashley brand for 20 years, he is “rewiring (which is way different than retiring.)”

“The universe is wide open and there are no limitations of what is possible for me on the adventure ahead,” he wrote.

Fineman wrote that the Fineman family started in the furniture business in the 1930s.

Growing Ashley in the South

Ashley Furniture HomeStore says it is the largest retail furniture store brand in North America and one of the world’s best-selling furniture store brands with more than 1,075 locations individually owned and operated in 60 countries.

The 1915 South company was founded by Moses Wright Turner Sr. and his son, Moses Wright Turner Jr., growing the business during the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. The family added two more stores in 1940 and the 1950s.

On Jan. 1, 2002, Russell Turner and Scott Turner opened their first Ashley Furniture HomeStore in Tallahassee. 

A second opened in Mobile, Alabama, in October of 2003 and a third store was opened in Pensacola in March 2004. 

By spring 2020, the Ashley division grew to 21 stores in the South, including five in Florida in Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Pensacola and Tallahassee.

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