ADDRESS: 415 NE Circle Blvd, Corvallis, OR 97330
(formerly at 544 SW 4th Street)
OWNERS: Teri Wilkinson and Nicole Gregg
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 67
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 3 salespersons, 2 warehousemen, 1 office manager, 1 general manager
WHAT THEY SELL: Hard surface flooring (woods, Marmoleum, tile), carpeting and area rugs, window coverings, custom drapes and blinds, countertops, and interior decorating
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: This store is bursting with amazing colors and textures. The variety of materials and styles make it a fun place to visit, whether you’re in the market for a specific item or just feel like window shopping.
Benson’s owner, Teri Wilkinson, clearly knows her business. She just celebrated her 25th year with the store, and when she says her employees are experienced, she means it. Their “newest” sales associate has worked there for 14 years. Yet the store constantly offers trainings to their employees so they can stay up-to-date with the latest products. Combine this expertise and excellent customer service with a wide selection of high quality products, and it’s no wonder that Benson’s Interiors continues to thrive after 67 years in downtown Corvallis.
Teri, when and why did you buy your business? The business first opened on 2nd street in 1946 by a partnership of the Benson and Jensen brothers. They sold paint and floor covering, primarily carpet. Eventually the Benson brothers became the sole owners of the business and changed the name to Benson’s. Through the years, the business name has changed to Benson’s Floor Covering and Decorating Center, then to the current name of Benson’s Interiors. I started working at Benson’s 25 years ago, in 1988. The Benson family owned the business until 1992. Since the Benson’s name was known and respected in our community, the new owners kept the name. As the store manager, I was involved when we moved to our current location in 2002. It was a big undertaking and included a big remodel. Two years ago my daughter, Nicole Gregg, and I teamed up to buy the business. Nicole is an investment partner, while I am hands on, using my experience and expertise in the store.
Tell us about your products. Which are your favorites? We’re able to offer a large selection of the latest styles and samples because we’re part of a buying group (Abbey Carpet & Floor) that includes more than 700 stores. Being part of this group allows us to pick and choose from what the head office has selected. They do all the research and pre-selection of quality products.They do the pricing negotiations for all the stores, which gives us great buying power to keep our prices low. And they provide our website and help us with advertising. Again, we get to pick and choose what works for us. It gives us a lot of flexibility, and we have great opportunities for networking with others in our industry. I feel the benefits of the buying group make us very strong.
In terms of favorites, I love getting area rugs in. It’s like Christmas when they arrive! We’ve recently changed how we display area rugs; we now have a rack that holds many small samples available to order with quick shipping. It’s fun to see the patterns and colors.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? It’s exciting to be part of a great community and to be one of the local downtown businesses.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? Our biggest challenge is space. We offer an ever-growing product line, and many of our products are big and take up a lot of space. We have one on-site warehouse and one off-site warehouse. We’re constantly maneuvering warehouse racks to accommodate incoming shipments. For example, we’re doing all the floors and window blinds at the new Beaver Store, so we’ve had to make room to store all of the materials.
What is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for the local independents? The thing I really like about Corvallis is that the residents are very loyal. In spite of the recent economic downturn, we’re surviving and thriving. The support we get from other businesses and the support we give back to them have shown how important it is to “buy local.” As for the future, we can only get stronger.
What inspires you about your work? People! The people are what keep us going. When selecting new items to sell, it’s fun to think, “People are going to like this product.” It’s the bottom line of what we do.
What organizations do you support or participate in? For the past four years, I’ve been the Benton County fundraiser for Special Olympics, which is an international organization. There’s a state office, and then each county has its own chapter. I am the fundraising coordinator for the Benton County chapter, as well as for the state. Our big fundraiser is the Polar Plunge. We also do “Tip a Cop” at Applebee’s, which is one night when the police officers come and serve for tips that are donated to Special Olympics. Every fall we sponsor a Bowl-a-thon with the Special Olympics athletes. We have approximately 200 athletes from Benton County. The county chapter pays all expenses for practices, tournaments, and uniforms. My little sister moved here four years ago, and she’s a Special Olympian. I started out as a spectator and donor, and then I volunteered to help. Before I knew it, I was the Benton County fundraising coordinator!
In terms of business organizations, we’re members of CIBA, the Chamber, the DCA, and Business Connections, which is businesses referring other businesses.
What has your business done in terms of sustainability? We carry a lot of sustainable products, not only wood floor coverings and carpeting, but eco friendly adhesives. The carpet manufacturers are doing great things, both in terms of what the carpets are made of and how they’re being recycled. Inside the store, we’ve replaced our lighting so it’s energy efficient, and we reduce waste whenever we can.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. We’ve been here since 1946, and we’ll continue to be here—evolving, changing, and carrying on the tradition.
(Interview and article June 2, 2013)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).