LaVerne McKenzie said the best part of owning and operating a furniture store for 50 years is the relationships built with people and families in the community.
“Kershaw County is our home and has been real good to us,” McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Furniture in Lugoff, said. “I hope people feel we’ve been real good to them.”
Founded in 1965, McKenzie Furniture is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Owned by McKenzie and his wife, Marianne, the business started from McKenzie’s father’s garage. McKenzie recalled how his father, Eddie, was the top salesman for the eight McDuffie Newman Furniture stores in South Carolina.
“My father was the top salesman out of all of those stores. In 1965, he figured he would try for himself so he and my mother started McKenzie Furniture,” McKenzie said.
He also said his father traveled extensively to sell his furniture.
“Back then, my father would travel throughout the country and sell furniture off of his truck. People didn’t have a lot of cars back then so that’s the way a lot of the business was done,” he said.
As the business grew, it moved out of the garage and into a warehouse in Camden’s Dusty Bend. McKenzie said he didn’t plan to join his family’s business right away. He graduated from the University of South Carolina (USC) in 1974 with a degree in Business Administration.
“For about a year, I worked selling men’s clothing in a store in downtown Columbia,” McKenzie said. “I wanted to be in the clothing business, but I came back home and went into business with my father. I traveled on the truck with him, and I did the book work.”
About three years after graduating from USC and working with his father, McKenzie suggested building a storefront onto the warehouse.
“I told my father, ‘You know, if we build a storefront on the front of that warehouse, I think we could get a store business going.’ So, we did that and later on added another warehouse behind it. They called us the biggest little furniture store in Kershaw County. I had a dream of building a bigger store, which we are in right now,” he said.
McKenzie said he wanted to “test the waters” before committing to building the larger store, so he rented out Roses in Dusty Bend. After experiencing an increase in sales, he moved forward with his plan.
“We started building probably about six months after we moved into the Roses store. We opened this store in 1997, and it was like a dream come true,” he said.
Though his parents passed away before the current store location was completed, McKenzie credits them with teaching him a good work ethic.
“My father passed in 1984 and my mother (Leila) in 1986,” he said. “What I learned from my father and my mother were good Christian values. I learned to treat people the way I want to be treated and I learned to work hard. So with the blessings of God, working hard and doing the right thing, that’s how we got to this point. I was blessed with a wonderful father and mother.”
He and his wife run the business together.
“She’s got a beautiful personality, she’s got a God given talent to decorate and put colors together … we do everything together,” McKenzie said.
In addition to the McKenzies, the store includes part-time employees who help with transporting furniture. McKenzie said the employees are like family.
“I have some part time fellas who help me. Barton Furman came to work for me when he was in high school. He’s been with me for 32 years,” McKenzie said.
Chris Radcliff, Rod Green and Harvey Shropshire have worked with McKenzie furniture for 16, 12 and 12 years, respectively.
In addition, McKenzie’s sons, Matt, Len and Brian, have also helped with the business even though they have decided to pursue different career goals. McKenzie said they started helping in high school.
“My youngest son still comes in to help … I want them to pursue their dreams; this is what I do and what I enjoy.” He said.
McKenzie said the biggest challenge was the economic recession of 2008.
“2009 was the first time I saw a downturn,” he said. “A lot of my friends in this business in South Carolina have gone out of business … I am very thankful and feel very blessed we are still here.”
In the end, McKenzie said he sort of ended up in the fashion industry after all.
“Furniture is kind of a fashion industry. We help people make their home more beautiful and more comfortable and I just enjoy doing that. It feels good to be successful at something. The best part of success is dealing with the people in this community,” he said.