Mitten’s Furniture, Appliance and Electronics offers many products that ultimately add comfort to everyday life, but its owners are the last ones to get too comfortable with “doing things they always have,” which surely has contributed to now being in the store’s 80th successful year in business.
Mitten’s started as Mitten’s Home Appliance, established in September 1938 by Clarence W. “C.W.” Mitten, selling wood stoves out of his living room.
Clarence W. Mitten Jr. propelled the company forward upon joining it as a partner when he returned from World War II in 1944. At this time, the store was located in 1,500 square feet in the back of Karau’s grocery store but moved to the former Leath Furniture store across the street in 1965, offering a total of 10,000 square feet.
Clarence W. “Bill” Mitten III returned from the Army to work in the family business in 1972, and in 1978, he, Wayne Radlinger and Chuck Kaufman became owners of Mitten’s. They moved into the store’s current, 40,000-square-foot location in 1989, at which time they added furniture to the store’s offerings.
While he had worked in the family business doing deliveries and warehouse upkeep such since 1997, it wasn’t until 2005 that Clarence W. “C.W.” Mitten IV returned to Marshfield to join the family business full time in a sales capacity. He took on joint ownership with three other partners in 2005 when the former owners retired, and Mitten has been serving as president ever since. Each of the four owners has his area of expertise, complementing each other and having a hands-on role in the day-to-day business.
Today, about half the business is in white goods (appliances) and the other half is in furniture. Electronics used to be a strong piece of the business, but that has eroded during the past 20 years with the introduction of more electronics at places such as Walmart, other chain stores and online shopping. Furniture helped to bolster the business, and in the past two to three years, that’s included outdoor furniture including Amish-made outdoor furniture.
“It’s great because each has its strong times of year,” Mitten said. “In the summertime, furniture slows down a bit because people are spending more time outdoors. It’s great because when one category ‘downshifts’ seasonally, something else picks up.”
In the past five to six years, the business has added Speed Queen washers and dryers to its appliance repertoire, and those outsell the other 22 to 24 pair of washers and dryers in the store combined. Technology has evolved significantly in the appliance category. Today, there are wi-fi compatible microwaves and a lot of furniture with power reclining technology.
“About five years ago, we bought into power and had to upgrade our floor to put in new electronical outlets in different places,” Mitten said. “Forty percent of sofas and sixty percent of recliners come with power now; it’s come on very, very fast.”
Keeping up with trends is something Mitten and his co-owners look to manufacturers to keep them abreast of. Today, that includes stainless steel appliances and slate gray furniture, but the choices are many. A La-Z-Boy sofa, for example, can offer up to 1,400 fabric options.
What hasn’t changed is the store’s focus on customer service and the slate of consistent faces customers see when they enter the store. Employee longevity is a key differentiator, and with that comes an unparalleled knowledge base that benefits customers both during and after the sale. Mitten’s is the last furniture store in the area that services what it sells.
“Customers understand that if they have a problem, even two, three, four or five years down the road, they can call the store and we have one serviceperson with 35 years experience and another with 30 years of experience at their disposal,” Mitten said.
The staff either diagnoses problems over the phone and can rush-order parts to be sent directly to the customer or can send someone directly to their home from the store.
“They don’t have the two-week lag you get when you have to call a 1-800 number,” he said. “We can get parts overnighted and fix it promptly — if not the same day but next day. That’s a huge advantage.”
The store also offers free delivery and set-up on anything $999 or more when delivered within 40 to 50 miles. On a day-to-day basis, they draw customers from Wisconsin Rapids, Medford and other communities within a 40-mile radius. It also draws clientele from Superior, Minocqua and even Eau Claire. Mitten attributes that to being open seven days a week, being located in the heart of a really nice downtown and having traffic from the patients in town who visit the Marshfield Clinic. He says the store’s website is also instrumental because it contains a lot of information that could never be placed in a newspaper or buyer’s guide ad.
“It allows the customer to browse at their leisure and get to know what we have before ever walking into the store,” he said. That said, he is also cognizant that today’s customer base requires diversified advertising to reach different generations — print, TV, radio and a presence on Facebook.
Mitten is proud that after 80 years in business, the store is going strong. His dad, who has been retired for about four years, continues to come into the office each day for about a half hour, checking in, reading the paper and getting the mail.
“I’m proud he was able to put the store in our hands and to let it go and be happy with the direction we’re going,” he said. “The future of our business is exciting. I’m so proud that we’re going strong 80 years in and counting.”