By Nathan Mueller
SOUTHFIELD – The Gorman’s business has come a long way from its start as a railroad salvage resale shop that sold damaged canned goods.
It was 1940 when Ben Gorman started buying those dented cans, removing the labels and selling them 10 for a dollar.
However, everything changed for Gorman when one of the salvage buys included damaged furniture and and he was able to resell it for $40.
“He said, ‘wow that is a lot of cans at 10 cents a can. I think next time I get the chance I’ll buy other things like that,'” recalled Tom Lias, now president of Gorman’s Home Furnishings.
Gorman ran the business successfully for 25 years, and earned a reputation as one of the premiere places to buy furniture in metro Detroit.
In 1965, Bernie Moray bought the company from Gorman and turned it into an exclusive furniture store with design services.
His first location was in Southfield at 12 Mile Road and Telegraph, which according to Lias was “literally in the country.”
“People said you are nuts going out there,” Lias said, noting that across the street where the car dealers are now was a rundown golf course.
But Moray knew he had to stand out to have success, and 50 years later that contemporary Southfield location remains one of the nation’s best.
“You don’t get to 75 years old by doing the same old thing,” Lias said. “You get there by constantly being the style and fashion leader, but also being innovative and changing almost constantly by today’s standards.”
Moray, who is slated to celebrate his 94th birthday this year, still works every day in the store alongside co-owners Lias, Jeff Roberts and John Moray. They also run stores in Novi, Troy and Grand Rapids.
“We’ve never settled for good enough,” Bernie Moray said in a statement. “For 75 years, the Gorman’s name has been built on our insistence that every purchase must meet or exceed customer expectations, and we will do whatever it takes to make it so.”
Lias said the key to their success starts with the employees, many of whom have been with the company 15 to 35 years, and a dedication to providing the very best for the customer.
Gorman’s features home furnishings from 100 brands at a variety of price points. Art Van Furniture and Gardner White are the company’s obvious competition, but Lias doesn’t view them that way.
“We don’t compete with them by trying to compete directly,” he said. “We compete by doing what we do best… 20 years ago we decided to stop thinking of ourselves as a high-end store and focused on becoming Michigan’s style leader.”
Lias, 68, has been in the furniture business 45 years, including the last 30 years with Gorman’s, and said he is still having the “absolute time of my life.”
“It has never been harder and because of that it has never been more rewarding,” he said. “To be as respected today in the industry as Gorman’s is that is the most gratifying.”
A 75th and 50th anniversary celebration is planned for April at the Southfield store. For more information, visit www.Gormans.com.