MICHIGAN CITY — When it comes to restoring, repairing and refinishing furniture, customers can rest assured they are getting “the works” at Furniture Werks, 4980 W. U.S. Hwy. 20.
As far back as 1939, the Butcher family has been providing quality and dependable services for customers throughout Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
Furniture Werks Owner/Manager Lou Butcher explained how his father, also named Lou Butcher, fell into the business in 1939 and kept busy throughout the years with his Butcher Furniture Service located on Chicago’s south side.
“In the 50s and 60s, people bought furniture, at an average price, that was significantly made better than furniture today. People expected to refinish and reupholster their purchases,” Butcher explained.
While in high school, Butcher learned about the business first-hand as he worked for his father.
“When I got my driver’s license, I was a gopher and a delivery person,” he remembered.
Wanting to experience life farther away from his Chicago home, Butcher attended Tarkio College, a small liberal arts school in Tarkio, Missouri. Majoring in English and minoring in business, he spent five years substitute teaching and teaching English and shop. Butcher also sold insurance, and worked in factory management, even employed at Kingsly Furniture Company, a furniture manufacturer in La Porte for a time. While a teacher, he supplemented his income by spending more time in the family business.
In the 1970s, Butcher decided to return to what he knew best and try his own hand at the family furniture business. He sent a letter to all of his father’s former customers, as his father had closed his business by then, and placed a small ad.
“Dad was a pack rat. He kept a lot. I still have a lot of his tools,” he commented.
Butcher opened his shop in 1977 in a small building on Plum Street. After two expansions in this building, he then moved in 1988 to the front of the building occupied (then and now) by DeVrie Tire Company on Michigan Blvd.
Ten years later, Furniture Werks moved to its current location, increasing the shop’s square footage from 4,000 to 7,000.
“I really like the location. At my two previous locations, I would always have to give the customers directions. The exposure and walk-in traffic is significantly better now,” Butcher shared, adding that he’s gained business from travelers to Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, Blue Chip Casino and the beach area.
“A few years after moving here we started getting recognized by the public as a go-to place … it’s pretty much accepted that if we say we’ll do it, we will.”
Butcher recalled the early days of his business when he would walk through the furniture showrooms of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
“I wanted to see what they were doing,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that the work I was putting out would be equal to that. I couldn’t see underneath, but I could see on the surface.”
Butcher’s dedication to a high level of customer service, attention to detail and quality of work was as evident in the early days of his business as it is today.
“I didn’t want to be known as a shop for price only because everybody undercuts you or goes cheaper,” he said. “I wanted to be known as a shop that did good work. I have noticed over the years that contemporaries in this business have come and gone, and their primary selling point was low price. I guess you can draw your own conclusion from that.”
In the mid 1980s, Butcher noticed an ad in The News-Dispatch for a two-year master’s in business administration program at Notre Dame University. He applied and was accepted, graduating with his MBA in 1988. Noting the number of students from large corporations in his classes, Butcher deduced that the administration must have been also searching for a “different flavor and perspective” from a small business owner like himself.
“I learned a lot of the things that I did by intuition were the right way to do things. I was on the right track.”
Today, Furniture Werks draws customers from the Chicagoland Area, Northwest Indiana and Michigan. The shop offers a full range of furniture services including furniture repair and refinishing, family and heirloom furniture repair and restoration, antique furniture restoration, commercial services, and custom furniture repair and refinishing.
“It’s very gratifying to have customers come back who have inherited furniture 30-40 years ago that I did work on and they say, ‘Let’s do this again,’” Butcher said.
In his many years of business Butcher has seen many industry changes.
“Before the bulk (of his work) was, ‘I have something good – let’s keep it lasting.’ Now a lot of work is sentimental,” he said. “These are good pieces, constructed well enough to take a restoration … well-made furniture doesn’t deteriorate like your computers, stoves or TVs because there are no moving parts to wear out.”
In the last five or ten years he’s seen an increase in customer’s bringing in their chair and sofa cushions to be re-filled.
“They wear out their foam or they need something firmer because when they sit down they can’t get up,” Butcher said.
Customers are welcome to take home samples of cushions filled with different firmness levels of premium foam so “they will know what they are getting and what it feels like.”
Butcher said he uses a catalyzed lacquer finish for carefree durable wood protection without a plastic look. Customers are also welcome to borrow a treated wood table leaf piece and test its durability at home.
“People are buying expensive outdoor furniture and they need new slings, straps and new support systems,” he also noted about today’s customer.
In their showroom, Furniture Werks offers over 15,000 fabric selections from Greenhouse and Merchandise Mart designers Robert Allen, Kravet and Duralee.
Sometimes customers will ask what the current fabric trends are, but for the most part “my customers aren’t interested because when you do something like this it lasts longer than the trend,” Butcher explained.
Furniture Werks regularly participates as an exhibitor in the Porter County Fair, Porter County Home & Lifestyle Show at the Porter County Expo Center and the Builders Association Home & Lifestyle Expo at Blue Chip Casino.
Over the years, Butcher has been involved with the Michigan City Lions Club, Michigan City High School Athletic Booster Club and Orak Shriners Motor Patrol. An active member and previous deacon of the First Presbyterian Church, he helped begin the Samaritan Counseling Center. He previously held a board position on the American Society of Interior Designers. Butcher is currently on the board of directors for the small community of Shoreland Beach, where he resides.
He and his wife, Jan, a retired nurse, have been married 41 years; they have seven children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Their grandson, Matt Brown, has been working with his grandfather at Furniture Werks the past two years; he is one of four employees in addition to Butcher.
For more information on Furniture Werks go to www.furniturewerks.com or look up “Furniture Werks” on Facebook. Hours of operation for Furniture Werks are: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday. The shop may be reached at (219) 872-1700 or Toll Free: (800) 367-5676.