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Adapting to Changing Markets

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By Andrew Rudansky

Over the past 30 years Fishers Home Furnishings has gone through many changes, adapting many times to the changing market. This adaptation has allowed Fishers to remain one of the oldest and most successful remaining family-owned businesses in Sag Harbor.

“Things have really changed a lot around here,” said store co-owner Joel Fisher, “It would look like a different store if you were to look at this place 20 years ago.”

The business was founded in the early 1980‘s by Robert and Susan Fisher, Joel’s parents. The original business was Robert Fisher making and selling handcrafted furniture out of a converted artist studio in his backyard on Glover Street. Things started out small, with Robert Fisher doing all of the manual labor himself and most of the business being done through referrals around the neighborhood.

“It was a one man operation,” said Joel, who now owns and runs the business. “He had a real love for the furniture and the craft aspect of that, and he sort of moved into the retail.”

Eventually Robert bought his first retail space on Main Street in Sag Harbor. Soon after, in 1990, he moved the business once again to its current home at 144 Main Street. Over this span of time the store turned away from selling the hand crafted furniture and dealt mostly in antiques.
Joel said his parents would travel around the country and across the Atlantic to find furniture to stock their showrooms, specializing in European country pine antiques.

Robert, now retired, has slowly turned over most of the duties to his son in the past few years. Today the business no longer deals in antiques, having sold the last of them only a short time ago.

Instead Fishers Home Furnishings deals with a mixture of newly fabricated goods and repurposed furniture.

“There was the antiques, but then that market kind of dried up and the demand started moving towards more reproductions,” said Joel who added that the change in tastes, competition and the local demographics made changing the store’s inventory an imperative.

“When [Robert Fisher] started the business there were only a few furniture businesses out here, there might have been, on the whole South Fork, maybe 20,” said Joel, “and now there are probably 20 in Sag Harbor alone.”

In order to survive in a crowded market, Fishers had to change its business model, switching away from antiques and towards other sources of revenue.

In addition to being part owner Joel is also the shop manager, creating much of the furniture made for the store. Fishers has its own in-house workshop in the basement of their retail space, allowing the business to create its own furniture to order. Much like his father did 30 years ago,

Joel is carrying on the tradition of hand crafted furniture at Fishers.

In the shop, Joel and his staff can offer unique furniture, special one-off orders, and antique restoration.

“We can differentiate ourselves from everybody else by still offering all of that in-house stuff,” said Joel. “It’s the fun aspect of the business, to work with costumers.”

Many of the unique pieces Fishers makes are crafted from reclaimed material such as wood from barns and old doors. He says that these repurposed products in his store have become popular as of late because of the unique character of each individual piece.

“It is nice to reuse the material instead of it ending up in a landfill, and it has a particular characteristic that you can’t find elsewhere,” he said.

The store also specializes in upholstery, selling the fabric in store and contracting out the upholstering for custom projects. Joel said he has the ability to take any custom plan from a customer and deliver a finished quality product in a matter of weeks.

It is these custom pieces and upholstery work, along with furniture repair, that now makes up a significant portion of Fishers’ business according to Joel.

While the store has seen many changes in its inventory and business model, some things stay the same for Fishers.

“We have had a lot of long time employees, we have employees that have been here on average 15 years,” said Joel, “and we definitely have costumers who come back to us for years.”

This month, Fishers will be holding its annual “Spring Sale,” where everything in the store is 20 to 60 percent off.

Additionally, upholstery orders are 20 percent off and custom orders from the workshop are 10 percent off.

Joel said he doesn’t see the store going anywhere anytime soon, but he is aware that a change to the store’s business model and inventory could once again be necessary.

“I would be surprised if we didn’t change again,” he said.