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Bouncing Back

Fleming returns to the Memphis furniture market.

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The smile is the same, the rotund waistline is the same, the store is the same ... almost. It's as if Jim Fleming never left the furniture business after a 2001 bankruptcy closed his once-thriving company of eight stores. Just like a firm mattress, Fleming has bounced back in business with the help of friends and family.

In August, Fleming reopened one of his former Fleming Fine Furniture stores in the Perimeter Mall on Summer Avenue. Operating as Fleming Furniture Direct, the new venture is funded by the partnership DavCor LLC -- Fleming's friend Rick Davis along with an unidentified family member. According to the furniture veteran, financing offered by other backers was unnecessary, because he was able to open the store on a "shoestring." The project was also assisted by the location's landlord, Belz Enterprises.

"I had been traveling the road for about a year as a national sales manager for a bedroom line and got a call offering to help put me back in business," said Fleming. "Things just fell into place." The vacant store was still there with the fixtures in place, and, according to Fleming, "We really didn't have to do a lot of remodeling. It was the grace of God that this worked."

Whether grace or financial assistance, the store opened with Fleming as general manager, along with a staff of fewer than 10. Fleming previously employed as many as 220 workers, including 80 warehouse personnel. The new store operates as a "furniture direct" location, displaying individual factory samples for immediate sale, instead of stocking items in a company-owned warehouse. The change has eliminated almost 30 percent of overhead costs.

Another change is the store's television commercials, which helped make the Fleming family a household name. Since the opening, commercials have only aired on one local station. When customer response from that advertising campaign overwhelmed the small staff, plans for additional segments on other stations were delayed.

The company's financial situation is better than before, said Fleming. But returning to the market was not without its difficulties. Although the Fleming Fine Furniture company was dissolved after the bankruptcy, the reputation as a failed business remained.

"Some furniture companies were leery about dealing with us, and we understood that," said Fleming. "But after years of being in business, we had others that were glad to do business with us."

Since the bankruptcy, Fleming's son and former business partner, Chris, has left the business for a mortgage company in Florida. Fleming's wife has also returned to her previous employment in the medical industry.

The smaller furniture company has been a revival of sorts for Fleming, who always prided himself on customer service and satisfaction.

"I really like greeting the customers as they come through the door, something I wasn't able to do with eight locations," he said. "I'm here almost every day, but I enjoy it and wouldn't think of doing anything else." •

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