The Untold Truth Of Ashley Furniture

Considering Ashley Furniture has more than 20,000 locations throughout the world — and over 1,000 retail locations, as well — it's no wonder they're one of the first corporations that come to our mind when we think about furniture companies. For those who might not be aware, though, the history of Ashley Furniture actually dates back to the 1940s, when the well-known brand began as a small sales agency. Through the years, it's gone through multiple changes — from mergers to total overhauls in product manufacturing.

From 1945 to now, uncover all the untold truths that have helped Ashley Furniture become the industry giant it is today. Whether you love the brand and want to learn how it became so successful, or hope to learn how to direct your own business in the same way the founder of Ashley Furniture did so many years ago, these historical moments and facts will give you all the insight you could ever need.

Ashley Furniture has been around since the 1940s

The Ashley Furniture Corporation has existed since the 1940s — per Ashley Homestore — though it wasn't originally the huge furniture chain we know (and shop) today. In 1945, a man named Carlyle Weinberger founded the origins of Ashley Furniture; he called it Ashley Furniture Corporation, and headquartered the operations in Chicago, Illinois. Unlike the Ashley Furniture and Ashley Furniture HomeStores that exist now, this company wasn't producing hundreds of different types of furniture and selling them directly to consumers. Rather, according to Business of Home, Weinberger and his team merely served as a sales agency.

While other companies around the United States were actually building furniture, the Ashley Furniture Corporation that existed between 1945 and the 1970s was only one side of the operation: the side that actually sold these products to different consumers. So, yes, the Ashley Furniture Corporation has been operating since 1945 — but at that time, it was almost a completely different kind of company.

Ashley Furniture was originally two different companies

Fast forward from the 1940s origins of Ashley Furniture, and we'll find ourselves in the year 1970. Arcadia Furniture — located in Arcadia, Wisconsin — had just hired a new general manager: Ronald (Ron) Wanek. According to Ashley Furniture history, this particular furniture company sold their products through Ashley Furniture Corporation. And — if you'll remember from earlier — at this specific time, Ashley Furniture Corporation didn't make their own furniture. Rather, they're the ones who sold the furniture that other companies (in this case, Arcadia Furniture) were building.

Through the 1970s, Arcadia Furniture and Ashley Furniture Corporation worked together, even expanding what types of furniture they were offering consumers and creating their own collection of transportation, in order to get products where they needed to go. It wasn't until 1982, though, that Wanek realized there was competition heating up in the furniture industry, and the two companies became one: Ashley Furniture Industries.

They didn't always sell all kinds of furniture

Before Arcadia Furniture and Ashley Furniture Corporation officially merged into one company, there were very few types of furniture actually getting produced. In fact, as noted by Business of Home, Arcadia Furniture only crafted tables and cabinets at the time. Specifically, the companies were making occasional tables — small tables that don't have a specific use, and can be brought out in a home whenever needed.

In the mid-1970s, however, the businesses were faced with a change in their business model. Per an interview with members of the Ashley Furniture staff — including Ron Wanek, the founder of the company himself — Wanek had to decide whether to continue producing occasional tables (which were on their way out) and hope that maybe the business survived or change what the companies were making altogether. He decided on the latter, and this is when Ashley Furniture began producing bedroom furniture.

Ashley Furniture used a similar business model to Walmart

By the 1970s — per the brand's historical timeline — Walmart had already become a publicly traded company, just eight years after the first store had opened. That, and the fact that the corporation brought in $78 million during that time, makes it clear why Ashley Furniture decided to go for a similar business and production model to Walmart. The corporation adjusted their organization, management, and supply network to something that resembled Walmart's at the time — which, as noted by Business of Home, wasn't something that other furniture companies were doing at the time.

Clearly this business model paid off, because by the year 2005, Ashley Furniture became one of the most prominent furniture makers in the United States. Then, in 2007, the company rose to the top of the retailer game, becoming the biggest furniture (and mattress, as they had also added by this point) sellers in the country — rising above Walmart and all other competitors.

Ashley Furniture is headquartered in Wisconsin

Although Ashley Furniture Corporation has its origins in Illinois, the headquarters of Ashley Furniture doesn't exist in that location. Rather, the corporation works out of Arcadia, Wisconsin — the original location of Arcadia Furniture. This didn't occur until the merger of Arcadia Furniture and Ashley Furniture Corporation in 1982, though. Until that point, the business was headquartered officially in Chicago.

And though tAshley Furniture was officially placed in Arcadia, they didn't always have a huge warehouse in which to store the new products they were making. After changing their business model to include different types of furniture — rather than just occasional tables and cabinets — there was a much quicker turnaround. Of course, these products had to go somewhere. So, according to Ron Wanek himself in a video interview, the founder "built eight railroad car spurs. We immediately manufactured the goods, put it in waiting cars and trucks, rotated it, and it was magic." This process allowed Ashley Furniture to turn out products and get them to consumers and retailers much faster.

Ashley Furniture is the largest furniture retailer in the U.S.

Per Business of Home, the size of Ashley Furniture can be attributed to a few different things. The first is that while many retailers sell a lot of furniture, they aren't actually making it. Ashley Furniture both manufactures and sells all of its furniture — so they have control over all aspects of production. Not to mention, this includes a lot of profit on both ends. Perhaps it helps that Ashley Furniture really began as a manufacturing company after the merger of 1982 — and while they were selling their furniture, it wasn't directly to customers in a retail store.

Another reason that Ashley Furniture grew so quickly is the fact that by 1984, they were already having certain products made in Asia — unlike many competitors, who kept their manufacturing in the United States. By the time the company opened their first retail storefront — Ashley HomeStore — in 1997, they were already leagues ahead of other furniture manufacturers. Ashley Furniture officially became the largest furniture retailer in the United States in 2007, after already being awarded the title of biggest furniture manufacturers in 2005.

The ownership has stayed in the Wanek family

Beginning in 1979, there were two Wanek family members who worked at Ashley Furniture: Ron Wanek (the founder of the company) and his son, Todd Wanek. Per the Ashley Furniture historical timeline, Todd stayed at the headquarters in Wisconsin for 10 years, until traveling overseas to manage Ashley Furniture Industries Taiwan after college. According to Forbes, he made his way back stateside in 1994. And by 1996, Todd had become the President and Chief Operations Officer of Ashley Furniture Industries.

Only six years later, Todd took his father's place as CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries — while Ron became chairman of the company's board. Todd continues to serve as the CEO at the time this article was written, and has helped lead Ashley Furniture to become the giant retailer and manufacturer it is today. With him as CEO, the company has reached several milestones — including $4 billion from wholesales alone in 2013.

The founder of Ashely Furniture is one of the 400 richest Americans

Original general manager of Arcadia Furniture and founder of Ashley Furniture, Ron Wanek, has consistently remained one of the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes. He's been on and off the list through the years, but as of the 2020 rankings, he remains in the top half of this group. This is primarily due to the fact that Ron's net worth is in the billions. In fact, it hovers around $7.7 billion — even though he hasn't been CEO of Ashley Furniture since the early 2000s.

In addition, Todd Wanek — who is both Ron's son and the CEO of Ashley Furniture since 2002 — has made his way onto the list. Though not quite as large of a net worth as his father's, the amount of money Todd has managed to secure in his time at Ashley Furniture is still significant. Per Forbes, his net worth sits at $4.8 billion. And, at the time this article was written, his position on the list is 299th.

Ashley Furniture has large production facilities in Mississippi

In addition to their headquarters in Arcadia, Wisconsin, Ashley Furniture also has large production plants and facilities in Ecru, Mississippi. In fact, these sites date all the way back to the 1990s. As said by founder of the company, Ron Wanek, in a 2019 interview with the Woodworking Network, "Ashley Furniture has had a presence in Mississippi for 25 years, starting with 129,000 square feet of facility space to begin Ashley's production of upholstery furniture." 

At this time, too, Ashley Furniture had over 3,600 employees working in Ecru alone. "Since [1994], we have expanded our Ecru facility 14 times, creating a 2.4 million-square-foot manufacturing and distribution footprint," Wanek continued. "These expansions are a testament to our regional support, great employees and customers, and Ashley's position in serving a global market." The additions made to the factory in 2019 were, apparently, to help the brand keep up with orders from their e-commerce and online business.

Ashley Furniture has their own non-profit

While many corporations support different charitable organizations, Ashley Furniture actually founded their own in 2010: Hope to Dream. This organization works to give beds to children all around North America. When someone receives a bed from Hope to Dream, they receive not only a twin mattress, but also a bed frame, bedding, and a pillow. The nonprofit's mission is to help children prevent the consequences that can come from a lack of sleep. And, as of the time this article was written, Hope to Dream has donated over 100,000 beds.

These beds are primarily funded through profits stemming from Ashley HomeStores across the United States. In most states, you'll find Ashley HomeStores that participate in Hope to Dream, and donate a portion of their mattress sales to the non-profit. Different locations will donate these beds to children in need — after they have been nominated by someone on the Hope to Dream website.

There are over 1,000 Ashley HomeStores in the U.S.

Although the items produced by the Ashley Furniture Corporation were located all over the world by 1997, it wasn't until this particular year that Ashley HomeStores — the retail stores that sell Ashley Furniture products — existed. Per the Ashley Furniture timeline, the very first Ashley HomeStore was located in Anchorage, Alaska. By the year 2019, the corporation had fully blossomed, and officially launched 1,000 Ashley HomeStores across the country. Each of them (of course) carried furniture manufactured by the corporation started decades prior.

According to Ashley Furniture Industries, these Ashley HomeStores are not actually part of a franchise. Each storefront can be started in a furniture store that already exists — and some business owners can simply add in a few Ashley Furniture pieces into their inventory without actually opening an Ashley HomeStore. This is likely why they list 20,000 total storefronts and 1,050 Ashley HomeStores in the United States at the time this article was written.

There are Ashley HomeStores in 60 countries

In addition to the vast number of locations of Ashley HomeStores that began opening in the 1990s, there have been so many planted overseas, as well. In fact, you can find them in 60 different countries throughout the world. Per Furniture World, there are Ashley HomeStores in places like Thailand, Vietnam, and even New Zealand — three of the brand's more recent locations. You'll also find an Ashley HomeStore in Aichi, Japan, which opened a mere three years after the first U.S. location, in 2000.

If you take a peek into how this all works, too, you'll find (on the Ashley Furniture Industries website) that there are four different manufacturing sites outside of the United States. These are located in Kunshan, China, as well as three different cities within Vietnam: Tan Uyen Town, Binh Duong City, and My Phuoc 3 lp. With overseas production sites, countries other than the U.S. are able to get their products distributed much more quickly — giving Ashley Furniture a leg up when it comes to accessibility.