It is no secret that I am passionate about women's empowerment and women in leadership positions. As women's history month ended in March, a new series emerged here at The Honest Mama blog. Each week throughout April and May, Female Feature Fridays will spotlight local female entrepreneurs in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities.
Meet Ellen Hook, a fifth generation furniture store owner who is passionate about uplifting employees and providing the best customer experience.
Name: Ellen Hook
Business Name: Ashley HomeStore
Tell us about yourself!
I am a mama of 2 and wife to a fellow volleyball player/coach. Together we run Standard High Volleyball - a local club to Champaign/Urbana. I am the 5th generation of my family furniture business which dates back to 1872. I am so proud to be the first female to take over the business. I have two sisters and am the one in the middle. I love making smoothies, the mountains, the beach, organic everything, and I give credit for everything I do to the Lord above!
When did you open the business? 5 generations back to 1872
What is it like working so closely and building a business with family members? My younger years were harder than they are now. I thought I knew more than what I did and my dad/mom weren’t ready to let me take the reigns until I knew what they knew. But now we have our roles figured out and I’ve “earned my stripes” as my dad would say. My sisters had a short time in the business years ago and learned they didn’t love it as much as I do.
Did you always know you wanted to follow in the family footsteps and work in the furniture business?
No, I was motivated to move far away from home, and I did. First to New York, then to STL, then to California. I moved home to help open our 2nd store and never left!
Coming from several generations of furniture store owners, what are some differences in your personal leadership and vision for the direction of business? Are there also similarities to previous generations? My dad and I have always believe if you’re not growing and challenging yourself, you're dying. Our visions aren’t all that different, really! It’s been nice having a balance of my generation, his generation and what is important to do to keep our business relevant, purposeful, and profitable.
How has Ashley Homestore of Central Illinois evolved since it first opened? Well, we used to be a mom and pop shop that ran multiple lines of furniture- called Bruegge and Company in Breese and Highland Illinois. My mom did Interior Design- which she has a degree in- and she used to install draperies and we sold carpet/flooring. We had two locations. We also had 2 funeral homes! In 2009 my dad saw the business changing and Ashley taking the lead in the industry and we were chosen to open our first Ashley HomeStore in Champaign. Then, Peoria, then our warehouse in Normal, then our Bloomington store, then East Peoria. In between there we began online retailing.
Describe what a typical day in the life of a furniture store owner looks like: 5:30am- truck start loading for deliveries, receiving trucks, and starting technician calls. Stores open at 10am. I start every day with a virtual morning huddle with our management team and then a 9:45am a virtual huddle with the entire company. Then, marketing, human resources meetings. Helping customers as much as I can. Finance and operations in the afternoon. Lots of meetings and sheets but most importantly, helping my team to succeed in what they do.
What motivates you to continue doing what you do? I love this business. I love the challenges it brings. Days are never ever the same. Retail is a ride and when you focus on customers and employees it’s a very fulfilling experience.
What are the biggest challenges you face within your industry? Right now, we are working hard to get customers their orders. It’s starting to get better industry wide. We want to get back to our 2 week quote times like before covid, or sooner.
How do you balance “mom life” with two young children and running a business? I never walk in the door, on the phone- which is much harder than you think. I play with them in the morning before I get to work and I try to have them help me cook dinner. I have to say having organization and most importantly having a team that operates well when I am not there and of course my husband pitching in is my saving grace.
You can find Ashley Homestore of Central Illinois on Instagram @ilhomestores.