Handed down through the generations
Family-run Steinhafels continues to grow

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

Nov. 26, 2014

 Andrew Steinhafel, left, and his father, Mark Steinhafel in the company's flagship store in the City of Pewaukee Tuesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

CITY OF PEWAUKEE - Just like a quality piece of furniture is handed down through the generations, the growing Steinhafels business has transferred from the hands of the original owner, John Emil Steinhafel, to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It was the original Steinhafel’s belief that the children should want to become part of the family business. And while in 2014 there are six members of the family who have roles in the business, first they must follow two rules: go to college in another state where they don’t know your name and have prior work experience before joining the company.

Recently, the fourth generation of Steinhafels took on a new, modern role. After going to school in Boston, Andrew Steinhafel was approached about joining the business as the information technology director after he was married to his wife, who is also from Milwaukee.

His father and Steinhafels’ chief operating officer, Mark, felt it was a great role for his son. Other family members include Gary Steinhafel, president of Steinhafels, and and Ellen Steinhafel-Lappe, chief financial officer.

 

The beginning

The furniture store was opened at 3565 N. Teutonia Ave. in Milwaukee in 1934 by Arthur Mueller and John E. Steinhafel and was called Mueller-Steinhafel. When Mueller died in the early 1940s, Steinhafel bought Mueller’s share of the business from his widow. In 1959, Steinhafels built a 40,000-square-foot store on 84th Street and Capitol Drive, according to the company’s website. John’s five children, Elaine, Jim, Bill, Mary and John, became equal partners, which Mark Steinhafel noted was exceptional for the time.

The original furniture called Mueller-Steinhafel was opened in 1934 at
3565 N. Teutonia Ave. in Milwaukee. 

Submitted photo

Later the business transferred to the third generation, including Ellen, Gary, Mark, Steve and Tom. Andrew became the fourth generation and it’s not known if a fifth generation will eventually take over the business because no one has been born into that generation yet.

 

A commitment to employees, customers

Mark Steinhafel said Steinhafels’ employees have remain committed to the company even during the Great Recession and a hiring and pay freeze that resulted from the economic downturn. Now that the economy is strengthening, Steinhafels wants to show its appreciation to its employees by implementing pay raises to a level they would be at if the recession never happened, Andrew Steinhafel said.

Founder John Steinhafel’s five children, Elaine, Jim, Bill, Mary and John, pictured, became equal partners in the business and ran it until the third generation took over. 
Submitted photo

He said that many employees have a long tenure with the furniture company. While the company is known as a family-owned business, it is also run very professionally, which surprises some people, Mark Steinhafel said.

In addition, the company has built a strong brand in the region that is respected for its quality and customer service.

As the company grows, Andrew Steinhafel said it strives to provide a “retail environment that the modern consumer has come to expect.”

 

Growth

Steinhafels has diversified its offerings, which in turn have expanded its footprint. There are 18 Steinhafels locations in Wisconsin and Illinois with nine of them full-line locations and nine of them mattress-only.

Three former American stores were bought by the Steinhafels after they closed, including the locations in Appleton, Oak Creek and Madison East. The Appleton location will open Black Friday and Oak Creek will be open by spring, while Madison East likely won’t open for another year-and-a-half, Andrew Steinhafel said.

The company wants to continue to grow, he said, but at a reasonable pace so as not to cause undue risk.

“The growth is very conservative and measured,” Andrew Steinhafel said.

When Steinhafels decided to produce its own brand of mattresses, it bought an existing company and has grown it into a part of the business that generates millions of dollars in volume, Mark Steinhafel said. The mattresses are not only available in-store, but are sold commercially to universities and hotels, as well as to other non-competing retailers.

Steinhafels.com has also undergone a transformation under Andrew Steinhafel’s leadership and is now functions as an e-commerce site.

www.steinhafels.com