In 1969, as a high school student, Allen Weisenburger took a job unloading trucks for Minneapolis-based kitchen
and bathroom remodeling firm Home Valu Inc. Back then, the business was called Plywood Minnesota.
He’s worked there ever since, the last 26 years spent in Indianapolis at Home Valu’s local subsidiary, Drexel Interiors. These days, Weisenburger’s son works there, too.
Unfortunately, in October, Home Valu called to share bad news: Due to the recession, the Indianapolis operation would soon be closed.
“They were very distraught,” Weisenburger said. “I’m sure they had tried everything they could to keep everything going, but it just wasn’t going to be in the cards.”
So Weisenburger, the local store manager, decided to take a chance. With the help of two old friends, he bought Drexel Interiors from its struggling parent in a deal thrown together in less than two months. Weisenburger declined to share the purchase price. Now, Drexel Interiors and its 20 employees will attempt to succeed where a nearly 50-year-old company failed.
“We’re excited about being able to keep the business going, keeping the staff on and appreciate the support of all our customers and vendors,” Weisenburger said. “We’re looking forward to 2010. I think the Indianapolis market is going to see somewhat of a comeback this year.”
Located on the city's east side, at 3217 N. Shadeland Ave., Drexel Interiors occupies a 57,000-square-foot building. It boasts a 17,000-square-foot showroom. Most of the remainder is a warehouse with an inventory of carpet, cabinets and other supplies needed for home remodeling. Weisenburger said the operation brings in about $8 million in annual revenue.
That’s substantial for a small business, but it used to be just one outlet of True Valu’s larger corporate chain. According to a Jan. 11 article in the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, Home Valu notified its rank and file about the decision to close its doors on Jan. 8. In a prepared statement, Home Valu CEO Gerry Boschwitz said the tough real estate market and tight bank credit led to the firm’s demise. In 2008, Home Valu had 325 employees, $85 million in annual revenue and nine stores, including locations in Des Moines, Iowa; Milwaukee; and Madison, Wis.
Drexel Interiors’ Indianapolis focus in recent years had been on serving commercial builders during the last decade’s housing boom. Going forward, Weisenburger said, his business plan is to return to Drexel Interiors’ roots, concentrating on individual homeowners and remodeling companies.
At its local peak in 1994, Weisenburger said, Drexel Interiors employed 120 people, including 40 at its own countertop-fabrication shop. Weisenburger doesn’t expect to return to that employment level anytime soon. But he said there are signs that homeowners are starting to consider remodeling projects again.
And when they do, he said, they’re eager to hire experts who can guide them through the decision-making process. Weisenburger expects superior service will be Drexel Interiors’ calling card and help it draw customers away from its big-box store competition.
“People are tired of not doing projects [they’ve been] putting off due to uncertainty. That’s letting up. People are feeling a little more confident these days,” Weisenburger said.
“The name is still strong,” he added. “We’ve just got to remind people we’re here.”