Home décor and furniture customers at Johnson Furniture and Mattress in downtown Mankato now have more options when it comes to shopping on a budget. At the beginning of the year, owner Todd Johnson and his staff made big renovations to the building across the street, which houses the mattress store in front and now features an outlet center in back.
Johnson said customers often ask about items on clearance, which in the past had been marked sporadically throughout the three floors in the main store at 126 East Cherry Street. Now everything on clearance can be found behind Johnson Mattress across the street at 429 South Second Street.
“They want our quality furniture but they want a deal on it,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity now that we can take advantage of factory closeouts, our overstock but also the factory has some overstock.”
Johnson said just because customers will find discounts of 40 to 80 percent for furniture at the outlet store doesn’t mean they are skimping on quality.
“It’s not scratch and dent, this is first rate furniture,” Johnson said. “You don’t come in here and go, ‘okay I can see there’s no knobs on the chest,’ that isn’t what it is. It’s overstock — factory closeout.”
Like his own father, Earl Johnson — who established the store in 1971 on Front Street before moving to the new location in 1974 — and his sons after him — Todd Johnson worked at his father’s store in high school making deliveries. Earl Johnson learned about the business through Todd Johnson’s grandfather, who also owned a furniture store in town. They’ve delivered furniture as far as Grand Marais, on Lake Superior’s north shore. And smaller items like pillows are mailed to faraway places like Denver, Colorado.
Former bus depot
Looking at the interior today, it’s hard to believe the building that houses the mattress and outlet center was once a bus depot before the family acquired it back in 1993. Johnson pointed at the ceilings and surrounding areas to demonstrate how much renovation was required. There was a ticket counter where travelers could buy a coffee or sandwich in front, with a garage to store the buses in back.
“It gave us a parking lot, more furniture to sell and then a clearance center,” Johnson said. “It made sense to brand it as three stores, one location.”
In 2005 they purchased Town and Country Interiors on Broad Street, replacing the original clearance center to focus on a home design area, featuring model rooms divided by cubicles. At the beginning of 2019, they renovated again, opening the space up to make room for outlet furniture. Remnants of the home design area, with a special focus on carpeting, are now located on the second floor of the original building.
Todd Johnson’s son, Matt Johnson, returned to work full-time at the store in 2012 after earning a business degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He said they rang in the New Year with two months of renovations for both buildings to add space.
“We started on it and then had a construction crew come in and demo the bigger stuff,” Matt Johnson said. “They did that across the street too. Upstairs — where the carpet is — that used to be all room settings and a bunch of walls, and they knocked down half the walls to have a wider open area for the dining room and the carpet area.”
With road construction blocking off the street in June, the family decided to have a soft opening. But they gave a bigger announcement, along with a radio advertising campaign right before the school year began. Todd Johnson said the busiest times of year start around Labor Day and last into November. When the weather cools off, people start thinking about spending more time indoors, and that leads to purchasing new carpet or furniture before the holidays.
“With the new outlet, this is going to give people the opportunity to come in and say, ‘I want to help my son out and daughter-in-law and we need a few things,’ ” Todd Johnson said. “This gives somebody an opportunity now to come and say, ‘you know, we just don’t want to spend a lot.’ They don’t have to go somewhere else now, they can come here.”
Todd Johnson said their niche has always been focused on quality, and the outlet center allows them to stay true to that philosophy while continuing to sell well-established brand names like Lazy Boy, Craftmaster and Flexsteel at discount prices.
“Those are well known, quality manufacturers that we’ve been with for years,” Todd Johnson said. “There’s a market for that low-end furniture — we just don’t want to do it. When you buy better quality, there’s a real good chance you’re not going to have problems down the road.”
Johnson attributes the store’s 48 years in business to keeping a close eye on what the customers want, along with treating them with respect and honesty.
“We do this seven days a week,” Todd Johnson said. “We want them to see what we offer from price to service to selection. My dad always said it this way; ‘if you’re competitively priced, you have a nice selection and you take care of people, you’ll stay in business.’ ”