First of all, Wendell is a farm boy turned entrepreneur. Wendell Farrell grew up on a dairy farm in Jericho, Vermont. He managed to graduate from Rice High School after four fairly rebellious years - in fact, he says they graduated hi
m just to get rid of him! After high school, Wendell worked on the family farm for a while, went out to California and hitch-hiked his way back across the country. At age 21, he decided that as the “black sheep” of the family, he should prove he could go to college. Wendell attended Champlain College in Burlington, VT, married Karen (Graves) Farrell, now a retired Army National Guard Lt. Colonel and currently a Nurse Practitioner in Cardiology at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
As 22-year old kids, Wendell and Karen moved to Massachusetts so Wendell could earn his degree in Education. He proceeded to get his Masters degree in Special Education. Wendell and Karen sold their apartment house in Massachusetts (a 4-unit ‘don’t wanter’ building that Wendell made a no-money-down deal on, which they later doubled their money on) and returned to Vermont.
On the way to interview for a job, the couple went to Jericho to celebrate Mother’s Day at the farm. That weekend in 1974 marked the end of Wendell’s career in education. Wendell’s dad passed away from a heart attack that night. Someone had to deal with the cows the next morning, so Wendell found himself back in the dairy barn milking cows. Wendell was asked by his mother to take over the farm and buy the cattle and equipment. Wendell took all of the profit from selling the apartment house and became a full-fledged farmer (again).
Wendell farmed for about three years, sold the herd, and moved on to a series of different ventures, sometimes having three different businesses going at once. A partial list includes: The Tilt Company (pinball machines), The Bristol Tavern (a bar Wendell purchased to put his pinball machines in), At Your Service (commercial cleaning), Southern Vehicles (buying and trucking used cars from South Carolina to Vermont), JAGS Vintage Clothes, GDS Manufacturing (manufacturing exhaust duct for the semi-conductor industry, like IBM), WF Trading (exporting used clothing to Africa), and a stint in real estate.
On July 1, 1999, Wendell opened Wendell’s Furniture in a little “hole-in-the-wall” building in Milton, VT, with twelve pieces of furniture and no money or experience. He had just lost a small fortune in the exporting business when the price of used clothes went from $.25/pound to $.02/pound - and Wendell was sitting on a million pounds.
Although Wendell had no experience in furniture, he had a lifetime of ‘people skills’ and customer service. With that and his sales ability, he began to build his furniture business. His business grew very rapidly and Wendell invested all profits back into his store. Wendell’s business plan was to be nicer to his customers and treat them far better than his competitors, selling in the day, doing deliveries by himself at night.
His business grew into a bigger store, and a yet bigger store, until he bought the current 40,000 square feet location near Costco in Colchester. In addition, he purchased The Vermont Bed Store, located in South Burlington, opened a (now closed) satellite store in St. Albans, and finally opened a New York location, Wendell’s Furniture of Plattsburgh, located in the Champlain Centre Mall.
When asked for his secret to success in such a competitive market, Wendell gives much of the credit to his dad. “My dad worked so hard farming and I remember some of his words of wisdom,” reminisces Wendell, “like the times when he was faced with overwhelming adversity he would ‘take the bull by the horns’ or when looking at a nearly impossible situation, he’d say, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’” Wendell continues, “He also used to tell me, ‘when you go out to pick stones, pick the heavy ones first.’ When I worked for him, he assured me that I would only have to work half a day each day and he didn’t care which twelve hours it was.” That work ethic seems to have served Wendell well, as proven by the rapid growth of Wendell’s Furniture.
That brings us to the present. Wendell is older, does less with the business, and spends more time as a full-time “Grampie.” Son Ryan now manages day-to-day operations, and cousin Joe is Sales Manager of the Colchester Location. This family business takes enormous pride in helping other families find furniture and bedding at the best price for the desired quality. Wendell’s Furniture is number one when it comes to “taking care of the customer!”
So who is Wendell? Now you know!
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