Family-owned Esprit Decor built ‘spirited’ brand by offering high quality affordable home furnishings
What began as a naval aviator wing fabric in 1972 has become a name for one of the most recognized names in home furnishings in Hampton Roads: Esprit Decor.
“My mother designed a naval aviator wing fabric,” explains Beth Keenehan, president.
“She woke up in the middle of the night trying to think of a name for the fabric. She came up with ‘Esprit Decor,’ which is a play on the military term, esprit de corps, that translates from ‘spirit of a group’ to Sally’s ‘spirit of decorating.’” Keenehan says that when her mom, Sally Christian, opened a storefront in Chesapeake in 1983, they adopted the name as a derivative of the wing fabric. The play-on-words described the culture and services they hoped to provide. While the name is sophisticated, “it sometimes has given people the impression that we are really expensive, and we’re not,” Keenehan says about the brand, which is a discount furniture store offering quality products. Fifty years later, the store continues to sell furniture and other home furnishings below manufacturers’ suggested retail prices.
“On a scale of one to ten, we start at a quality level of about six and go up. We have all price points, and we tell our customers exactly what they’re getting. They trust us.”
Esprit Decor began as a small showroom on the outskirts of metropolitan Hampton Roads and grew to its current size – 48,000 square feet – as neighborhoods sprang up around them. “We’re about the size of a football field,” says Keenehan. “And we’re now in downtown Great Bridge.” The store, now owned and operated by Keenehan and her two brothers, Ricky and Mark Christian, hasn’t moved, but the area has transformed.
The store offers furnishings for every room in the house in numerous styles, ranging from traditional and vintage to mid-century modern, contemporary, transitional and casual. It also sells flooring, lighting, accessories and artwork and offers three in-house designers. “We offer the complete package,” Keenehan says.
She says the main challenge the company has experienced has been managing rapid growth. Now a $10-million operation, the store draws customers from outside of the US, but concentrates its reach to Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
“We see continuous growth because we pride ourselves in knowing our product and telling it like it is,” Keenehan says. “We go above and beyond in servicing our products. We can be one-stop shopping, and we have our own delivery teams.”
The store has 31 employees, most of whom have been with the company for decades. “We’re a family, and we have employees who’ve been here for 27 years. We consider them family.” Keenehan says it’s not unusual to see the owners’ children and grandchildren there. “Both of my daughters work here, and they bring their children in, just like I brought them in when they were young. Our customers understand that it’s a family business, and they appreciate that.”
She says it was her mother’s desire to create a family company that would be passed down. Their father, Bob Christian, was the store’s first warehouse manager after he retired as a naval aviator. Both have since passed away. Keenehan and her brothers share in all of the daily responsibilities of running the business with a lot of help from all of their dedicated staff. Everyone chips in when help is needed.
“We’re working on the third generation now,” she says. “Sometimes I think I’m going to live forever, but probably not. We’ll see what happens with the business – one generation at a time.”
ESPRIT DECOR HOME FURNISHINGS
110 Kegman Rd. W, Chesapeake, VA 23322