A top executive from one of NOLA’s oldest furniture companies talks shop, history and family.
If you’ve ever enjoyed an evening on Frenchmen Street, you’ve probably walked or driven past Doerr Furniture at 914 Elysian Fields Avenue. Charles Doerr, Sr., founded this traditional furniture store in a former Ford dealership in 1938, and, since then, many of his descendants have worked together at the business — work that frequently includes servicing the ancient elevator. “We have to constantly maintain it,” laughs Shane Mutter, Doerr’s great-grandson, who recently became president and CEO of Doerr Furniture. “It’s truly a unique part of the history.”
Mutter grew up in and around the store, “wandering the hallways” as a youngster and helping move furniture when he was in high school. In college, he sold mattresses for Bedding Plus, Doerr’s sister company. He watched his grandfather pass the reins to his father’s generation — and when it came time for that generation to retire, Mutter stepped up to lead Doerr Furniture. “It’s truly a family business, from top to bottom,” he says. “Everyone has equal roles in the company. We’re all here full-time. It’s exciting to carry on the tradition.”
The company prides itself on offering well-made furniture and an even more solid commitment to customer service. “We have always been known as a middle-to-upper-end furniture store that carries quality solid-wood furniture, most of which is made in the U.S.,” Mutter says. “We are constantly monitoring our manufacturers for quality and production time. We also look to manufacturers that are family-owned, because we find there is a certain amount of pride, care and compassion that comes from businesses that have their name on the product.”
As the market changes, the company is adapting. “One category that we are looking to enhance is our local category,” Mutter says. “Doerr would like to work with more local furniture makers and craftsmen. As far as changing style and design, you will find that we are moving a small percentage of our floor to mid-century modern, as well as a bit of contemporary. We certainly will not transform who we are and what we have been known for in the last 76 years. However, we are constantly watching the trends, and we’re focused on one thing: staying relevant to those we serve.”
The advent of social media and review sites like Yelp has done Doerr good. Where some businesses might have adjusted their customer-service models in fear of bad reviews, Doerr simply maintained its existing dedication. “One thing we’ve always tried to do is immediately address service,” Mutter says. “I can say from my heart and soul that when there’s an issue with a product, we try to address it immediately. We do a great job of making sure everyone is happy from start to finish.”
Along with shifts in technology and furniture creation, Mutter has also seen the surrounding neighborhood change over the years. “I remember the times when this neighborhood was at an all-time low,” he says. “You had houses that were abandoned. Things weren’t going well.” But now, with masses of young New Orleans transplants regularly flocking to the Marigny, the revival is well on its way. “The areas surrounding us are thriving,” Mutter says. “People are moving here and buying, selling, renting. They’re doing it from the heart; they’re not doing it just to make a buck and leave. I see even better things in the future.”