ONTARIO – The bucket list for Richard Fitzsimonds is short.
“I’d like to get our whole family together and take a little trip somewhere warm, just get away as a family,” he said.
The second item on his bucket list may be more difficult to achieve.
“I’d like to watch the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl,” he said.
The Vikings haven’t played in a Super Bowl since 1977.
Fitzsimonds will celebrate a different triumph on Friday, Jan. 19, when his business is honored at the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce annual banquet. Ashley Furniture was chosen as Business of the Year.
“It feels very humbling and very honored at the same time. For people in the community to vote you for that, that’s pretty great. I hope it shows we are doing something right,” said Fitzsimonds.
Ron Verini, the former Ontario mayor and chairman of Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida, recommended Ashley Furniture – at 1418 Westpark Plaza No. 2 – for business of the year.
In his nomination form, Verini, called it “a special business that gives back to our community.”
“Ashley Furniture is one of many great firms that supports our community. They happen to stand out in support of veterans, not only financially, but they help with obtaining furniture and different items for veterans in their homes,” said Verini.
Fitzsimonds, 53, started in a furniture warehouse in the mid-1990s before he became a salesman and then sales manager.
“I didn’t think furniture would be my thing back then,” he said.
His decision to buy Ashley Furniture in 2004 was a leap of faith. He said his biggest challenge when he bought the business was transitioning to a sales manager to business owner.
“I had to learn the manufacturing side and learn budgeting and all of that fun stuff,” he said.
Fitzsimonds began work in Ontario in the furniture business at what then known as Blacker’s Furniture. His experience there, and his ability to network locally, made his decision to buy Ashely Furniture easy.
“I’d been here since ’99 and I knew what the market was and I had a pretty good tie to the community. I knew this market had a need for a furniture store,” said Fitzsimonds.
The purchase of Ashley Furniture wasn’t easy, he said.
“It was hard to find a bank who wanted to take us on with no experience. But with the help of my parents we were able to secure the loan we needed,” he said.
Fitzsimonds employs 10 people.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have people who have been with me a long time,” he said.
Still, Fitzsimonds said he faces the same challenge other business do regarding employee retention.
“On our delivery end, it is always changing, always hard to find and keep people who want to work,” he said.
Fitzsimonds said he likes owning a small business.
“You are kind of able to set your own schedule and that gives you flexibility if you need it,” he said.
The retail business has delivered a few lessons, said Fitzsimonds.
“You can’t get too high on the highs or too lows with the lows. You can’t go home and dwell on it,” he said.
Home, for Fitzsimonds, include his wife and five children. A Weiser native, Fitzsimonds said he and his wife “were lucky enough to have our first granddaughter about a year ago.”
Growing up in Weiser, Fitzsimonds said he was “just like any other kid” when it came to future goals.
“I wanted to be a pro football player,” he said.
His father worked for the U.S. Forest Service and his mom was a nurse at Weiser Memorial Hospital.
“We were very active in our community, grew up playing any sport. I can’t think of a better place to raise a family,” he said.
Now, he said, some of his children play local sports.
“I love to get out with them and play catch,” he said.
He also loves to golf.
“Or just get out and just camp, away from everything in the mountains,” he said.
His business, his faith and his family remain pillars in his life.
If he won a huge lottery jackpot, Fitzsimonds said he’d “probably take care of a lot of family members” and “probably keep doing what I am doing.”
Every day in his business is a good one.
“I’m excited to come to work every day. It is always something new,” he said.
As a small business owner, Fitzsimonds said one of the most profound challenges he faced was the Covid pandemic. The shutdown of businesses hurt his profit margin for a short time and, once Covid restrictions eased, he faced supply chain problems.
“When we did open back up it was good but it was different ball game to wait for product,” he said.
He said often his store faced a four- to sixth-month wait for furniture.
He said he is pleased with where his business is at now.
“We have a great sales staff, great products and something for everybody. We are very customer-oriented,” he said.
His repeat customers, he said, are crucial.
“That keeps us in business and it is half of our business right now,” he said.
He said he’s discovered in his retail career that “99 percent of people are great.”
Still, he said he occasionally encounter a dissatisfied customer. He said his remedy simple and easy.
“All you can do is make them happy as fast as possible, make it better for them,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.