Revamped bedding department is a standout in a vast family-owned home furnishings complex in central Virginia
Green Front Furniture serves notice to its prospective customers: A grand shopping adventure awaits, one that is not for the faint of heart. Shoppers will embark on an epic journey of discovery.
“Brace yourself for a pilgrimage into the pulsating heart of Green Front Furniture, where your perseverance will be put to the test,” the retailer says on its website. “Your expedition will be primarily self-guided. Independence and tenacity are required.”
Green Front, located in Farmville, Virginia, near the banks of the Appomattox River, extends the expedition imagery, advising shoppers that they will encounter “massive brick warehouses, towering piles of rugs, mazes of furniture.” This, the retailer intones, is “a vast, uncharted territory waiting to be explored.”
While that sounds exotic, the truth is that this territory in downtown Farmville — 900,000 square feet of showroom space in a warren of 13 buildings, including one that features a new mattress department — is, in fact, precisely charted.
An interactive map on the retailer’s website displays the details of the showrooms, which sprawl across five city blocks in Farmville, a small town halfway between Lynchburg and Richmond in the central part of Virginia. The complex includes four 150-year-old former tobacco warehouses, refurbished as home furnishings showcases, as well as revitalized downtown department stores.
So vast is the complex that shoppers are given a “field guide” to consult, one that offers the “lay of the land” and notes: “Your adventure begins here.”
The guide adopts a friendly, good-natured tone, aiming to give shoppers confidence to tackle what can be a daunting shopping adventure. “Can’t find a sales associate?” the guide asks. “(It’s a possibility. There’s nearly 1 million square feet of furniture.) Dial zero on any desk phone to get help.”
A creation of the Cralle clan
This home furnishings empire is the domain of the Cralle family: Richard “Dickie” Cralle Jr., the son of the founder of the family’s original grocery business; his wife, Terry Cralle, a registered nurse specializing in sleep health and wellness; and Richard “Den” Cralle III, their son, who is president of the company.
Terry Cralle is known in the mattress industry for her advocacy of better sleep messages, including some delivered on behalf of the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association. She brings her passion for all things sleep to her work in the retailer’s bedding department.
“The importance of sleep cannot be overstated,” she says. “Simply put, sleep (or the lack of it) has a profound impact on your physical and psychological health, well-being and quality of life. Some of the benefits of quality sleep include increased energy levels; improved brain performance; improved mental health; improved focus, productivity and problem-solving; and less inflammation.”
The Cralles and their Green Front team are passionate about improving sleep quality. “Our priority is to provide our shoppers with mattresses and customer service that not only exceed expectations but also deliver dream-
worthy results,” Den Cralle says.
Many of those dream-worthy results are delivered on beds made by Kingsdown, a key bedding vendor.
Kingsdown is “the new star at Green Front Furniture,” the retailer says, touting the company’s BedMatch system, a diagnostic program that analyzes shoppers’ comfort profiles and recommends mattresses that provide a “custom fit” for their sleep needs. The central walkway in the bedding department leads right to the BedMatch system.
The retailer also carries the mattress brands Organic Mattresses Inc., Posh+Lavish, Serta, Sleepwell and Stearns & Foster.
From food to furniture
The retailer’s story began a half-century ago, when Richard Cralle Sr. owned a grocery store on Main Street in Farmville. He decided to buy an adjacent store and stock it with inexpensive furniture, thus launching Green Front Furniture.
His son, Dickie Cralle, worked for the furniture store while in high school, collecting payments of $5 for furniture sales and delivering furniture in Farmville and its environs. He also began installing wall-to-wall carpet, giving him insight into floor coverings, a category now featured prominently at Green Front.
Dickie Cralle, who graduated from nearby Hampden-Sydney College, soon bought Building 1, a century-old building, starting an acquisition push that would eventually give the retailer a dominant presence in downtown Farmville, with buildings on both sides of North Main Street.
He also did something that set him apart from his competition: He traveled the world to build relationships with suppliers, bringing high-quality rugs, furnishings and home accessories to Green Front at “astoundingly low prices,” the retailer says.
Den Cralle carries on that tradition today, embarking on buying trips across the country and around the world. He’s deeply involved in the business, modernizing and streamlining operations, as well as strengthening the company’s ties to the Farmville community.
Another key team member is Dianne Cunningham, who partnered with Dickie Cralle to launch Accessories Inc., Green Front’s home décor and accessories store, located in three buildings on the Farmville campus. She travels to China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam to search for items that appeal to her eye for design.
Many brick-and-mortar retailers tout the experiences they offer shoppers, but Green Front has a much larger footprint to brag about. And the company talks up the immensity of its offerings in a way designed to pique shoppers’ interest.
“Shopping at Green Front Furniture is an unforgettable experience,” the retailer says. “It has more in common with a scavenger hunt at the Smithsonian than it does with the typical trip to the local furniture store.”
In other words, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill furniture store. Its setting isn’t typical, either. Farmville (2020 population: 7,473) is located almost in the center of Virginia — the Heart of Virginia Festival is held annually in Farmville. And, not surprising, given the key role that Virginia played in the Civil War, the conflict came to Farmville at a pivotal time.
In the closing chapter of the Civil War, the armies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant marched through Farmville as Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia retreated across Virginia, fighting for its survival. Lee had hoped to feed his troops in Farmville, but that plan was thwarted by the Army of the Potomac. The end of the war came a few days later at Appomattox Court House, about 30 miles northwest of Farmville.
Green Front has helped put Farmville on the map, too. The rise of the retailer is “one of the largest business success stories in Virginia,” according to a nearby historical display.
Green Front, which also operates stores in Northern Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina, touts the small-town charms of Farmville, which it calls “an unexpected location with incredible finds” and makes this promise to its Farmville shoppers: “Our unique business model, remote location and no-frills presentation bring our prices to well below retail, ensuring your journey here will be worth the gas, missed turns and extra miles.”
The sleep message
Given Terry Cralle’s focus on better sleep, Green Front is well-positioned to sell quality sleep sets and to tout the benefits of a good night’s sleep. And it does so in several ways.
The bedding department, which moved to the main floor of Building 8 on First Street a year ago, is a library of better sleep. The mattress bays, which feature triangular wall dividers to add privacy, are adorned with quotes — from John Medina (“Sleep loss means mind loss”) to Heraclitus (“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world”) to John Wildsmith (“You are either in your bed or in your shoes, so it pays to invest in both”). A Terry Cralle quote from The New York Times (“We look at sleep as an obstacle to our productivity and performance rather than as a means”) appears, too.
Those messages are featured prominently in white text on black backgrounds, and they set the stage for discussions about finding the right mattress for the shopper’s needs.
The department stands out with a well-worn natural wood floor, big windows that bathe the room with natural light, painted white walls and exposed beams in the ceiling. The room feels comfortable and inviting and it lets the mattresses take center stage.
“Sleep” is the message on the overhead sign that fills an outline of the moon.
Don’t look for banners touting slashed prices or hot buys. In fact, you won’t find sale prices anywhere: Green Front doesn’t believe in sales. Instead, Den Cralle says, the retailer offers “competitive, fair prices” every day.
The mattress department was relegated to a basement before the retailer decided to shine a spotlight on sleep. “We knew we needed an upgrade for mattresses,” Den Cralle says. “We wanted to spice up the department and make it a nice place to sell from.”
That mission has been accomplished. And now the mattress department has its rightful place as a major department in a complex chock-full of home furnishings.
“This,” Den Cralle says, looking at the attractive mattress displays surrounding him, “is the most important 3,500 square feet on the whole campus.”
Partnership Gives People a Chance to Rest-Test All Night Long
How do you let your customers rest-test mattresses before they buy?
Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Virginia, has answered that question, one that bedevils many mattress retailers, through a smart partnership with the historical Hotel Weyanoke (pronounced Why-Noke).
The hotel, located a short walk from Green Front in downtown Farmville, features its own branded bedding line made by Kingsdown. The Mebane, North Carolina-based bedding producer is one of the retailer’s main bedding vendors.
“This is a really cool way to show our products in a way that our customers can literally sleep on them and then make a purchase the next day,” says Richard “Den” Cralle III, president of Green Front.
The Hotel Weyanoke mattress is two sided, a construction “which you really don’t see too much in the industry anymore,” Cralle says.
The hotel, which opened its doors in 1925 and was refurbished in 2018, offers a discounted rate to Green Front shoppers. The deal gives them an opportunity to sleep on a bed overnight before purchase, something few retailers can offer. And it adds to the excitement of visiting Farmville, which is building “a growing reputation for tourists, craft beer aficionados, history enthusiasts and foodies,” as one local writer notes.
Cralle says the partnership with Hotel Weyanoke is a natural: The boutique hotel has a rich history and has been reborn as a downtown destination, much as Green Front has done its part to revitalize Farmville with its refurbished historical showroom buildings.
There’s also a practical side to the partnership, Cralle says. With almost 1 million square feet of showroom space to explore, Green Front customers easily can spend a day or more shopping for furniture and need a nearby place to stay.
The retailer promotes the partnership by featuring one of the Hotel Weyanoke beds on the sales floor in its bedding department. A comfy robe with the hotel’s logo rests on the bed, inviting customers’ attention.
Terry Cralle is Selling Sleep and Writing About It, Too
The teacher was in her classroom. She had willing pupils. It was time to talk about the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Registered nurse, author, sleep educator and researcher Terry Cralle was in her element in the sunny bedding department at Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Virginia. Last year, she helped her son, Richard “Den” Cralle III, revamp the mattress department of the family-owned retailer, giving it a more prominent home in the sprawling showroom complex. And now she helps customers prioritize their sleep — and find the beds of their dreams.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought sleep challenges to many, Cralle says. But, on the positive side, it has helped put a spotlight on sleep.
“Maybe the message about sleep and its importance came to the forefront with Covid,” she says. “At least we got to talk about it more and it became a health topic that maybe hadn’t been addressed before like it should have been.”
The walls of the bedding department at Green Front are filled with messages from sleep experts outlining the importance of a good night’s sleep, and Cralle adds her points of emphasis, too.
“To be your best, to get more done, to be more productive, get that sleep,” she says. “Schedule it first before you schedule anything else. The quality of your waking hours will be so much better.”
Cralle says most adults need from seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, and she schedules her own 8 ½ hours each night. That’s how much sleep she needs to be her best, she says.
She’s not only sharing her sleep wisdom with shoppers at Green Front, she also is adding to her collection of books on the subject. Her first book, “Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need to Succeed,” co-authored with sleep psychologist W. David Brown, details clinically proven techniques for getting quality rest and achieving maximum productivity. It is geared to adults.
Cralle teamed up with Brown again on her second book, “Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle,” which, as the title suggests, is aimed at helping kids get better sleep. Now she is working with Brown on a third book, one that will address better sleep issues from the perspective of families.
Cralle says she enjoys the conversations about sleep that she has with customers at Green Front.
“There is a lot of wonderful talk about sleep,” she says, “and people learn a lot about sleep when they come in because, after all, the mattress is the vehicle for sleep. It’s square one.”