TRAVERSE CITY — Gerard Winkle was looking for a job in 1972.
At the same time, John VanDrie was looking for a salesperson for his McBain furniture store.
Winkle applied for the job and got it, commencing a journey that led to his ownership of the business with sons Travis and Jeremy.
Now, VanDrie Home Furnishings is celebrating its 60th anniversary, taking stock in how the business has, over the decades, become one of northern Michigan’s largest family run, independent furniture stores with locations in Traverse City, Cadillac, Big Rapids and Houghton Lake.
Gerald Winkle still remembers, though, how the business operated on a more modest scale in the early days.
“It was small. We only had five employees and we did everything…selling during the day, deliveries at night,” Gerald Winkle said, noting the multiple roles gave him insight into customer needs and service, as well as relationships with employees.
The origins of the business date to 1953, when John VanDrie opened VanDrie Home Furnishings in McBain. VanDrie sold furniture, appliances and home products. The business operated successfully for the next 21 years in McBain, then expanded with a store in Cadillac in 1974, followed by a third in Houghton Lake in 1978.
In 1986, the original McBain store closed and a new one in Big Rapids was launched. The Traverse City location became the fourth VanDrie store when it opened in 1998.
Gerard Winkle began buying the business in stages from VanDrie within a few years of joining. He credits the founder with instilling core values and commitment to service that are still followed today.
“Mr. VanDrie would always say, we had to understand the customer before we (could sell),” he said.
Working all jobs in the stores was stressed as sons Jeremy and Travis joined VanDrie. They began working at VanDrie during summer vacations and joined full-time after college.