Saturday, July 20th, 2024

Esprit Decor Home Furnishings Story


A family legacy of dedication, hard work, and customer relationships

by Cristi Sanchez

For 38 years, Esprit Decor has been a Chesapeake fixture, offering customers high-quality furniture at value pricing. Run by siblings Beth Keenehan and Mark and Ricky Christian, the family-owned business has its roots in the dream and vision of their mother, Sally Christian, who started the business from scratch in 1972. A navy wife and stay-at-home mom devoted to her family, Sally had a love of furniture and interior decor that she wanted to channel into a home-based business. Her vision was to have a niche business never-before-seen in Hampton Roads-a provider of high-end furniture at discounted prices. With the full support and encouragement of her husband, Bob, Sally founded Scrimshaw Designs and ran the business out of her living room.

Growing up in the Kempsville section of Virginia Beach, Ricky Christian was seven years old when his mom started her business. "Scrimshaw Designs was basically a catalog-based showroom, Ricky recalls. "Mom’s vision was always to keep overhead down so that she could provide higher-end furniture at lower prices, and she was able to do that by working from home."

As Sally’s business grew, so did family participation. When Ricky and Mark grew older, they helped Sally by delivering furniture. With the furniture business in their blood, both Mark and Beth headed to the furniture hub of the east coast, High Point, North Carolina, to attend High Point University, where both received degrees in furniture marketing. "Mark and Beth spent a lot of time in factories and showrooms learning the trade while still helping my mom," Ricky notes.

Sally’s business continued to thrive from home for 11 years, but in 1983 she decided to branch out and have her own showroom. "We ended up in Chesapeake because Mom’s vision was to compete with high-end discount furniture stores in North Carolina," Ricky says. "So, in 1983, we opened Esprit Decor in the building across the street from our current location. It was a small 3600 square foot cinderblock building that was in line with Mom’s vision for low overhead. Mark had just finished school, so he and Beth helped Mom in the store, and Dad ran the warehouse. I returned to help in 1988 after getting my business degree from Virginia Tech."

As Esprit Decor continued to grow, so did their building. Over the years, Bob and Sally would eventually add on to the original location three times, and in 1997 they purchased a soybean field on the location where the business currently stands. "Our store in 1997 was 24,000 square feet," Mark explains. "In 2003, we added another 24,000 square feet. With more floor space, we could do more things with the showroom, and it allowed us to showcase furniture that was still top-quality but a little more affordable."

"We offer a large selection
to anyone looking for quality furniture.
We still follow our mother’s
original vision of providing
high-end products at value prices."
                                                      -Ricky Christian

Indeed, the storefront is very deceiving. While it has the outward appearance of a small shop, upon walking in, customers discover that the deceptively massive space is chock full of a wide variety of high-quality furniture. The store is divided into multiple sections impeccably staged with quality accessories. Customers walk the store on pleasantly meandering paths that take them on a journey from living rooms to dining rooms to bedrooms and recliner displays. There’s even a clearance section where high-quality gems can be found at a fraction of the cost.

Carrying well-known brands such as England, Bassett, Rowe, Lexington, and Southern Motion allows Esprit Decor to offer customers furniture choices ranging from finely crafted high-end to high-quality, moderately-priced furniture. "We offer a large selection to anyone looking for quality furniture," Ricky points out. "We still follow our mother’s original vision of providing high-end products at value prices. Our inventory is always value-driven in all categories, whether high-end or moderately-priced furniture."

As a small family-run business, Esprit Decor doesn’t follow the typical retail chain script. The staff is family in more ways than one. While actively planning the eventual succession of the family business to the next generation, Ricky, Mark, and Beth have created a family atmosphere for staff not related by blood.

"We accomodate our customers
in any way needed.
Really we’re just here to help people
be happy in their homes."
                                                      -Ricky Christian

"All of us here, from owners to salespeople, have grown up in this business and are very knowledgeable in what we do," Ricky says. "We treat our employees like family, so they stick around. We don’t follow normal, long retail hours. That difference gives our employees time to have a life with their families, and because of that, they love it here. Family was number one for Mom, and that’s what she wanted. So, we keep it that way."

Ricky likes to point out another distinction that sets Esprit Decor apart from other furniture outlets: "No one here works on commission. All of our sales are relationship-based. It’s about listening to the customer to find out what they need and then helping them find it. We’re just trying to help the folks who walk through the door the best we can. Since we’re not on commission, there are no high-pressure sales tactics here. We can be as hands-on or hands-off as people like. If someone just needs a sectional for their living room-if they know what they want and just need a little help with fabric selection, our salespeople can walk them through that. But if someone is overwhelmed by a new house with four or five rooms to furnish and needs help putting it all together, we have designers on staff to help with that. We accommodate our customers in anyway needed. Really we’re just here to help people be happy in their homes."

Beginning in 1972, Sally Christian’s mission was to help people enjoy living in their homes by providing quality furnishings. The 38-year journey from living room office to Esprit Decor was a labor of love that she passed on to her children and grandchildren-a legacy of dedication, hard work, and customer relationships that endures to this day and will continue for generations to come.

Esprit Decor

110 Kegman Road W.
Chesapeake, VA 23322