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Harris Family Furniture named family business of the year

Union Leader Correspondent

May 29. 2014 8:59PM
Russell Jr., Will and Bill Harris accept the 2014 Family Business of the Year award at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford Wednesday evening. (JULIE HANSON/Union Leader Correspondent)

BEDFORD — Harris Family Furniture has been named family business of the year by the University of New Hampshire Center for Family Business.

The award was presented during a ceremony Wednesday night at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford. In recent years, Globe Manufacturing, New Hampshire Distributors, Pleasant View Gardens, General Linen Service, Wire Belt Company of America, and Goedecke Flooring and Design have been named family business of the year.

Bill Harris, president of the Harris Family Furniture since 1985, noted that some past award winners were present.

“I feel honored to be in such great company,” Harris said.

Harris is the third generation to work in the company, which has four generations active in its operation.

The Harris Family will soon be celebrating its 50th year in the furniture industry. Harris’ grandfather Henry started selling wholesale furniture in New York and New England in the 1920s. Harris Family Furniture was officially opened by Russ Harris Sr. in Plymouth in 1965. His four sons Bill, Bob, Jack and Richard joined the business.

In 1972, Harris’ father bought the Laconia location when his two sons Bill and Bob committed to working in the business after graduating college. The third store opened in Chichester in 1985. Russell Harris Jr. joined the Plymouth location in 1993. The fourth generation found its way into the business when Bill’s son Will started at Chichester in 2003.

Being in a family owned business is difficult and requires wearing many hats from buyer, manager and HR director to delivery man, Harris said, but it has been gratifying to watch Harris Family Furniture grow and prosper.

“It’s a lot of work, but it can be very rewarding,” Bill Harris said.

Three store employees with more than 25 years of service attended the award ceremony with the Harris family. Will Harris said the award was as much for the employees as is was for the family.

“It’s really a testament to them as well,” he said.

Keynote speaker Amanda Grappone Osmer, CEO of Grappone Automotive Group, also gave employees credit for their roles in keeping a business successful.

“I think when you’re a family business it makes sense for you to treat everybody as family,” Grappone said.

Grappone began her speech by recapping the company’s history through four generations of family ownership and sharing pictures of company and employee events.

The organization is dedicated to building lifelong relationships with its team members, guests and community by serving with integrity, kindness, and respect, Grappone said.

Serving without expecting anything back is a beautiful thing, Grappone said.

She told the audience that if you know what you want to do and your heart is in it, then you’re doing the right thing. Grappone ended by saying she’s not a car person; she’s a people person. That attitude is passed on as she takes care of her team, and they take care of her customers.

“You take care of your own like they’re family, and the rest kind of works itself out,” Grappone said.

Gail Hayes Kelly from New Hampshire Distributors in Concord and Marc Drolet of General Linen Service in Somersworth were given lifetime achievement awards for devoting themselves to their family businesses and successfully passing them on to the next generation.

Interim Dean of the UNH Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics Arnold Garron ended the evening with praise for the Center for Family Business, which he discovered shortly after taking his current position in December.

“That was my gem,” Garron said. “I couldn’t understand why any of the previous deans couldn’t see what I saw.”

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