Building something lasting requires time, energy, persistence, and passion. It also takes a lot of guts! Times have changed since 1951, but the business philosophy that made Sigman-Mills Furniture Company a mainstay in Conyers has remained the same.
The legacy continues today as the business is celebrating its 70th anniversary. It is possibly the oldest continuously operated retail establishment in Rockdale County. Founded in 1951 by 36-year-old William Thomas “Tom” Sigman and his wife Miriam Stanley Sigman, Sigman Furniture Company was built upon faith, an ambitious dream, and a borrowed truck. One man’s dream (along with his wife’s supportive partnership) developed into one of the oldest businesses in the area. The family owned business operates on the same heritage, legacy, and philosophy - “the customer always comes first” principle.
From wars to recessions and the technological revolution, the world barely resembles the environment 70 years ago. While economic conditions as well as furniture styles and trends may come and go, some things remain unchanged; an ongoing commitment to exceptional customer service is one of them. The company is continuously looking for ways to deliver on this vital principle of taking care of their valued customers.
The company’s philosophy has remained strong and firmly grounded in the founding Christian principles established by the Sigmans. The Golden Rule still serves as a guideline for ethical and moral values and upholds the company culture philosophy as a positive tenet.
Sigman moved from Social Circle to Conyers in 1935, but he was familiar with the community since his grandparents and uncle resided there. He began his career in the retail furniture business in May of 1935 working for Henson Furniture Company in Conyers until September of 1938. He attended Oxford College of Emory University and graduated from Emory University in 1940 with a Bachelor of Business Administration and a minor in Business Law. He worked for General Motors Acceptance Corporation from 1940 through 1942.
In 1942 he was accepted for Officer’s Candidate School in the U.S. Air Corps. He was one of the “90 Day Wonders” when he received his 2nd Lieutenant Commission in the U.S. Air Corps. He was stationed at Cochran Field in Macon, Georgia. He met Miriam Stanley, who was an office manager at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. She was also a gifted vocal soloist, who entertained army troops during World War II. Captain Tom Sigman was stationed throughout the South Pacific territory and Pacific islands during World War II as the Strategic Mobile Air Command director of training. He trained both pilots and mechanics on every aspect of the P-51 aircraft, the legendary fighter aircraft of the World War II era.
A relationship between Tom and Miriam flourished throughout the war time period, and after World War II ended, they married in the fall of 1945. Sigman returned to work with Henson Furniture from January 1946 through January 1948. He then worked for Covington Furniture Company from January 1948 through July 1951 prior to starting his own furniture business in the fall of 1951. His wife, Miriam, was an important part of the inception and operation of the business. The Sigman family tree grew with three children, William Thomas “Bill” Sigman, Jr., David Patrick Sigman, and Carol Ann Sigman.
Initially and before a storefront was built, Sigman Furniture operated from a loaned truck, and Sigman visited customers on a route basis with catalogs and smaller merchandise that could be offered to them as an “at home” shopping/delivery service. Those were the days before K-Mart, WalMart, and Target stores. Sigman knocked on doors to develop regular customers. Offering his customers to purchase on a “credit basis” was a successful foundation for establishing Sigman Furniture’s customer base. Many newlyweds were able to afford buying furniture "on credit,” and they would pay for the furniture with weekly or monthly payments. The formula proved to be effective for developing the business.
Sigman was affectionately known as “Mr. Tom” to his customers and friends in the community. He preferred a less formal approach when he had a conversation with someone. “Mr. Tom” was known for his famous quotes and shared stories with longtime friends and new acquaintances alike. He had a natural way of turning customers into friends.
Building strong customer relationships was a quality and attribute that Sigman maintained throughout his life. He truly enjoyed people and connected with them in an honest and concerned manner making everyone feel at ease. He also shared unconditional goodwill and gratitude with others. He never met a stranger, and he always remembered a customer’s name even if it had been several years since he talked with them. When he moved to a retirement home, he still advertised for the company he founded. He gave out his business cards to residents and employees, and he instructed them to ask for the “Mr. Tom” discount.
Sigman Furniture Company’s early business ledgers and credit contracts reflect the economic conditions of the time and register like an archived history book. Customers from Conyers, Covington, Porterdale, Social Circle, Lithonia, and all points between purchased essentials for their home from Sigman Furniture Company. Many of these customers purchased on credit paying $1 to $5 a month. The first years of the furniture business followed World War II, and the economy was in recovery. Customers' purchases usually included mattresses, linoleum rugs, window shades, household goods such as wood stoves, blankets, bedspreads, fans, solid wood dining tables and chairs, solid wood beds, and upholstered sofas and chairs.
Sigman’s father, William Patrick “Pat” Sigman owned a general store with a gasoline station near the current furniture store location. In the early 1960’s, the interstate construction eliminated the store location, so Tom Sigman decided to save the building components for future use.
The original Sigman Furniture storefront was a small, single room showroom built with the same materials saved from the general store. The boards were all numbered and reconstructed. The numbers are still visible on the boards today.
Eventually with hard work and determination, the concept developed into a full-fledged home furnishings store with a warehouse and showroom.
The property where the furniture showroom and warehouse are located was one of the early settlements of Rockdale County. Sigman’s maternal family, the Granades, were pioneers of the area, and moved here in the late 1840’s.
A new, modern building opened for business in 1970 next door to the original reconstructed building. This location remains the anchor store for Sigman-Mills Furniture Company. Sigman’s sons, Bill and David, worked in the business during their growing up years and while in college and several years beyond. They assisted their father with many business tasks. Both sons remember going to customer’s homes to collect payments on the credit route. Many times they enjoyed home cooked food the customers shared with them. His daughter, Carol, also worked in the business at a young age and recalled she dusted the furniture, answered the phone, and helped her father “check up” with bookkeeping tasks on an old adding machine.
Sigman-Mills Furniture Company Remains All in the Family...
Tom Sigman’s daughter and son-in-law, Carol and Randy Mills, joined her late father in the business in 1977 and purchased the business in 1982. They are the current owners and operators of Sigman-Mills Furniture Company. They have continued to offer their customers the same quality merchandise and exceptional personal service that Tom Sigman formulated with the beginnings of the concept that the partnership of Tom and his wife, Miriam, nurtured in their business.
The Mills met while attending college in South Carolina and later married after graduation. Similar to the Sigman family working in the family business, the Mills’ children, Steven and Caroline also grew up working in the generational company. Carol Mills recalled when their young son, Steven, cleaned at the store and requested to have his own business cards with name and title, “Janitor.” They obliged and encouraged him to continue working diligently in every capacity. He later assisted in store lighting design, furniture deliveries, and warehouse organization while in high school. Caroline helped with office filing, making store signs, and merchandising a new store addition, a youth furniture department.
Today, as third generation business partners, Steven and Caroline Mills are involved with many facets of the business. Steven manages the technology, website development, internet sales, and warehouse operations while Caroline is the store manager encompassing human resources department, inventory control, merchandise buyer, marketing, payroll, hiring staff, and employee training. Caroline’s college degree in Art and Digital Media has been beneficial in many aspects of the business.
Following numerous building additions Randy and Carol Mills planned and implemented, Sigman-Mills Furniture boasts the largest showroom for home furnishings in the east metro Atlanta area with over 50,000 square feet. The fully designed showroom offers an expanded inventory of popular styles and price points for every shopper. Some of the notable features include a La-Z-Boy gallery, motion upholstery department, a premier high-end design gallery, Rest and Recline Sleep Center featuring Sealy and Tempur-Pedic mattresses, and an outlet and clearance center, “Tom’s Outlet and Clearance Center,” (paying homage to the company’s founder) to serve the “customers who are attracted to our furniture quality and styles but are looking for a better value,” Mills said.
Sigman Mills Furniture sells quality furniture brands such as Kincaid, Hooker Furniture, Universal, La-Z-Boy, England, Hickorycraft, Liberty, Emerald Home, Uttermost, Forty West, Crestview, Jackson Furniture, Ashley, Albany, and Fusion.
The store also sells decorative accessories including accent furniture, lamps, pictures, and area rugs. “We devote time to hand select distinctive accents to enhance a customer’s decor,” Carol Mills added. “We stay on track with the current home furnishings style trends, and utilize this information to select all our furnishings including home decor. This helps to better resonate with our customer’s varied taste and individual style preference,” she said.
We’re able to offer a much wider range of inventory, styles, and prices due to the incredible support of our community and loyal customers,” Randy Mills noted. He believes part of the company’s success over the last 70 years has been the ability to adapt to changes, implement new ideas, and add modern technology. Most of all, he feels the principle of “customers are the first priority” has kept the business growing over three generations.
Carol and Randy Mills have seen many changes in the retail furniture industry over the years, but they have adapted and changed to keep up with the times. “If you’re not moving forward and innovating, you will soon be evaporating,” Carol Mills remarked.
“We’ve created a shopping experience that customers appreciate,” Randy Mills said. “From the first moment and impression with our sales associates, to experiencing our expansive showroom and vast array of furniture, we want our customers to feel like they’re cared for by our small business. We have all the resources and options of a much larger chain store. We make every attempt to give the best customer experience. It’s equally as important to promote the experience, not just sell the furniture,” he added.
Steven Mills college degree in music, combined with career experience in the music, lighting technology, and performance industry has been an added advantage to the company. He added his “magic touch” to enhancing the customer in-store experience since his high school years. His father stated, “We would still be relying on handwritten customer’s orders and receipts if Steven hadn’t advanced our business to modern age technology.” “Thankfully, he understands how to make this all happen,” Randy Mills explained.
Steven Mills added,”The importance of an exceptional store experience today is more critical with retail competitors and furniture businesses that sell only on the internet. Brick and mortar stores like ours have an opportunity to shine and make an impression on customers when they visit their stores. Internet only stores can’t create that personal experience.”
Maintaining a local operational focus has also benefited the company. “Our showroom, offices, warehouse and distribution center, customer service and service department are all local to provide a better customer experience by having the flexibility to tailor our services to meet the needs of our customers,” Randy Mills stated. “We believe our 100% local business model is an asset for our customers and our company.”
Mills explained they have assembled a trusted and professional team that makes this experience occur. “This team includes sales, office, and delivery staff. Their dedication, performance, and attitude makes the difference,” Mills said. Sigman-Mills Furniture’s culture is more like a family than a group of coworkers, and that makes all the difference in a work environment.
“Our team works daily on improving ourselves professionally so that every customer that comes into our store feels the same exceptional experience in every employee that greets them here. This reflects my grandfather’s goals in making the customer feel welcomed, comfortable, and appreciated,” Caroline Mills noted. “We encourage our sales team to intently listen to the customer and help them find what they’re looking for in a helpful manner without being pushy like some retail store sales employees,” she added.
“We do more than just unlock the showroom doors and sell furniture,” she remarked. “Everything we do is focused on the positive customer experience. We constantly emphasize to our staff that customers are always on our mind and are part of every decision we make.”
Sigman-Mills Furniture Company employs a team of sixteen; twelve in the sales, administrative, and marketing departments, and a warehouse staff of four including a manager and three delivery and warehouse team members.
The community Sigman-Mills Furniture serves has always been important to the company, which has supported many local worthy causes. Giving back to the community through involvement was important to Tom and Miriam Sigman. They believed it was an honor to serve their community, personally and business related. The Mills family has followed the same commitment and devotion to the betterment of the Conyers community.
This foundation of community stakeholders giving back to the community is a continuing theme and focus throughout the company’s history. Carol and Randy Mills are actively involved in numerous areas in the community. Randy Mills was a Conyers City Council member for eight years and served as the Mayor of Conyers for 20 years in addition to involvement in church, school, and service organizations. Carol Mills has been actively involved in community, church, school, and civic organizations.
“This commitment remains an important part of the wonderful memories we’ve created in my hometown community we are devoted to and support,” Carol Mills explained. “And seventy years later, we continue to build upon this foundation, which has been community centered.”
One of the most cherished moments of having a multi-generational family business is watching generations of return customers. “Having the opportunity to assist and support families through years of creating a home, watching children as they grow, and until eventually they return to buy furniture for their own homes, is an amazing experience,” Carol Mills observed.
“When customers visit the store and say, ‘I purchased all my furniture here,’ that just means the world,” Carol Mills added. “The most special and heartwarming stories we hear are from repeat and generational customers whose grandparents and parents purchased from our store when my father was in the business. Many customers share memories of my father helping their family members with their furniture selections and delivery of the furniture. It’s like a full circle experience which makes us happy and proud to be a part of their lives in some way.”
“New customers come in to see our quality lines of stylish furniture and take advantage of the savings we offer,” Randy Mills said. He also stated that even though customers can purchase from sources on the internet, most customers still like to see the furniture, touch it, feel it, and try it out before they make a purchase.
Randy Mills said the long time relationships they build with their customers remain the key to success. Our goal will remain to be the premier home furnishings store helping customers in bringing the vision of their homes to life by enhancing their environments through dedication and commitment to a high standard of customer service.
The Mills family and company staff have continued this tradition, and during the pandemic they have recognized the importance of this business principle even more. “People appreciate a personal connection and sincere interest by our staff expressing concern and assistance in helping them create the home of their dreams,” Randy Mills remarked.
“This community has been good to us. We want our customers to know how much we appreciate their business and allowing us the opportunity to furnish their homes for 70 years,” Carol Mills added.
“Our commitment to superior customer service has been the hallmark of our business since 1951. We’ve been doing this a long time,” she said. Her father taught her the valuable lesson of providing quality home furnishings, competitive prices, and outstanding customer service. “There aren’t too many furniture companies still in existence under the same family ownership for 70 years,” Mills stated.
One of “Mr. Tom’s” favorite quotes was: “The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” - William James “My grandfather’s visionary spirit is certainly alive in our business as we begin another chapter in the book he started,” Caroline Mills shared.
“We are positioning our business for the next generation, and we’re anticipating another seventy years in a successful future path,” Carol Mills added. “We have plans to continue serving the community for many more years to come,” she remarked.
“As three generations of a local, family-owned company, we place special importance on having integrity in all that we do and building lifelong relationships. We strongly believe that as long as we continue to do business like we have since my parents started the company in 1951, we’ll be around for the next 70 years, too. And the rest as they say is history,” Mills added.