Solvay is a small suburb in Syracuse with a total population of 6,490 people. It might be small, but the “One Big Store in Solvay: China Towne,” is anything but.
China Towne Furniture and Mattress, 2320 Milton Ave., Solvay, is an expansive, redbrick building that holds the dream and vision of its owner, Jay Yennock.
It’s early Saturday afternoon and Yennock looks around the front of his store, watching the progress of his system unroll before him. “Hello! Welcome to China Towne! Thanks for coming in today.” The sales consultants greet their customers with an unwavering smile, and in return customers show one of their own. Whether they are looking for living room, dining room or bedroom furniture, Yennock knows his employees will take good care of their needs.
“Somebody just said to me, not even 15 minutes ago, ‘You got a well-oiled machine going here,’ and I really can’t tell you how happy that makes me,” said Yennock of one of his customers. Yennock’s favorite part about being the boss and owner of China Towne is coming in on Saturdays and watching the whole “machine” play out.
“The machine is my store,” Yennock said. “We have defined ways of how everything needs to transpire. From the entrance greet, to finding the exact furniture the customers need, to making their dream into a beautiful room, to having their dream delivered and hopefully making their experience such a success. They come back for more.”
Yennock explained how successful businesses have systems to make everything work in an organized way. The system defines the outcome, and if you stray from the system’s path, generally your outcome is not going to be great. “We have employees who genuinely care about this business and who want to see it succeed,” Yennock said. “I worked a certain way for a long time where there was little organization involved. I made a commitment to empower everyone here to understand his or her job. Every department, whether it’s sales, our office or the warehouse has a manager who makes the decisions necessary to take care of our customers. Out goal has always been to provide five-star customer service.”
China Towne hasn’t always been the smooth sailing business it is today, but Yennock couldn’t have made it what it is without his father. In 1970, John and Rita Yennock purchased the Iroquois China Factory that was one of Solvay’s main factories and created China Towne — albeit a much different China Towne than what you see today. Yennock was 10 years old when they bought the building. He first started helping his father by cleaning and sweeping, and with time he learned the ins and outs of the business his father ran.
“We were selling the leftover china when my father decided to buy a lot,” Yennock said. “A lot could be a manufacturers overstock or a store that went out of business. My father would get a call from somewhere and it might be jewelry, stuffed animals or women’s clothing that he would have me pick up. At one time, we had a whole section of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, as well as paint, wallpaper, and some new and used furniture.”
In 1984, after Yennock graduated college with a business and marketing degree, he started to get involved with every aspect of the family business. “At the time, we sold everything,” Yennock said. “One day I’m talking about furniture, and the next day I’m going to Jersey to buy truck loads of paint. It was really footloose and fancy-free.” Unfortunately, sales would fluctuate because the store would struggle to keep items in stock for a while. So in September 1984, Yennock took over the growing family business and decided to go strictly into the furniture market.
He went to see a lot of different furniture vendors to get a regular inventory flow, and by the middle of 1987, their purely furniture business started to take off. “My father knew a lot of people in the Syracuse area from growing up here and being a business owner, so that definitely made my life a little easier; I got a lot of help from the community,” Yennock said. “My father was a true entrepreneur who wasn’t afraid of anything and tried everything. He fought through his problems and just made things work. So, when he died in 1990, I had all his lessons to take with me. There was no better business school than working with him.”
Yennock had turned the China Towne that was, into the China Towne that is. It transformed into the vision he had created. “We had all these different avenues, but I knew we needed to specialize and organize,” Yennock said. “We never used to have a manual or anyway to review our employees; we just never had a system in place and as strict as some people may say I am, every good business has to have a system.” Yennock wanted to have a better store than what they used to have. He wanted to be more respected throughout the community.
Kaylene Taylor, who has been a sales consultant at China Towne since 2014, said the store is like a family. She looks forward to going to work everyday because she loves the staff. “I worked for a family furniture business over 30 years prior,” Taylor said. “I knew this was the only furniture setting that would make me feel like I always have in this business. Jay has an open door policy and is always interacting with his staff and his customers. He’s the kind of owner you should aspire to be. He’s made this whole experience feel like home.”
Earlier this year Yennock, and his daughter, Morgan, helped out the Rescue Mission in Auburn, who built 28 units for homeless families. China Towne had the opportunity to set up a deal for them to have some bunk beds, dresser drawers and single mattresses. When Yennock talked to his delivery employees, he wanted to make sure they knew this wasn’t a normal delivery; it was a delivery of comfort for people who have been living out of their car. China Towne also works with Clear Path for Veterans, Vera House, Josephs House and the Ronald McDonald House by donating products and helping with financial support.
Yennock and China Towne are also teaming up with Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare to benefit the Race to Recovery 5K run, which raises funds and awareness for the SBH foundation and recovering lives from substance use and mental health disorders. It is being held May 18, 5 p.m. at Onondaga Lake Park.
Yennock has been a leader for most of his life. He had to be one step ahead of everyone at all times. He has to be involved in what everyone is doing. He watches over all the successes of great sale days and deals with the frustrations of things not moving as quick as he’d like.
“It’s rewarding; it’s fun; it’s challenging; leadership varies and a sign of a great company is a good leader and vice versa,” said Yennock.” “It may seem to some people that I’m never satisfied, and I’m not. Maybe that is why we are where we are today, because I always believe we can improve. That is what I spend a lot of days thinking about … how can we improve?”