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Still going strong at 50
United Appliance, Furniture marks milestone
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H.B. Lanier, who founded United Appliance and Furniture in 1959, is marking his 50th year in business in 2009. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
      On any given week day, you can expect to find H.B. Lanier sitting behind the counter of United Appliance and Furniture - the retail store he opened 50 years ago in downtown Statesboro. In a straight forward tone laced with humor, the 82-year-old reflected on his humble beginnings as a small store owner near the center of a thriving downtown.
       "I grew up in Nevils and then served in the Merchant Marines in World War II," Lanier said. "When I got out in 1947, I came back to Statesboro and farmed. It just seemed to me that people were going to need furniture, televisions and appliances. That is when I decided in 1959 to get out of farming and into retail. I opened United Appliance and Furniture Company."
       Lanier said his first store location was on West Main Street.
      "I was in that location for over 20 years," he said. "I was able to buy the building that we are in today at the corner of Vine and Walnut Streets 35 years ago. After that, I added on by purchasing the building across the street."
       With a steady stream of loyal customers coming through the doors, Lanier has been able to maintain a flourishing business for the past five decades.
       "When I opened the business, I knew that it was important to extend credit to people," he said. "Furniture and appliances are major purchases, and most people don't have that kind of money just lying around. So I started out that way, and have done it ever since."
       In the early 1980's, Lanier's son Don Lanier joined his father full-time in the business.
       "As a teenager, I would help my dad," Don Lanier said. "From deliveries to unloading trucks, whatever he needed me to do. He has an incredible work ethic, and I have always respected that."
       Lanier still works 40 to 45 hour weeks according to his son. "He doesn't have to work those kind of hours anymore, but he just loves it, he just loves to work," he said. "He is always in here, and still does a tremendous amount. There are times when I can't be here, and I know that dad is there taking care of things. He can depend on me as well."
       Both father and son pride themselves on delivering exceptional customer service, and their account manager Rick Cowart agrees it is the key to longevity of the business.
       "I have been working here for 10 years, and I will tell you that we provide excellent customer service," he said. "We deliver the same day and stand behind what we sell. Competition continues to stiffen and how you do business is what separates you a lot of times from your competitors. We provide the same level of service to every client, every day."
       One of the Lanier's devoted clients is Shelby Pierce of Nevils. Pierce said she has been purchasing furniture and appliances from the Laniers for the past 20 years.
       "I have bought dressers, rugs, bedroom furniture, and household appliances from Mr. Lanier," she said. "He is a very nice person and is so easy to work with. I just love coming here."
       H.B. Lanier said he really enjoys working for himself. "When you are self-employed it can be very stressful, but it can also be very 'freeing' in a way," he said. "It is much more relaxing, but you are still working very hard, every day, all day. It is the only way that I know to do things."
       Lanier said he knows that now is a very tough time to open a business, but he would still advise those with an entrepreneurial spirit to give it a try.
       "Just look around at what the opportunities are, what people need," he said. "There is always room for a new business in the marketplace, but be prepared to work hard for the rest of your life, and be careful who you do business with."
       As for the next 50 years? "I guess I will keep working as long as I am physically able to do so," H.B. Lanier said.
       "That would be just fine with me," Don Lanier said.