At a Glance
The Woodlands, TX
Construction department employees
Average project duration
At more than 120 years old, Conn’s, Inc. has solidified its status as a staple electronics, appliances, and furnishings retailer in the South and Southwest, and one of the people aiding its continued spread across both regions is director of real estate and construction Robby Ferguson. Hired by Conn’s in early 2011 as one half of its small yet effective two-person construction department, Ferguson now works closely with the company’s real estate team, and together they have found an enormous flexibility to make things happen in ways that larger companies cannot—a flexibility and adaptability that Conn’s has shown in other aspects of its business as well.
Ferguson’s true talent is helping Conn’s save money. He does this largely by closing creative deals, forging inventive partnerships, and using consultants to expand the reach of his small team. In turn, he has the team itself cover a great deal of the tedious yet necessary legwork required for new stores, including condition assessments, due diligence, and dealing with general contractors.
“It’s an effective way to work,” Ferguson says. “The construction aspects and real estate aspects are being worked out simultaneously, and it has saved us a lot of money. If the consulting company wasn’t used, we would have to staff up internally and would not have the flexibility to move so quickly.”
When looking into new Conn’s locations, Ferguson first has to ask himself an important question: “How much can we generate here?” According to him, Conn’s customer base is demographically diverse, with an income level ranging from $30,000 to $75,000. The reason for Conn’s success and continued growth is that the retailer understands the importance of financing customers that other retailers wouldn’t consider.
“We like to say that we’re a finance company that happens to be in retail,” Ferguson says. “Conn’s finances customers with sub-600 credit scores. Recently, we’ve taken strides to better cater to this customer base, and it’s resulted in a lot of success.”
The strides Ferguson is referring to involved doing away with lower-priced and lower-quality merchandise. Regardless of income level, people want nice things, and an internal study by Conn’s found that once a customer’s purchase ceases to work, the customer ceases to make payments on it. Because of these assessments, the quality of Conn’s merchandise has gone up and the level of default is expected to go way down.
Conn’s stores have also added new merchandise, including furniture and mattresses, and Ferguson has been giving the locations—many of them more than 65 years old—much-needed facelifts, adding marble finishes and changing the lighting and carpeting. “The stores were looking old and tired, and it was simply time for a change,” Ferguson says.
Because of these business strategies, initiatives, and additional measures at the company, Ferguson has had the pleasure of watching Conn’s value rise since he joined, which means more work for him in the near future. “Our stock price had dropped significantly, but we had a business plan that worked; it was the fundamentals of our business that weren’t working anymore,” Ferguson says. “Our new CEO knew something had to be done. Because of the changes he implemented, he has been able to get our stock to over $30 a share in less than two years. We’re in a really good spot these days, and we’re going to continue expanding.” ABQ
Meet Robby Ferguson
Where did you go to school?
I was in the military, and I put myself through college at the University of Mississippi while working full time. I majored in Latin American history. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I loved Latin American history, so I went with it, and it actually helped me get my first real estate job. Sally Beauty Supply was looking for someone familiar with Latin America, and I got the job.
What was your first construction job?
It was around 1977 or ’78. I was in third grade, getting paid $5 an hour to sweep up apartments for my dad, who was a general contractor. As I got older, I took on more and more responsibilities, but when I was in high school, I was still getting paid $5 an hour.
How did you wind up working for Conn’s?
I knew a real estate broker who got the national account working directly with Conn’s new CEO. The company was in dire need of someone with real estate and construction experience, so I was hired.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
I’d like to get better at reporting, and by that I mean nailing down the specific information for our financial team. I’d like to take the time for the details rather than just discussing the big picture.