Bering’s Celebrates 70 Years in Houston
Starting a new business just before the dark days of World War II does not sound like a prescription for success. But in the case of Bering’s, it worked. The same store that began by selling lumber in pre-war Houston is now included in Frommer’s Suzy Gershman’s Where to Buy the Best of Everything.
According to August Bering IV, the third member of his family to lead this locally-owned and managed retail icon, “Our stores have grown with Houston. We have a tradition of really listening to our customers. They tell us what they want to buy. We make it available and provide the highest level of service to assist them.”
Even though the Houston population in 1940 had just exceeded 600,000, the city was more like a small village. It was beginning to move, though. So there was a demand for lumber and building materials.
August C. Bering Jr. decided to follow family tradition. In 1940, he opened a lumberyard at Capitol and Harrisburg streets on the east side.
During the 1950s, the geographic direction of Houston’s dynamic expansion changed. August C. Bering III, who took the helm at the death of his father, decided the company needed to move. The decision was strategic, as Houston was expanding west of downtown and plans to construct new homes were being developed.
A site was selected out in the country on Texas Farm to Market Road 1093. Today, that location is the intersection of Westheimer and Potomac, just west of Galleria. A second store, at Weslayan and Bissonnet, came later in 1987.
Retail demand began to increase and management responded to suggestions by expanding the merchandise to include the best household products, gardening necessities, pet supplies, and the list goes on.
“Through the years, our customers and staff have guided us into lines of business we would never have imagined. Our picture frame shop became our gift shop because an employee saw the need. Another employee suggested we add the world’s best coffees. Merchandise no longer relevant to our changing customer base was edited out and replaced with newer lines,” Bering said.
Named by another retail expert as one of the 25 best retail stores in America, Bering’s, with its two Houston locations, is difficult to describe. Nails, light bulbs, tools, garden equipment, house paint, and air-conditioning filters make up part of the store, and in other areas you will find displays of Baccarat crystal, Godiva chocolate, Wedgewood china, custom invitations, children’s clothing, bridal as well as baby registries, kitchen appliances, decorative accessories, fine furniture, and much more.
August C. Bering V, the latest of the family to join the management team, noted, “The tradition of allowing customers to determine our offerings has not stopped. Today many of our younger shoppers, and lots of older ones, too, are visiting us online at berings.com. Our new updated Web site will be up and running this year as a direct result of customer input and demand.”
In 1971, a fire nearly destroyed the original store. With rebuilding came the opportunity to expand the product mix to include more housewares and fine china. “Bering’s has always been flexible,” said August Bering IV. “When the big box hardware chains moved in, we lost a lot of contractor business and knew that we would be unable to compete selling lumber. We saw this as an opportunity to replace the lumber department with a children’s boutique, and it’s been a huge success. Keeping up with our product mix and listening to our customers and staff have allowed us to be successful through the toughest times.”
Today, Bering’s operates from two stores a few miles apart. In this age of automated telephone answering and robotic voices, the company relies upon real people to assist shoppers. Many staff members have been with the company for more than a decade. The stable, inviting work environment allows them to help customers by explaining how to repair a leaky faucet or provide the proper wording for a wedding invitation.
“We have a highly diverse inventory of top quality products along with the very best service in this city,” Augie Bering IV commented. “We actively serve our community and are proud to do business with the grandchildren of our original customers. We look forward to serving their children as well. And through it all, we are still one of the best hardware stores in town!”
Photos courtesy of Story Sloane’s Gallery, www.sloanegallery.com