When you step into Willis Discount Furniture (507 S. Danville, Willis) there’s an immediate sense of authenticity and feeling that this is the “real deal” when it comes to rustic furniture. A casual look around the store can’t help but leave visitors feeling right at home among furnishings that would fit into whatever setting they want…be it the feel of a cozy log cabin, a high-end ski lodge or a unique Texas ranch. The store features various types of rustic furniture: Texas, Mexican pine furniture, old world, reclaimed barnwood, handcrafted solid wood, and Southwestern ranch décor accessories.
Owner Ricky Hatcher is proud of the wide variety of products offered. “We specialize in rustic furniture that is unique, hand-crafted, rustic cedar furniture made in log cabin style and reclaimed barnwood, one of a kind items, hard to find rustic style accessories, and rustic décor accent items,” Hatcher says. He does not sell appliances.
“I also carry a full line of Ashley furniture. I can pretty much get anything Ashley has. I sell a lot of Ashley.”
The store receives two truckloads of furniture each week, allowing it to maintain a full inventory of furniture so customers have a wide selection. “We try to stock it so the customer is not waiting.”
Geographically, the store attracts much of its clientele in an area stretching from The Woodlands to Madisonville.
One type of accessory hanging in a variety of forms from the ceilings and walls of the store is cowhide, something not likely to be found in a conventional furniture retail establishment, but popular among rustic enthusiasts. “We put a lot of cowhide on furniture,” Hatcher says.
“It probably was more popular a few years ago than it is now, but a customer can walk in here and say, ‘I want that bed, and I want this cowhide,’ and we can do it. I can show them 35 or 40 different cowhides.”
The bulk of the cowhides come from Brazil, and a few come from a source in San Antonio. Most of the customers who buy them want them attached to headboards, dressers, nightstands, and even entertainment centers. Hatcher and his assistants can turn out cowhide custom pieces in three to four days.
“We put a foam backing behind it, then we put the hide on there. Then you’ve got a bead line that holds it in place. It’s going to stay. There’s no problems with cowhides.”
One of his most unusual custom orders, Hatcher says, was for a man who wanted a Harley-Davidson motorcycle bed. “The guy wanted the bed to be painted black, and we put orange leather on it, and he took drawer pulls off of it and chromed them.”
Hatcher and much of his family are well- known residents of the area. He and his wife Jennie are the parents of four adult children, grandparents of eight, and have lived in New Waverly for 35 years. His father Richard owned and operated Zipps convenience stores in Willis for many years before retiring. Hatcher also has a brother who is a real estate agent in Huntsville and Willis and a sister who lives in New Waverly.
The eye-popping growth of Willis and the surrounding area is likely to continue, Hatcher believes, and while it is good for business, it also comes with some unavoidable traffic snarls. “It’s growing like crazy. Willis has grown more in the last two years than it has in the past 10 years. People want to get out of Houston. They want to come to the country.” He chuckles at that last part. “It’s not really country anymore. I live on a ranch in New Waverly. They’re starting a sub-division of ‘I don’t know how many’ new homes over there on the east side.” Roads that once allowed quick commutes to Willis, Huntsville and elsewhere in the area are now slowed by heavier traffic.
While the recent downturn in the oil patch has not yet delivered much of a punch to Hatcher’s business, he thinks it probably will hit a little harder soon. “The oil business for us was really, really good. Then we started hearing that crude oil was going down and all that. We would really feel it right now, but it’s tax season. People are getting money back and spending it on furniture, automobiles, and whatever, so we’re really not feeling the downturn. But, I think I’ll feel it in late March and April. I’ve got friends who were making big money in the oilfield, but they’re laid off right now.”
Hatcher has been in the furniture business for 17 years. Willis Furniture has been in its present location for the past 10 years. Concerning the future of Willis Discount Furniture, Hatcher says he is pretty satisfied with its present shape and has no plans to expand. “I’m a very hands-on guy, so I don’t want two stores; I want to stay at one. I’d just rather stick with what I know. “It’s been a good ride for us. I’ve really enjoyed the business. I plan to just keep on keepin’ on.”