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Jerry Beckman: Years of hard work pays off for business owner
Jerry Beckman (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
People can say a lot about him, Jerry Beckman says - but one thing they can't say is that he doesn't work hard.

He's spent the past three decades working to build his business, Monroe Furniture Center. And after riding the waves of business uncertainties for 30 years, Beckman said he loves to see people he does business with out within the community he loves.

"I'm glad it all turned out the way it did. I love being a small-town retailer who has to struggle sometimes," Beckman said. "It's a lot of work. I'm there every day and on weekends - I don't complain. I take pride - farmers and other business owners and workers are doing the same thing."

Beckman is the youngest of nine children. The family had a hobby farm with a few animals in Clarno. There was a saw mill on the property that his father and grandfather operated. He has fond memories of growing up in the country, riding bikes and playing in a field next to the house.

His father and oldest sister died in a car crash when Beckman was 10, and the family soon moved to town in 1975; His mother didn't drive and she needed to get to her two jobs to keep food on the table for the large family.

It's likely where Beckman gets his work ethic.

Beckman was an active student at Monroe High School, playing baseball and football and even wrestling. He also became active in the DECA Club and became the president. The organization prepares leaders and entrepreneurs for careers and education in marketing, finance, hospitality, management and other business areas. He took all of the business courses he could in high school.

"As a teen, I had always thought about being in sales," Beckman said. "I would always think about working for a large chain."

That dream wasn't so far-fetched, since he worked for Copper Rivet at the West Mall in Monroe part-time for three years in high school, stocking shelves and working sales. Eventually, he worked up to third key, a position just below the assistant manager.

After graduation in 1979, he was signed up for some classes at Blackhawk Technical College for marketing distribution, but instead, he took a promotion through Copper Rivet.

"I saw it as an opportunity instead of college," Beckman said. After a while, he moved on to a sales position at Disch Furniture in Monroe and worked there for several years until the elderly owners closed the business.

Beckman felt confident in his sales skills and by then furniture was something he knew well. He moved on to work in a furniture store in Madison for a year and loved it. But when a furniture store opened in Monroe where Disch used to be, he landed the assistant manager position and came back to town.

Beckman worked there three years until he was offered a job in Milwaukee with great pay, and he seemingly couldn't pass up the big opportunity.

By then he was married and had started a family. His wife, Paula, decided Milwaukee wasn't where she wanted to raise children.

Beckman needed another option, and it was going to be a gamble.

With friend and mayor of Monroe at that time, Rod Kittleson, Beckman decided to buy out the furniture store in Monroe and make the business his own. It was a decision he hasn't looked back from since.

"I was 26, maybe 27 years old at the time," Beckman said. "I had no money and it wasn't easy to get a loan - but Rod knew me and my family, he helped me, and in 1987, I bought it."

He named it Monroe Furniture Center instead of Beckman Furniture, he said, because he's always wanted people to feel like it's the city's store - not his.

He started with a crew of three people, including himself, and had very little cash reserves, he said. They often had to cut back and make due - scratching and clawing at times but always ended up succeeding.

Beckman said it was his family name that likely kept his business moving forward. Many people, he felt, came into the store because they knew him or his family - he said they weren't wealthy people, but honest and respected.

Slowly and steadily, through hard work and strong customer service, things got better. In 1992, the store headed for a new location in downtown Monroe and things picked up.

Over the years, business would fluctuate, as so many do, but in 2004, the business built a 4,000-square-foot building on the west side of Monroe. It now has 17 employees. Beckman said he stays somewhere between a mom-and-pop store and Big Box to try and appeal to everyone. He still sees the people who enjoy knowing their salesperson and take pride in people who work hard for them.

Paula has worked alongside Beckman since the beginning. They bowl once a week and Beckman said their time together has helped them grow as a couple.

"To this day she still has the best interest of our family at heart," he said. "Working together has its challenges. We don't always agree, but we work it out just like two business partners."

Although Beckman always saw himself as a business man, he said he didn't necessarily see himself as a business owner and is proud that it has worked out to be the best thing for he and his family.

He spends a lot of time working behind the scenes, but at the end of the day, Beckman said he still sees himself as a salesman.

"It's what I know and it's what I do," Beckman said. "If I wasn't doing this I'd be selling something to somebody."

Beckman is an active member at St. John's United Church of Christ and serves on the church council along with other committees. He and Paula met playing softball, and they coached when their daughters were involved. The couple also travels, often for business conventions, but take extra time with each other.

They have three daughters, the youngest of whom works with them. The store has been a part of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and takes part in the Business and Community Expo each year. The store helps support different causes around town as well, donating to Shop with a Cop, Family Promise, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Alzheimer and Dementia Alliance, to name a few. Beckman said giving monetarily is what works for them since his time can be limited.

Beckman said he isn't looking to retire anytime soon, but when that time eventually comes, he'll look forward to it.

"My glass is always half full," Beckman said. "I'm always looking at the positives - the growth, and the hard work."