Jennifer Levin said she didn’t want to go back to practicing law after taking a break a decade ago to raise her three children. After considering other options for returning to work, she and her husband, Jared Levin, who live in suburban New York, heard that Maine-based Chilton Furniture was for sale. Levin has ties to Maine. She spends summers at Ocean Park with her family and graduated from Bates College. Chilton dates back to post-Civil War Maine – the company claims links to Mayflower passengers – and began as a paint company before shifting to furniture-making in the 1970s. It has showrooms in Scarborough and Freeport and employs 15.

Q: Why did you decide to buy Chilton Furniture?

A: This is not only a chance to be creative, but it will deepen my connections to Maine and also, hopefully, get (to move there) permanently.

My husband and I were looking into buying something. We considered a wide range of things – both of us love to cook so we thought we would do a restaurant. Then we thought we would do a bed-and-breakfast. We had signed up for emails that inform you of businesses for sale and last winter, while we were skiing, I said I want to look in Maine and Chilton came up. I thought it was special. There’s a real story there – it has such a history and there’s a real value, a real sense of providing something of high quality that’s reasonably priced. And the management team was so seasoned and confident that I thought that it would work for me.

Q: Are you in Maine a lot or are you managing the company from New York?

A: There’s a lot of time on the phone – I’m on the phone and emailing every day. I think even if I were there all the time, I’d be on the phone and email every day. I come up a lot. I bring my daughters up and drop them off at my mom’s in New Hampshire, so I make a lot of trips.


Q: The sale was completed in September. How is it going?

A: It’s going really well. I spent a lot of time with the management team, making sure we have similar visions. The Martens (the previous owners) themselves have been willing to provide advice and help. The team itself has been wonderful. I think we’re all simpatico.

Q: What are your plans?

A: Probably the biggest challenge I face is to give the business some flavor of my personality, while preserving what’s there. I need to read more about the Shaker philosophy and learn about them. I’ve been to Sabbathday Lake and met with some of the Shakers. It’s been wonderful to learn about it and the more I learn, I think it’s beautiful. There’s a real need for what they offer – utility, quality and simplicity – and the Shaker philosophy has always been to produce to meet a need. The furniture there, there’s nothing frivolous about it; it’s high quality and it’s simple and not overly adorned. That kind of furniture can go anywhere and that’s what I love about it.

The changes I have in mind are enhancing the shopping experience, with renovations of the stores, inside and out, to simplify the presentation of the furniture. And to rebuild the website – right now, it has no shopping cart but we’ll offer that to our customers in 2015. Chilton has always had great service, but there are always things you can improve. We just added a new position for customer service, to deal with customer concerns in an even more timely manner and we also hired a new head of warehouse. And we’re stocking up on popular items so we can deliver them in a more timely manner. For new products, there’s a real connection between Danish designers who were influenced by the Shaker style, and Maine cottage furniture and Craftsman furniture. It all fits inside our framework.

Q: How are people reacting to the idea of integrating some new designs into the line?


A: The management team is so confident and seasoned and we have some designs in play and it’s exciting. It’s amazing to me how delighted they are to work with me – they feel the same and love to develop new things.

Q: Do you expect to add staff?

A: We’re discussing right now whether to add an additional salesperson or two. We just added a couple of salespeople and we might want to add another, so people can do things like take vacations.

Q: Do you or your husband have any experience in building furniture?

A: None at all. We both had retail experience when we were younger and were both interested in furniture and love design.

I have a quote on my wall that says, “What you do while you procrastinate is what you should do the rest of your life,” and I was almost obsessive about decorating our house. In Maine, I always admired Thomas Moser (furniture) from when I was a student at Bates. All of it is inspirational. I’ve always filled my homes with things I love, and I come at it from that perspective as a customer.

Q: Do you have any longer-range plans?

A: We have a broad distribution capability, so there isn’t really much expansion there other than reaching new audiences and increasing the marketing. And I’d also like to expand our Web presence and social marketing and create more of a relationship with our customers on a regular basis. There are a lot of near-term projects, like redesigning and building a new website and increasing the market and, as we grow, making sure our processes remain smooth. Given the high quality, our prices are very reasonable – finding a way to continue that, that’s going to be our challenge going forward.

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