With his youth, vigor, beautiful family and very successful business, one might easily imagine that Mike Ringer has had a charmed existence from the start. And though his life did begin pretty much as well as any young American kid could hope for, the 40-year-old entrepreneur and owner of THaT Furniture Store in Salisbury has, in truth, seen more than his share of dark days – days that have included the depths of despair and abject poverty. But Ringer is not one to give up hope easily, so it was precisely when things seemed their worst that Ringer's "personal relationship with God" rallied to grow stronger than ever.
That sense of faith-based determination has seen Ringer and wife Dianne through every challenge they've faced then and since; that's why they went to great lengths to give credit to their savior and guiding light each and every day.
"Not everybody knows this," said Ringer from his office off the showroom floor, "but the name of my store, 'THaT,' is actually an acronym that stands for 'Trusting Him in All Things,' and it's truly the way Dianne and I feel. Whatever good there is and has been in our lives is all only because of Him, and I want to honor that every day in the name of my store, so that each day when I arrive at work and walk toward my front door, I am greeted by the greatest single truth I've ever known."
The sincerity of Ringer's faith is undeniable to anyone who knows him even a little; that he has crafted his store to be as exceptional as his sense of humble gratitude is equally so.
A musician, Ringer very consciously teams his creative instincts with his retail experience to cultivate an eclectic gallery of products for his customers.
"There are plenty of great furniture stores in this area that are skilled at providing merchandise to consumers at compet- itive prices," Ringer said. "I'm going for something different here. My collection is targeted to discriminating consumers with their own sense of style and individuality. They don't want to see the chair or sofa they just bought in their neigh- bor's house, too – or anybody else's house for that matter."
To achieve that, Ringer travels extensively on what he refers to as his "treasure hunts," handpicking high-quality items that offer something distinctively beautiful. You'll also notice when you visit the store located off Rte. 13 (next to Ponzetti's Pizza) that each piece in the showroom seems to vibrate, maybe even hum, in a unique frequency that expresses its specific character and ambiance. The cumulative effect is a kind of harmonic resonance that makes you feel you are in a concert hall rather than a furniture store, with each piece proffering a contribution that ranges somewhere from classical to parlor music to jazz. And while that feature alone might induce many to go browse, or listen, there are other reasons to visit THaT Furniture Store.
"When I go on one of my treasure hunts," said Ringer, whose 20-year-old son, Tyler, is a gifted musician and song- writer, "I'll search high and low for an item that has the most subtle imperfection or flaw, something a normal person couldn't care less about, then use that as an opportunity to acquire that item at a ridiculously low price that I can pass along to my customers."
That routinely translates to prices that are 50% to 80% of manufacturers' suggested retail. For example, there was recently one magnificent nine-foot-by-eight-foot solid-oak library cabinet with glass doors and fluted accents that sold for under $2,500 even though the manufacturer suggested it be priced at almost $7,000. Think that's something? How about a brand-new eight-way, hand-tied, down-cushioned tufted sofa in rich gold fabric whose MSRP is $10,377, which Ringer let go for $1,795?
There is also a rich bevy of assorted items and accents that include antique reproductions in English oak and mahogany, lots of rare, exotic hardwoods, buttery Italian leather and distressed- painted Habersham-style tables, most if not all of which are only available locally at THaT Furniture Store.
Ringer also has a robust mattress department, featuring a line of exquisite memory-foam mattresses that he claims are virtually guaranteed to give you the sleep of your life. And since Ringer hand-picks his entire inventory, you may expect equally dramatic savings on the mattresses as you would the other furniture. Don't be surprised, then, when you see a queen-sized memory-foam mattress for less than $500 even though the comparable "name- brand" mattresses are being sold elsewhere for $2,100.
Another interesting thing is that while Ringer will admit he has a definite customer base, it comprises people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
"My broad customer base includes a Hollywood filmmaker and Washington, D.C. politicians who have vacation homes on the Shore, to corporate executives, interior decorators, teachers, con- tractors, homemakers, blue-collar workers and even other furniture retailers," Ringer said. "What they have in common, other than being really nice people, is that they want something that they think nobody else has, and they want it at a price that shows they are nobody's fool."
That's why Ringer has to maintain a large warehouse behind his 10,000 sq. ft. showroom, because when you're dealing with one-of-a-kind and unique items, you have to gobble them up because they may never come this way again.
"We estimate that 95 percent of our showroom consists of one-of-a-kinds, including discontinued, overstock, photography samples and some scratch-and-dent," Ringer shared, "so once they're sold, they're almost certainly gone for good. This means I'm an inch deep and a mile wide with product selection, with new items hitting the floor for the first (and probably the only) time nearly every day."
That's the fun stuff as far as Ringer is concerned. He clearly loves his job and seems to look upon his cherished purchasing excursions the way Indiana Jones did his quests for holy relics and artifacts.
"My favorite thing is to unearth that previously undiscovered jewel of an item and then present it to the world – or at least the Eastern Shore."