He admittedly knew nothing about how to run a business when he opened furniture stores in Middletown and Monroe.
He nearly went bankrupt multiple times.
He once was denied a bank loan.
But Riley Griffiths never forgot his motto: “Have fun.”
Those two words are ringing true now that Griffiths, 75, owner of Riley’s Furniture and Mattress, is fighting his most difficult battle. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year, and although the diagnosis is dire, he has compiled no “bucket list.”
Since he has lived life to the fullest every day, he has no regrets.
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“The first thing people say when they find out you have cancer, ‘Go do what you want to do now,’” he said. “I didn’t have the bummer. Partly because I have no reason to.”
Tears filled his eyes.
“I’ve had 75 years of blessings,” he said.
Griffiths, who once weighed 240 pounds, has lost 100 pounds partly because of the chemotherapy treatments. He also has lost his hair and his energy, but not his spirit.
On Wednesday, his daughter said he was in his office, and since he was feeling good, he said he had 15 minutes to talk before he needed to go home and rest.
The interview lasted more than an hour.
“Not sure why I’m rambling,” he said more than once.
An incredible story Riley Griffiths has to tell.
An engineer by trade, he opened Furniture Depot of Middletown in 1970, and in the 49 years since, he has opened another location in Monroe, remodeled that location, and built an office. He once had a partner, then when the relationship soured, he bought out that partner.
There were days, in the early 1980s, Griffiths remembers occasions when the store had no customers. He survived bad days, bad weeks, bad months and bad years.
“Never a bad decade,” he said with a smile.
He never has been afraid to try a new business strategy.
After attending a sales seminar in the late 1970s in Florida, Griffiths returned to his Monroe store and converted the sales staff from commission to salary. The staff was given a $1,000 raise. His No. 1 seller left for a large furniture store in Dayton, followed by his second highest seller.
But the idea worked. Those selling on the floor were less competitive, thus more helpful to the customers.
“Sales never missed,” he said.
Twenty-five years ago, Griffiths and several furniture store owners formed a buying group so they could compete “with the big boys.”
Then in 1988, Griffiths announced he was closing the furniture store on Sundays. At the time, he said, 25 to 30 percent of sales every week were made from 1-5 p.m. every Sunday. This decision seemed like a business disaster.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Instead of ending sales on Sunday, sales ended on Saturdays or Mondays, and being closed one day a week allowed Griffiths to have his best sales staff on the floor more frequently.
So the store’s motto “Closed Sunday to be with family” stuck.
Shannon Bannerman, 48, the oldest of his three daughters, serves as chief executive officer at Riley’s Furniture, 126 Breaden Drive. She has seen her father’s magic performed before.
“He didn’t even have a box to think outside of,” she said. “He will do anything. He’s very much a believer in, ‘You really can’t fail. You can just not have success at something.’”
CJ Griffiths said her husband often has said, “If it doesn’t work, at least we tried.”
His family is throwing him a 75th birthday celebration today at Riley’s Furniture and Mattress. Family and friends have been invited to the open house, and two of his longtime friends are flying in from Kansas City.
He said those who die from a stroke aren’t given the opportunity to say goodbye. Griffiths said his birthday party will serve as “a live wake.” As always, Griffiths will be the life of the party.
“If you aren’t having fun, why are you doing it?” he said.
“It’s all about having fun, experiences, quality of life,” his daughter said. “Negativity just didn’t exist.”
It’s obvious what’s important to Griffiths. His office walls are lined with family photos, ones that were taken every Christmas. There also are motivational messages and spiritual sayings, including “Take Time To Work, Play, Think, Read, Pray, Laugh, Listen, Dream, Worship, Love.”
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