Tepperman’s president Andrew Tepperman in front of the emulsifier, which converts Styrofoam into pucks to be recycled.
Tepperman’s president Andrew Tepperman in front of the emulsifier, which converts Styrofoam into pucks to be recycled.

Windsor chain wins award for giving back to community, environment.

Ron Stang Special to the Jewish News

Southern Ontario’s largest furniture company may be known for its expansive stores in five cities and, in hometown Windsor, its deep roots in the community, stretching back 93 years.

What is less well known is its significant charitable contributions and, more recently, its almost unprecedented environmentalism.

For its engagement, Tepperman’s received the Impact Innovator Award, presented by Furniture Today, a North American trade magazine that covers the furniture industry.

Giving back to the community started with Tepperman’s founder, Nathan “Nate” Tepperman, who opened the first store.

“He was a Russian immigrant and had absolutely nothing — one of those stories — and the better he did in life the more he would give back to the city,” grandson and current president Andrew Tepperman said.

As the chain expanded over the years that sense of giving grew with it, “whichever city we’re in, we treat it like our hometown,” he said.

Tepperman’s has always been a big supporter of the United Way and backed local community initiatives.

One of its biggest commitments has been to young people, giving customers the chance to win scholarships for their children. So far, the company has donated $640,000 — $1,000 in seed money for children under 10, which grows several fold by the time those children enter college or university.

The store’s focus on kids extends to partnering with Junior Achievement to teach students in grade five about business and, for high school students, a course on how to manage finances. The idea is to ensure young people know how to manage money.

The chain’s environmental consciousness came more recently.

Tepperman and his brother Noah, the company’s secretary treasurer, traveled to Ann Arbor to meet Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of the famed Zingerman’s Delicatessen.

“He (Ari) has really mastered the art or the science of creating guiding principles for a company and getting the entire company to rally around those principles,” Tepperman said.

The brothers came away with six principles, one of them to be a “leader in environmentalism.”

That led to an award by the London, Ontario, chamber of commerce.

“That lit a spark in all of our stores,” Tepperman said. “All of a sudden, all of our staff started looking at every possible thing they could do to help the environment with our full backing.”

One employee realized the firm was throwing away a lot of foam.The company went to a furniture chain in Texas where it had machines to emulsify foam and create “pucks” that can be recycled. Tepperman’s bought similar equipment.

Tepperman’s keeps track in real time of its waste diversion and is now up to 87 percent, with a goal to recycle 100 percent in time for the company’s 100th anniversary in 2025. Materials diverted from landfills include cardboard, plastic wrap and Styrofoam. Diverting wood initially proved tougher until a co-op student “found a way that we can turn wood to mulch,” Tepperman said.

The store combines merchandising with environmental consciousness. Customers entering stores are offered tree saplings. “We buy thousands of them and we ask the customers to go back home and plant them,” he said.