The early years of Heilig-Meyers were successful. W. A. Heilig and J. M. Meyers started a furniture store in Goldsboro in 1913. On a limited budget, they became an entrepreneurial success (they even delivered furniture on foot with smaller items strapped onto their backs). When other businesses failed during the Great Depression, the two Lithuanian immigrants cut costs and used in-store credit to grow their business. By the end of the decade, the two owned five stores: Goldsboro, Kinston, Wilson, Raleigh, and Rocky Mount.
In 1946, Heilig sold his interests to Meyers, who turned management over to his sons. Under their helm, the company grew to 14 stores by 1964 and 19 stores by 1970. Although the company’s headquarters had moved to Richmond, Virginia, most stores were located in eastern North Carolina.
Heilig-Meyers experienced steady growth during the 1970s and 1980s. Leadership acquired chains such as Thornton Stores and Bruce’s Furniture Stores. During the early 1980s, Meyer’s sons, Hyman and Sidney, retired and turned management over to existing upper management in the corporation. During the economic recession of the early 1980s, Heilig-Meyers did not close a store while its competitors performance dropped anywhere from 20 to 50-percent. Part of the company’s success had been its focus on starting stores in small towns.
During the later 1980s and 1990s, the company experienced rapid growth and became the nation’s leading furniture retail store. In 1988, there were 258 stores in 11 states and by 1994, the company had 647 stores, with a presence not only in the Southeast but also in Nevada, New Mexico, and even in Puerto Rico. During the 1990s, the company had a goal to open at least 50 stores per year and according to one report, approximately 80 percent of sales were from credit card purchases. In 1995, finance income was 17 percent of total revenue.
While the company experienced exponential growth, it approached a precipitous financial fall. Annual profits failed to meet annual growth costs, and the company started losing money, and losing it quickly. Its zenith appeared to be 1998, and it filed for bankruptcy in 2000. Heilig-Meyers closed all stores, and eliminated 4,400 jobs.