Melissa McAleer Cross is president and owner of McAleer’s Office Furniture in Mobile, Pensacola and soon to be in Foley.
Raised in Mobile, Cross is the fourth of seven children of Jim and Camilla McAleer. She says she didn’t set out to take the helm of the business her parents began in 1979.
After finishing undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama, she headed off to law school in California, where she practiced for several years. Her career path led to roles in real estate, homebuilding and office furniture manufacturing, and to states as far away as Texas and Iowa.
In 2012, with a nudge from an older brother, she answered her father’s call and came back to Alabama as president of the family business.
“My brother, David, who manages the Pensacola store, was an integral part in Dad getting me back,” Cross said. “Dad would ask, and I kept saying, ‘No,’ then David called and said, ‘You really need to do this.’
“I ended up having the right experience to be the exact right person to run the stores,” she said. While her father remained the owner, he took a soft retirement in 2015 and Cross stayed on as president. Earlier this year, Cross bought the 43-year-old business from her father.
“I wasn’t expecting it to feel different, because I’ve been running it for so long, but immediately it felt different,” she said. “It is a bigger responsibility, but it’s also a lot more rewarding. As owner, you are more in charge of your own destiny.”
Early this year in Foley, McAleer’s Office Furniture will open its third store with Cross’s younger sister, Sarah McAleer, as manager.
“I love that I have people I can trust, people I love, who are so invested in the business working with me,” she said.
All about inventory
“At our core, we have always been a retail store that can deliver as soon as the next business day,” Cross said of her retail and contract office furniture business that has nearly $1 million of in-stock inventory, ready for same-day pickup or next-day delivery. Among its three locations, McAleer’s Office Furniture has 75,000 square feet of space.
“People want furniture tomorrow. They don’t want to wait six weeks for it,” Jim McAleer said in a 2015 interview when he and Cross received the Alabama Retail Association‘s Gold Alabama Retailers of the Year Award in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million category. By 2021, Cross had grown the company to more than $6 million in annual sales and earned the Silver title in a greater sales category.
With recent supply chain issues, wait times for furniture has grown to six months, but not necessarily at McAleer’s. “We still have a long lead time with some of our contract specialty furniture, but for the bulk of what we sell, we can literally outfit your office next week with what we have in stock,” Cross said.
“In April 2020, during the strictest time of the COVID lockdowns, we closed our doors for two weeks to renovate,” Cross said in a 2021 interview. “We immediately changed our focus on what we were marketing and purchased multiple, affordable work-from-home sets that made it easy for consumers to set up an office at home fast.”
In a more recent interview, Cross said, “We’ve always had residential office furniture, but we definitely increased the amount that we have in inventory” since the pandemic.
Sharing the passion
Cross spreads her passion for entrepreneurship, small business and economic development in the Gulf Coast region throughout her community. She serves on the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce board and chaired its total resource campaign in 2020 and 2021, leading a team that exceeded the campaign’s goal both years. She also is on the advisory board for the Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of South Alabama.
Cross takes part in two mentoring programs – Real Advice Mentoring Program (RAMP), developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Innovation Portal, a Mobile startup incubator that connects its members with mentors.
This story originally was published by the Alabama Retailer.