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From Home Furnishing Business

Statistically Speaking: Big and Small America

Big and Small America is a term coined by the Census Bureau to reflect the present geographical spread of the American population. Over 50 percent of residents live in just 143 counties (Big America) with the remaining 50 percent spread out over a vast area encompassing 2,999 additional counties (Small America). The following map (Figure 1) shows the 143 highlighted most populous counties.

The migration to populous counties is in part due to more workers seeking jobs in large cities as manufacturing jobs have left the U.S. Along with greater job opportunities, the lure of warmer climates has drawn Americans to the southern and western states. The most growth has been seen in regional hub areas and coastal areas with ports. Southern and Western areas along with larger cities have also been impacted by Immigration.

As shown in Figure 2, 50 percent of the population lives in 4.6 percent of counties – roughly 161.7 million residents. These Big American counties average, 485,846 in population.  Medium sized counties average 211,321 persons and house 10.7 percent of the nation.  Very small U.S. counties totaling 2,664 represent 84.8 percent of counties and the remaining 25 percent of the population. Small counties average only 20,402 in population.

Also surprising is that over 10 percent of the population resides in just seven counties, three of which are in California (Table A). By far, Los Angeles County is the nation’s most populous with over 10 million residents in 2016. With just half the size (5.2 million), Cook County, IL has the second highest population, followed by Harris County, TX, Maricopa County, AZ, San Diego County, CA, Orange County, CA, and Miami-Dade, FL.

The rate of growth further contrasts Big America versus Small America. The U.S. population increased by over 2.2 million between 2015 and 2016, yet almost half (49.0%) of the U.S. counties lost population.  For small counties, 54.1 percent lost residents, while only 17.5 percent of big counties diminished (Table B).

For Small counties, 450 lost over 1 percent of their population between 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, only seven Big and Medium sized counties declined 1 percent or more (Table C). The big county on the list, Baltimore County, MD, lost 1.08 percent of its residents from 2015 to 2016. Ector County, TX home of the city Odessa, TX topped of the Medium counties – decreasing population by 1.39 percent.

Counties in Texas lead the way in largest percent of population growth with the top two increasing counties located within the Austin-Round Rock, TX Metropolitan Statistical Area – Williamson County (5.09 percent) and Hays County (4.19 percent). Comal County, TX added 4.40 percent more residents to the San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX market. Southern states rounded out the list of counties gaining over 4 percent of population in 2016 (Table D).

Another current key geographic characteristic worth noting has to do with the staggering population density in the Northeast, notably in the New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ MSA in five key counties.  With the exception of San Francisco County, CA, the Northeast contains the most congestion of people with Boston, MA, Philadelphia, PA and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV MSA’s all containing over 11,000 people per square mile (Table E).

Meanwhile, the vast areas of California, Nevada and Arizona make the density in their counties less than .05 percent as dense as the Northeast (Table F). For example, New York County (New York City) has almost 72,000 people per square mile living in the county, compared to 2,500 in Los Angeles County, the largest county in population in the U.S.

As the map in Figure 3 shows, fourteen states have no Big counties: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

By comparison, there are 17 states with a majority of residents living in big counties. Massachusetts and New Jersey have the highest percent of Big counties – 50 percent and 47.6 percent respectively. California has the most big counties at 17, followed by Florida and Texas, both with 12. In contrast, states with the highest number of small counties are Texas (223) and Georgia (141), while states with the highest mid-sized (medium) counties include Florida (21), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (19), and California (17).

 

Total U.S. population grew only 0.7 percent last year, with immigration contributing about 45 percent of that growth. Although population growth was slight, 84.3 percent of states experienced increases, leaving 15.7 percent with a decrease (eight states). Table G shows the states with over 1 percent growth in 2016. Utah and Nevada topped the list with 2 percent growth. Two highly populated states, Florida and Texas continued to grow.

Population in three big northern states, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois decreased alongside less populated states like Wyoming, Vermont, and West Virginia (Table H).


Slightly less than one million people immigrated to the U.S. last year, down 3.6 percent from 2015. They represented about 45 percent of U.S. population growth. As shown in Table I, big counties were the major recipients with 74.1 percent of immigrants residing in highly populated areas.

Short of at least some manufacturing jobs returning to the U.S., the divide between Big and Small America should accelerate, with metropolitan areas continuing to spread. Along with a majority of the immigrant population settling in the south and west, Americans in general will continue to gravitate to big counties that have warmer climates, job opportunities, and desirable cost of living.

Editors Letter: A Failure to Communicate

One of the barriers to producing this issue on merchandising has been the niggling thought of how can the product which has been carefully curated to appeal to a targeted consumer be communicated, if the first step in the process is research on the internet?

As an industry, we are beyond asking how the consumer can make a major purchase, such as furniture, without sitting on the sofa, seeing the finishes, testing the dresser’s weight and functionality.  Why have we stopped?  Because over 20% of the purchases are accomplished sight, unseen.

This may be the problem when over 50% of the sofas sold at retail are under $499.  With a low-resolution screen shot on the website, how can the consumer establish value?  Should we have not just given up and taken the low-cost approach of eliminating catalogs and world-class collateral, along with advertising in upscale shelter magazines? 

Which came first, our abandonment of this advertising medium or the shrinkage of the magazine page count?  As I have said before, there are more advertisements for “shower heads” in the shelter magazines than furniture.  Also, if furniture is advertised, it is by the lifestyle retailers, such as Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn.  They are the furniture brands of today.

Don’t interpret this as me being against digital.  Digital is a great tool to capture the attention of the consumer, but not to entice them to purchase value.  From our latest consumer research (HFB – Nov 2017), the next power generation for the furniture industry, Generation X, is looking for quality.  They are disgusted with the furniture purchased when they bought their first home.  They are questioning the value compared to their parent’s purchases, “while not my style, it is still in great shape.”  As an industry, have we failed to inform what constitutes value?

The home furnishings product has lost its panache.  Other consumer durables have struggled and resorted to selling price and affordability, relegating the product to commodity status.  Only the car manufacturers have continued to create the excitement and are merchandising their product.  Maybe, this is the problem – the bulk of the consumer communication is by the retailer, not the manufacturer.  Has the gross margin pressure from the offshore production castrated the manufacturers voice?

Merchandising will always be a major factor in the home furnishings process.  It is just the message we are trying to communicate.  If it is just utilitarian, so be it. For me, I would prefer a message which says, “My home furnishings must communicate who I am and reflect a sense of current style.”  This is what the consumer wants, especially those under 45, as the research shows.

 

Cover Story: Merchandising – Keystone of Furniture Retailing

From an architectural definition, “keystone” refers to the final piece of an arch which, when put in place, locks all the stones together, allowing the arch to bear a distributed weight.  In the furniture industry, merchandising is the keystone to success.  The responsibility for merchandising lies with both the supplier and retailer.  In certain distribution channels where the entity is both supplier and retailer, it would appear the challenge of merchandising would be simpler.  However, the “creative tension” between the two entities contributes to a better solution.

What is this lynch pin of success called merchandising?  It sounds straightforward – the selection and presentation of products to a pre-determined group of consumers displayed in such a way that stimulates interest and entices the customer to make a purchase.  The reason for pursuing a topic and expanding effort to better understand the specifics is to improve performance. Can improved merchandising improve performance?

In total, compared to other retail sectors, home furnishings did quite well in 2017 and is projected to continue to prosper into the future.  In fact, only electronic shopping (Internet) has a better growth rate, as can be seen from the accompanying table.

In direct comparison are the lifestyle stores, which unlike their competitors the furniture stores merchandise a more complete product selection of everything for the home.

The first thought is consumers are purchasing more of the accessory products than furniture which is what is contributing to the performance growth.  However, this is not the case.

The following articles explore the various elements of the merchandising function and approaches to better accomplish the task.

TARGETING THE CONSUMER

The tendency of most traditional retailers is to be everything to everybody – with the fear of losing a sale offsetting any consideration of inventory turns or productivity of selling space.

The result is 100,000+ square-foot showrooms built outside the shopping areas frequented by consumers on their weekly trips for pet supplies, groceries, and the other necessities of living.  Furniture stores are often destinations unlike their competition – lifestyle stores, which are in the mix of other retailing.

Even with this abundance of space, most traditional retailers fail to satisfy the consumer.  As can be seen from the graphic, the major reasons for not making a purchase is “could not find what I was looking for.”

Unfortunately, included in this category are several distribution channels - some winning, some not faring so well.  Traditional furniture stores are one of the channels that fall into the latter category.  In fact, while the total home furnishings sector has grown, furniture stores have declined.  The graphic below shows the decline.

The challenge of satisfying all consumers is the diversity of the United States consumer.  The most basic segmentation of the consumer is Age/Income of the households.  The graphic illustrates the consumer breakdown.

Complicating this today is the emerging generational divide.  Retailing for the past forty years has been dictated by one generation – Baby Boomers, defined as those consumers born after 1946 who were greatly influenced by the disruptive 60s.  However, when they settled down they became the most driven generation ever.  The sheer size of the population significantly changed the furniture industry.  This generation, though still purchasing 37.2% of all furniture sold, is declining in purchasing power. 

Retailers today must connect with the emerging generations, while continuing to meet the needs of the Baby Boomers.  The table below defines the challenge.

Targeting requires understanding the consumer the retailer is selling or more importantly, the consumer the retailer is NOT selling.  The following graphic illustrates (shading) the propensity of an upper/premium traditional furniture store to sell a demographic cell.

Developing a merchandising strategy to attract those consumers who are not being sold is the challenge for the furniture retailer going forward.

The strategy involves not only product selection, but also advertising to communicate to the underperforming demographic.

The understanding of the consumer can be further refined by understanding the psychographics (lifestyle) of the consumer to whom your merchandising strategy is attracting.

On the demographic profile in the figure above, it shows that the Upper/Premium furniture retailer sells all the ages/incomes.  The understanding of the psychographics provides a way to attract those consumers who have lower incomes, yet purchase furniture at higher price points. 

The accompanying graphic illustrates the psychographic profile of the consumer who purchases from this same upper/premium retailer.

Further complicating this demographic explosion is the changing ethnic mix of the United States.

The U.S. population is still a majority of non-Hispanic Whites, but in the younger age groups, that demographic is changing rapidly. Between 2010 and 2016, the total White population lost 2.6 percentage points falling from 63.9 percent of the population to 61.3 percent.

All other ethnic races gained ground with the Hispanic population gaining 1.1 percent points reaching 15.6 percent of the population.

Baby Boomers (now ages 55 to 74) have dominated consumer spending and the home furnishings industry for decades. Of note is that currently 73.3 percent of all Baby Boomers are non-Hispanic Whites.  As they continue to age and the population dwindles, minority groups will gain more influence rapidly.

For Millennials (ages 15 to 34), White, non-Hispanics, have fallen to 55.2 percent of the group, and for the youngest Generation Z (ages 0 to 14) only 50 percent are now considered White.

Over one-third of the White, non-Hispanic, population is over the age of 55 reflecting the massive aging of the Baby Boomers. This compares to only 15.2 percent of the Hispanic and 22 percent of the Black/African American population.

For younger Americans, looking at each ethnic group, 58.2 percent of Hispanics are under the age of 35, compared to 40.2 percent Whites and 52.2 percent Black/ African American.

 

This is not to say different ethnic backgrounds do not assimilate into US retailing.  However, when the customer base of traditional furniture retailers is analyzed, we find there is a failure to attract the emerging population.  The graphic below presents the percentage of sales of a major regional retailer compared to the population in the market.

There are many factors which influence the procurement of consumers – product selection, advertising, retail experience – all of which constitute merchandising.  Into the future, retailers will need to monitor how well they are serving the consumers in their market.

Merchandising was, at one time, quite simple.  Today’s data driven retailers are taking share from traditional retailers with a total focus on the specific consumers they intend to sell.

SELECTING THE PRODUCT

The challenge of merchandising is the selection of products which appeal to the targeted consumer.  A combination of price and quality constitutes value.  Unfortunately, the latter part of the equation is difficult to communicate to the consumer.  The absence of recognized brands leaves the challenge to the retail sales associate.  The industry recognizes price segments which define merchandising segment of promotional, middle, upper, and premium.  These ranges are presented in the table below.

Unfortunately, consumers do not recognize the factors that differentiate between price points.  The result is consumers are under purchasing in relation to their household income. 

The graphic illustrates the percentage of traditional fabric sofas purchased by household income.

Regardless of household income, purchases by these merchandise price segments are fairly stable.  The graphic illustrates.

Within the price segment, there are shifts influenced by the economy.  Currently, the price point distribution for fabric sofas (stationary) peaks at $499, based upon unit sales.  The graphic presents the bell-shaped curve.

Most retailers can recite these best-selling sofa frames by units (not $).  However, understanding best sellers by generation is not so easy.  There is a significant difference here.  Targeting products to consumer segments is the next level of merchandising.  If Generation X purchases 34% of all furniture, should the retailer’s merchandise assortment reflect that same percentage?

Retailers taking this data to the next level would share this information with their sales associates to guide the consumers through the product presentation process.

Additionally, targeting email and direct mail to these consumers with product that they most likely prefer will improve the effectiveness of advertising.

Product merchandising is more than price and must involve styles.  The industry has had a significantly long period without the emergence of a new style which captures the imagination of the consumer.  Not since Bob Timberlake has the market responded to a must-have product.

The result is the furniture product becomes a commodity.  How do we measure the value of this new commodity?  We believe the share of income spent on the category by income quartiles (in the table below) shows the same relative expenditure no matter the income segment.

Yes, the higher the income segment, the more the consumer spends, as illustrated in the table.  However, the expenditure is consistent.

 

Setting Up Your Retail Resolutions for 2018

The goal of this magazine is to help our readers improve the performance of their business by providing critical information, so they can develop successful strategies for their company. To assist you with that process each year, the January Coach’s Corner article reviews the columns from the last 12 months to give you some ideas about potential retail resolutions you can make to help your business prosper in the coming year.

Most big-time sports teams have an offseason to reflect on what happened last year. Owners evaluate their players, coaches and management based on the results they achieved. They study their game planning and personnel moves to determine how it helped deal with the challenges of the last season. Upon completion they create a plan and set goals within the organization that will help drive positive change and performance improvement! Year-in, year-out, the winningest teams are the ones that do the best job performing this process.

In our business we do not have the luxury of an “offseason” for reflection and planning, but that does not mean we do not need to go through the process as much as a sports team does! It is every bit as important for us as it is for them, since historically the most successful businesses are also the best ones at reflecting, correcting and planning! They are always the most prepared for whatever the economy, the consumers and their competitors can throw at them.

Therefore, sometime in the first few months of each year, after we have gone through the hustle, bustle and distractions of the holiday season, owners, managers and staff need to take time to look back at how they did last year and analyze what caused it to happen. Obviously, you want to replicate or repeat those things that gave you a positive result and replace or rethink those that did not.

Most of you probably take the time to review your sales performance and set goals for performance improvement in that critical area. But do we do enough? A goal is not a plan; it is the result you want the proper execution of your plan to deliver. Many times, we want growth and set targets for it without charting a new path to get to them. Einstein is credited with saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Therefore, in order to get the desired improvement in results, we need to make changes. Selecting what changes to make is a very critical activity, so many just avoid it.

My hope is to help you with that process. Each month for the past year we have presented you with an opportunity for positive change that will impact the sales side of your business. Each column targeted an area or process that many stores can improve and provided a brief overview of what could be done to make it happen. Looking back at this year’s issues will give you many ideas that could help you grow your business. Therefore, they present a great starting point for your planning process.

I recommend you review those that look interesting to you and select at least three to include in your sales improvement plan for 2018. They are presented in the order they were published, but that might not be how you need to approach them. Best to select those that are most important, then prioritize them based on urgency.

  • January 2017 – “Retail Resolutions” – Just like this column, last year’s initial issue listed the previous 12 Coach’s Corner topics. If you have not already gone back and reviewed the 2016 offerings to create your Retail Resolutions for last year, you now have twice as many potential game changing ideas you can look at for this year’s planning process!
  • February 2017 – “Average Ticket Delivers Sales and Profit Growth, How to Drive It in 2017” – As managers you can do a fantastic job of bringing in the right customers and having the right product for them, but in the end, it is the sales person that controls your average sale! Ultimately, only they are responsible for this result - it is their skillset and desire to maximize the sale that deliver higher tickets. It is their attitude that influences what they do with each customer and when they stop trying to build the sale. Therefore, you must do all you can to hire, train and coach your staff on how to increase their tickets with each and every customer.
  • March 2017 – “Building a Client Base with After the Sale Follow Up” - We feel strongly that creating and managing a professional clientele development process is easily the weakest aspect of most home furnishings retailers selling efforts. I am not talking only about follow-up or sending thank you notes -- many stores do that -- but about a more fundamental paradigm of building long-term relationships with customers through truly caring about them and their needs - then making this a fundamental part of the company culture.
  • April 2017 – “Making Friends in Your Market - Who are You and What Do You Stand For?” - Your ability to provide an exciting and helpful in-store shopping experience is certainly an advantage over the internet only retailers. But not every consumer realizes that they need or even want to have that face-to-face interaction. This column touches on some of the other areas of consideration you have that may help you define your store to the potential customers in your market and perhaps attract some of those that are on the fence about visiting a brick and mortar store.
  • May 2017 – “Is Your Sales Management Effort Leading Performance Growth or Merely Providing Adult Day-Care?” - The question the title of this article presents is based on what is meant to be a humorous commentary about what a sales manager ends up doing much of the time in most retail stores. Unfortunately, it is often a more accurate depiction of the situation than any business owner would want it to be! The reason is that many managers get so wrapped up in solving the daily issues of their staff that they lose sight of their real role, which is to provide performance leadership that consistently improves the team’s results and actually makes all of their lives better.
  • June 2017 – “Using Retail Sales Metrics – Drilling for Dollars” - The ultimate sales performance metric is total sales, everything else rolls up into it. If life was simple, this would be all we need, since it is the main end result we all want to maximize. However, as with any result, in order to understand how we got it, we have to look at its main ingredients and analyze them. Only when the right things are being done in the right order and at the right time, do we generate the consistent, high-performance results we desire.
  • July/August 2017 – “Our Mission Represents a Higher Calling Than We Think” - We all know that a successful sales person on our floors can make a very good income. In most cases better than they can in other industries after spending more time and money on additional education. However, even when we show today’s younger applicants what they can earn, many of the ones we really want, turn up their noses and go elsewhere. Why is that? Perhaps it is centered on the fact that they are more interested in “making a great living” than just a good income.
  • September 2017 – “Is it Time for an Upgrade?” - Unlike much of the last century, it is not the manufacturers and suppliers pushing retailers to change. Today it is the need to better serve the customer that drives innovation and thus change for all consumer products industries. Why has this happened, what does it mean for us as business people? Let’s take a big picture look at the marketplace dynamics that have caused this to happen and perhaps gain some insight into how we might improve our planning process for the changes we face.
  • October 2017 - “Our Competitive Battlefield - the Enemies Are at Our Gate” - The very nature of who we are and what distribution channel we belong to can make our job either easier or harder! This column takes a look at the historic share data from a sales performance trend standpoint, so we can have a better understanding of who the players really are and how our market has evolved in the last couple of decades.
  • November 2017 – “Why Many Customers Leave Our Stores Without Buying” - Recent research indicates that as many as 50% of those consumers who shopped a store and left without buying, stated that it was because the store: “Did not have what I was looking for.” Wow, that is an awfully big number. Isn’t it our sales peoples’ job to help our customers find what they are looking for? Let’s take a look at what could be causing this to happen.
  • December 2017 – “So Why Else Do Customers Leave Without Buying?” - Once we get the consumer talking to us about why they came in, we need to properly analyze their needs and wants, then develop a solution that fulfills their dream for the room within whatever physical or financial limitations they may have or they will walk out. This column presents the essence of the needs analysis and development process we train our clients to provide for their customers.

If you need any further advice or help with your plan or these “projects”, please feel free to contact me at: tomzollar@impactconsultingservices.com

You can find the Home Furnishing Business digital archive of past issues at: http://furniturecore.com/Default.aspx?tabid=676

Rest Area? Online Players, Specialty Products Add Energy to Mattress Category

Since the end of the Great Recession, mattresses have been Old Reliable for just about anyone selling home furnishings.

Quarter after quarter, the category has registered comfortable single-digit sales increases while continuing its strong track record of profitability. Aided by the souped-up marketing budgets of many vendors, and financial incentives that include everything from local advertising rebates to special sales commissions, it consistently has produced healthy retail margins.

There are no signs that pattern is going to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the category has been free from drama.

Last year began with Tempur Sealy International parting ways with its largest customer, Mattress Firm, in a classic he said/she said divorce. And it ended with Mattress Firm’s parent company, South Africa-based Steinhoff International, facing scrutiny over “accounting irregularities” that led to the resignations of its longtime CEO and board chairman.

And in between, traditional vendors and retailers got worked up about the rapid rise of so-called “bed in a box” producers who sell mattresses online and don’t mind tweaking the noses of traditional players.  Mattress Firm got its nose so bent out of shape, in fact, that it sued one of the largest online players, Tuft & Needle, accusing the company of making false and disparaging statements about them in its advertising.

Another big online player, Purple, is about to become a public company (and may already be one by the time you read this). That’s important because, amid charges by traditional vendors that the sales figures tossed around by some online players are wildly exaggerated, it will give everyone a more accurate picture of the company’s finances.

(In presentations to potential investors last fall, Purple has claimed it had sales of more than $50 million in 2016 and was on a “run rate” to hit almost $200 million for 2017.)

But regardless of who’s right, the market share battle is not going to end soon, because a new online player emerges seemingly every week to challenge traditional vendors and retailers. And of course, many traditional vendors have developed their own bed-in-a-box programs, and a few online players are getting their products placed in brick-and-mortar retailers.

That’s a lot of drama for a category marked by slow, steady growth.

According to a proprietary industry model developed by Impact Consulting Services, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, bedding sales in the third quarter of 2017 were 4.8% ahead of the third quarter of 2016. That pushed the industry over the $4 billion mark in the quarter.

The 4.8% third-quarter growth was better than the first two quarters of last year, however. The industry model showed that the second quarter was 3% ahead of the same quarter in 2016, while the first quarter was 3.4% above the opening quarter of 2016.

For the first nine months of 2017, industry sales totaled $11.34 billion, a 3.8% increase from the first nine months of 2016.

Much of the growth for the past decade has been driven by specialty bedding, which essentially is any mattress that’s not an innerspring model. That point was driven home by an Impact Consulting survey of recent mattress buyers, in which roughly 48% of them said their most recent mattress purchase was not an innerspring model.

According to the survey, 40.9% of respondents said they purchased a memory foam mattress, while 4.55% bought an air mattress such as those produced and sold by Sleep Number, and 2.27% said they bought a latex foam model.

And since no respondents admitted to purchasing a waterbed -- yes, a few vendors still make them – that meant the remaining 52.3% bought an innerspring mattress.

While that may seem like bad news for producers of innerspring bedding, it’s not as horrible as it appears since many models classified as “innerspring” now have a combination of specialty foams – some of which are gel infused to help keep the sleeping surface cool -- and innersprings. These hybrid models are some of the top sellers today, despite the difficulty deciding how to label them.

Retailers and manufacturers will be happy to know that a plurality of respondents – 45.5% -- said they bought a king-size mattress. A queen mattress – the size leader in most surveys – finished second in this one with 36.4%. Another 11.4% said they bought a full-size model, and just 6.8% said they bought twin size.

Not surprisingly, bedding specialty stores were the most popular retail locations for a mattress purchase. Some 36.4% said that’s where their most recent purchase was made, while 29.6% said they used a traditional furniture store. In addition, 11.36% each said they bought their mattress at a mass merchant and on the internet, while 6.8% said they used a wholesale club.

Department stores trailed the field with only 4.55%.

And the industry’s long-running message of urging consumers to replace their mattress every eight to 10 years seems to be having an impact, as more than half the respondents (54.6%) said a mattress should be replaced every six to 10 years. Another 27.3% said it should be replaced 11 to 15 years after the purchase, and 11.4% said it should be within five years of the purchase. Only 6.8% said replacement should be in 16 to 20 years.

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