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From Home Furnishing Business

Does Brand Matter?

By Powell Slaughter

Forget national reach: Branding is all about your market. 

The furniture industry is chock full of brands—La-Z-Boy, Ikea, Bassett, Ashley, Ethan Allen—we know them, and we love them ... sort of. Problem is, those “icons” mean way less when the people looking for furniture find that the name and the brand doesn’t add up to their expectation. If you’re an independent retailer, it’s up to you to make your name a brand. What do you bring to the table, what makes you the go-to destination for home furnishings in you marketplace?

This month, Home Furnishings Business takes a look at branding, and what you can do to plow your own ground when it comes to creating a brand.


Bassett Furniture is a fairly well-recognized name among furniture companies, and it’s been making waves with its HGTV Home collection. Is there any sort of “push/pull” between the Bassett brand and HGTV, and how does Bassett manage that? “With any brand partnership it helps if there’s a congruence in values, at both the business and product level,” said Renee Loper, vice president of independent retail business development and marketing. “It’s why we have such a great working relationship with HGTV.”

The brand values Bassett wants to bring to the table include category leadership, teamwork and innovation. “There’s also the quality of people at the employee and corporate level, and there’s a log of similarity between the companies,” Loper said. Are there any brand-building lessons Bassett has learned in it relationship with HGTV? “The biggest lesson we’ve learned is to always be true to those core brand values and focus on those, to make sure those values are clear and defined; and that everyone on the team is working toward them,” Loper said. “You have to look at your brand from the consumer’s perspective. For HGTV, we have what we call ‘Essence,’ which is our brand mantra.(See accompanying grapic). Essence guides everything we do from a design perspective, photography, even the fabrics.

“We went through a repositioning of our own brand, going back to its purest form. What do HGTV’s fans and viewers get from its programming? What are the key triggers in it for our business, which is product design? As we select fabrics and finishes, they have to pass that litmus test. HGTV is about freedom of design, personal taste, and having fun with it. We had to flip our view from the manufacturer’s perspective to what HGTV viewers are seeing and getting from our brand, the HGTV Home Furniture Collection.” What are the opportunities, and challenges, of linking with a well-known brand? “The challenge is that especially with a brand as large and as loved as HGTV, and very broad-based—if you add in digital properties, the magazine and the programming it reaches more than 100 million people— is that we’re speaking to a lot of different people with a big range of incomes and style preferences,” Loper said. “The good thing for us is that people just light up when you mention HGTV. From a conversation and training standpoint, just mentioning HGTV opens up a lot of conversations. And they hear it’s from Bassett, which is an established brand. The doors open easily.

“The challenge is to stay focused on the core brand essence.”

A Retailer’s Brand

What defines brand for a retailer, and how do you measure it?

“Brand is what the community thinks of you,” said Lee Goodman, CEO of Jerome’s Furniture in San Diego. “It takes into account every encounter the consumer has with you—in person, on TV, charity involvement, billboards, what their neighbors say, what their mama told them, social media, what your trucks look like, your signage—and wraps it up into one big ball. That big ball is our brand. “We measure it in many ways but where the rubber hits the road is, are people coming into your store and shopping you? If they are, then your brand resonates appropriately. If they don’t come in, then you’ve got a problem. We work with FurnitureCore to understand the metrics on how often we are being shopped. That information is invaluable.” Last year, Jerome’s opened its first store in the Los Angeles market, and Goodman had some thoughts on establishing a brand in a new territory.

“It’s a whole new ball game—we have to think differently and have a different type of messaging depending on which market we are speaking to,” he said.

Sixty years of serving the San Diego community, running hundreds of spots a week, billboards, print ads “virtually means nothing when you move to a new media market,” Goodman said. “Sure there are transplants who know us, but for the most part we have to say hello to a whole group of people that have never heard of Jerome’s. “Of course, we don’t forget to inform them we’ve been in business for 60 years. That really resonates in a town like L.A. that has had so many furniture retailers go bust. We can assure the marketplace that we are experts and are here to stay. There’s comfort in that to the consumer.” The goal is to tell the Jerome’s story from the beginning at the appropriate pace, so that the community stays engaged. “We talk about being in business for 60 years,” Goodman said. “We talk about Jerry’s dad’s business philosophies. We talk about how the third generation is involved in the business today. We talk about

Jerry’s price and why we believe that is a fundamentally superior way for us to price our products. We have things to talk about, we have the selection people want at a great value. And we give the customer a positive experience at all touch points. “It’s not, come buy this sofa on sale this weekend.

It’s not, ‘Oh look, we have a $299 table.’ We don’t say come in and you don’t have to pay until 2019. We explain who we are as a company and how we evolved, and we find that people really respond to that. We have a good story to tell, we just have to tell it.” Measure how your message resonates in your market.

“We look at reach and frequency to determine how our messaging is getting out into the community and we listen to feedback from our locations, and social media,” Goodman said. “And hey, we look at sales. When the cash register is ringing you’re doing something right.

“There’s no silver bullet, but our mattress business, which is mostly house branded, gives us real insights into how our brand is faring, because if people buy our mattresses they are buying into the Jerome’s brand.”

Were there any particular challenges in bringing the Jerome’s brand to the LA market?

“In LA, most have never heard of us so clearly we need to really shake the bushes to get attention in a cluttered world,” Goodman said. “The good thing is, we actually have a good story to tell. Consumers are still interested in a good story, and frankly the market needed a store like Jerome’s. So it’s not like we were one more voice shouting about an upcoming sale or financing. We are truly different from our competitors, we have a 60-year history that establishes us as experts, and our location in South Bay is spot on.”

“If I had to pinpoint a challenge for LA, it’s the traffic. Of course, all that traffic is people in cars who need to buy furniture, so we’re going to look at that as a blessing instead of a curse.”


High-end motion vendor Ekornes has been stressing its Stressless line of chairs as a brand for several years.

“Our mission is to build the Stressless brand here in North America,” said Ekornes Marketing Manager Beverly Kastel. “Without brand awareness our consumers don’t know about our company or products and they certainly are not going to walk in a store and ask for Stressless by name. We estimate that we have approximately 30 million consumers in our target market that we want to reach. Of course our goal is to get them familiar with the brand enough to go their nearest retailer to learn more and eventually purchase Stressless.

“We’ve done several brand awareness surveys throughout the past seven years and we know we have very low brand awareness levels which is a huge opportunity here in the (United States) in particular. In Norway and Germany, for example the Stressless name is a practically a household term and we’ve seen an increase in brand awareness correlate strongly with an increase in sales in these markets.

We are out to do the same here. Do brands matter to furniture shoppers, in terms of retail and vendor names? “Yes, we think brands matter in all categories,” Kastel said. “Not everyone is shopping based on price alone, especially once you get into the luxury product arena and at the price point we compete at.

“We want to create brand awareness, preference and eventually a Stressless community. There is not a lot of brand building going on in the furniture industry, and we feel like we have a unique story and proposition not only for our consumers but for our retail customers as well. “

The Stressless marketing program is built on 3 pillars: advertising, retail display/merchandising and training.

“If one of those pieces is missing we are not going to be as successful as we can be,” Kastel said. “We ask our retailers to support and advertise the Stressless brand locally and we pick up the national and in some cases, the regional advertising as well. That way we are working on all cylinders, reaching consumers at all levels with the same message.

“For example, if our national television advertising attracts a consumer to check out our Web site and potentially connect with us on social media, then when that same consumer sees a local TV spot or a newspaper flyer or ad for their local retailer there will hopefully be some connection.”

The goal with all Stressless communications is to drive consumers to Web site so that they will find out where to purchase in their local area, educate themselves more about the local store and then when they do make it in to the store they are predisposed on our brand, the products and what the local retailer has to offer.

While Ekornes is the company, Stressless is the brand it wants to push.

“It’s not translated into anything else but ‘Stressless’ around the world, and it’s definitely the name we want consumers to remember,” Kastel said. “Ekornes is the company name but Stressless is the brand we are building. There are some retailers that still know us by Ekornes but for the most part I think they are all aware of what we are trying to accomplish with ‘Stressless’ in the marketplace.” In it’s re-branding efforts, Ekornes/Stressless is targeting some 30 million consumers.

“That is why we are reaching outside the traditional TV and print box to communicate with these folks,” Kastel said. “Digital advertising and social media are excellent and extremely efficient ways to reach them but we do not leave TV and print out of the mix. Our target market is older and these traditional channels still resonate with them.

“Also, for the past four years we have very strategically gone into seven markets with a comprehensive campaign to the build the brand in a certain region to see what kind of impact we could have. Instead of spreading our dollars so thin and not making much progress, we saturated these particular areas with a strong mix of traditional and non-traditional marketing and saw some great success in terms of building brand awareness.

It also helped us in other ways like increasing sales, opening up new retailers and solidifying relationships with some of our existing retailers. In 2014 we are going back to a national brand building approach with a very strong mix of traditional and non-traditional media along with a solid focus on building distribution in certain areas.” HFB


Lessons in Rebranding

Steve Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, helped his 60-year old company successfully implement a corporate rebranding effort.

Here are some lessons from that experience.

·         Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken

Coca-Cola learned not to tamper with a beloved brand in 1985 when it decided to re-stage its iconic brand with “New Coke.” The public was outraged and let Coca- Cola know they didn’t want a “new” Coke. They wanted their old Coke, literally a quintessential icon in American popular culture. Coke responded within a few months and brought back “Classic Coke.” Classic Coke sales rebounded. Although New Coke remained on the shelves, it eventually faded from store shelves. Some commentators felt the move to New Coke was a marketing gimmick to regenerate interest and sales in the brand after sales erosion due to the

“Pepsi Challenge” taste test campaign. Don Keough, company President, responded to the charge saying “We’re not that dumb, and we’re not that smart”.

·         Expansion may require a bigger umbrella.

International Harvester changed its name to Navistar International in 1986 when it sold its farm equipment business and entered the truck, diesel engine, and bus markets.

Although the name is “made up,” it broadened the brand and has strong connotations of movement and direction. As a 2013 company report stated, Navistar was selected as a name with a strong sound, a resonance to Harvester, and a connection to its root words “navigate” and “star.” It does all of those things and has since become the name of the holding company over multiple Navistar divisions, International Trucks, and MaxxForce Diesel engines.

·         Respect your heritage but don’t let it get in the way of making your brand relevant and compelling

Miller Felpax had been family owned since its inception more than 60 years ago. The Miller heritage could not be lost, particularly because its founding products were innovative for their time. However, the full name didn’t have the same meaning as it once did, so the company changed one word that encapsulates aspects of its culture, its operating philosophy, and its service to customers: “Ingenuity.” At the same time, this name placed the company smack in the middle of the position we wanted to occupy in its current and future customers’ minds, an ingenuous company

·         Names have to be understandable, accessible, or at least intuitive in meaning.

In the beginning it was unclear why Jeff Bezos would name a bookseller Web site, “Amazon.” The story is told that he named it after the river, of course, because of its size. An early logo consisted of a large “A” shape with a river-like line running down the middle of it. And the tagline was:“Earth’s biggest bookstore.” Bezos’ ambitions were as large as the company name, and he eventually developed a business model that would include far more than books.Amazon continues to fit this e-commerce giant now, doesn’t it? No wonder there’s a smile on the box. Other names can be just plain difficult to figure out. When Kraft split off its snack division in 2012, they named it Mondelez.

The name has been criticized on two counts. It’s hard to pronounce—what is the correct pronunciation? And, what does it mean? If you are a linguist you might understand the root words for “world” and “delicious.” Maybe. Similarly, Philip Morris renamed itself Altria when it was trying to position the company more as a food marketer and less as a tobacco company. What’s an “Altria”?

Not intuitively understandable. One thing is clear: customers or consumers will not work to understand your name.

·         Avoid initials unless you are a big player with an enormous marketing budget.

Avoid brand names that are merely initials. If your initials are well established in the market, still ensure your tagline delivers a branded proposition or benefit. Consider the case of SAP, which is dominant in the Enterprise market and compliments it’s small and midsized business targets with the lines: “The

Best Run Companies Run SAP” and “Run Better.” Of course, GE has the marketing muscle and marketplace presence to make big claims. Neither of these brands have restaged their names but have evolved their brands’ taglines multiple times to reflect marketing objective and market needs.


Elements of Marketing

What are the elements at Jerome’s Furniture for a great marketing program? What are the best ways retailers and vendors can tell their stories and get the word out about the company and its products?

“In today’s world, you have to be everywhere. It’s not easy like it was years ago and you buy some network and the local paper,” said Lee Goodman, CEO of Jerome’s Furniture in San Diego. “There’s a dizzying amount of places to reach the consumer today and no single place has the golden egg. It makes for a lot more work, different creative messaging, and spreading your budget across many different vendors. You have to be fast, you have to be relevant, and you have to be really smart to do it right.

“You cannot set it and forget it. Constant evaluation of how your efforts are working is another key component. Look at those metrics, study them, compare them against sales, have your sales floor communicate back to you what’s working, and hone your plan every minute of every day. If you are being successful right now, go buy your marketing department lunch. They are doing a whole lot more than they used to, I guarantee it—and they are going to have todo a whole lot more tomorrow.”

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