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From Home Furnishing Business

Servant Mentality

By Powell Slaughter

Community commitment, faith in action help Miskelly Furniture ‘Own Its Backyard.’

Beautiful stores, a family friendly environment, strong in-stock position and faith in action have made Miskelly Furniture a go-to destination for home furnishings in Mississippi’s largest urban area.

The family owned business chalked up almost $50 million in sales last year, and an unabashed positioning as a faith-based company—backed up by action— coupled with big showrooms and a wide selection of home furnishings have made Miskelly a powerful local brand in central Mississippi.

Growing Up in Retail
Brothers Oscar, Chip and Tommy Miskelly founded the business in 1978. While the others retain ownership in the store, Oscar is the only one still active in day-to-day business. The brothers grew up in a retail environment and a region dominated by furniture manufacturing.

“Our dad was in the retail clothing business in northern Mississippi,” CEO Oscar Miskelly said. “There’s so much furniture manufactured in Okolona, (Miss.) where we’re from, that we were around that business all our lives, too.”

The brothers had a friend whose family ran a furniture store in Okolona, and they noticed that people came to that location from 150 miles around.

“We wanted to take that concept to a larger metro market,” he said. That market was Jackson, Miss. (See sidebar “A Look at the Market”)

The Miskellys opened their first store, a 10,000-square-foot operation in Jackson, in 1978. The new retailer got a boost the next year when a huge flood had a lot of people looking for new furniture, but the company didn’t expand its footprint much until 1980, when the brothers opened a new 25,000-square-foot—including warehouse—location at the site of the present Roomstore in Pearl, Miss.

“We’d seen double-digit growth every year, and we outgrew our old store,” Miskelly recalled. “We had 12 parking spaces when we started—we couldn’t envision taking care of more people than that at a time—and we ended up with people parking up and down a four-lane highway on weekends.”

The retailer’s current flagship store went up in 1995 in what was then an 80,000-square-foot space in Pearl with attached warehouse. Miskelly added another 40,000 square feet to the showroom in 2004. A previous location had converted to a clearance store in 1996. The retailer’s original Pearl location became Miskellys Roomstore in 2007, offering savings on room packages.

Showroom Experience

The Miskelly shopping experience starts with a sales staff that has a service mentality. “We have a family friendly environment—if it’s bad weather, we’ll have our staff outside with umbrellas,” Miskelly said. “We have automated doors so they aren’t struggling to get in with a baby carriage, no curbs. We have an area when you first come in and can decompress before getting approached by a salesperson.

“People form an opinion when they drive on your lot and walk through your door.”

That location, the “tower area,” is sacrosanct for arriving shoppers. There’s a display of furniture, and they have a chance to orient themselves, and look about the store. The area also features Bible verses—Miskelly is front-and-center about being a faithbased operation—and gives newcomers a sense of what they’ll find as they go deeper into the store.

When the customer makes a move, Miskelly Furniture takes a service-oriented approach to the sales process. “Once we have that initial greeting, that customer is aligned with a salesperson—and that salesperson is a servant,” said Alan VonderHaar, senior retail analyst and mattress buyer. When it comes to merchandising, Miskelly Furniture likes to offer a big selection by category.

“We’ll have upholstery laid out by lifestyle, kids furniture in one area,” Miskelly said. “We had a big re-model in 2011 when we did an area called ‘The Marketplace.’ It’s eclectic, one of a kind items, and the salespeople love it because there’s always color, new items, reclaimed looks that give them a lot to talk about.”

The Marketplace offers shoppers unique upholstery, wood pieces in surprising finishes, goods from countries ranging from Mexico to India, and interesting pottery. There’s more fun to be had with the “Caring Carousel.” The merry-go-round, which Miskelly found in Argentina, offers kids a place to enjoy themselves while their parents shop. It’s also part of Miskelly’s commitment to improving the community where it does business.

“We ask people to donate a dollar to ride it, which goes to a children’s charity we select on an annual basis,” Miskelly said. “Over the past 12 years we’ve raised $500,000 in money and furniture. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s one of the most rewarding things we do in our business.”

Building on Bedding

Miskelly Furniture’s first sleep store opened in 2008, and its second came online in 2010. After puttering along at 10 percent for a long time, the bedding category now accounts for around 25 percent of business. “We’d always carried bedding,” Miskelly said. “We were growing with it, but not dominant around here. “We still have it in the other stores, and as you build a specialty in it, it helps the business at all locations. We’ve been able to capitalize on a lot of the new technology and memory foams. It’s really given us a boost.”


Health-conscious shoppers and aging baby boomers are driving a lot of bedding business Miskellys’ way. “Our attachment ratio in power (bed) bases is one of the best in the industry,” Miskelly noted. “Once you try one of those out, you’re likely to buy.”

Marketing and Advertising

Miskelly’s primary advertising vehicle for sales is television. “In all advertising, you put your best foot forward, and our furniture is our best foot,” said Betsy Tabor, marketing director. “Television is best, because you can’t really capture our atmosphere with still photography. “All other (media) are supporting vehicles. Our local newspaper has gone down drastically in circulation, and we’ve supplemented the loss of print with social media.” Right now, Miskelly has around 9,000 “likes” on Facebook. The retailer is active on Twitter and does a lot of strong e-mail blasts.

“We fragment the message to make sure we reach our customers where they’re looking,” Tabor said. “We do a lot of online advertising.” While the social media world has made her job more complicated, it’s also made it a lot more interesting. “You can find new ways to reach more people and spend less money,” she said.

“We’ve always said, ‘We have to own our backyard,’ and with that we not only try to serve the people coming into the store well, but give back to the community that’s done so much for us,” Tabor said. With advertising “we’re positioning selection, service and price. We do want them to know why we’re the best choice around.”

A lot of the advertising highlights brand attributes of selection, service and a lovely shopping environment.

“As I said, we like to put our best foot forward, and for me, those brand spots are my favorites, because they show how beautiful our stores are,” Tabor noted.

Beyond Furniture

Miskelly’s slogan is ‘beyond furniture’ and its ‘Sweet Dreams’ program with Tempur-Pedic is an example. “Tempur-Pedic approached us with a great deal of single mattresses they had available,” Tabor said. “We located the 501-3C’s for delivery. … It took us quite a while to find organizations that would qualify, and that would be able to use a single twin mattress. We then partnered with a local TV station to put together a campaign.

“Every week we’d deliver to another organization, and the station was great about giving coverage. Tempur-Pedic was extremely pleased, and they have taken our model to develop a campaign they’ll share with other dealers.”

 “It’s a feeling and a passion passed from the owners to the employees,” VonderHaar said. “When you talk about branding, you have to talk about the community.”

 

The Difference

Oscar Miskelly credits the size of Miskelly Furniture’s showrooms, economies of scale, depth of selection and same-day delivery for strong growth coming out of the recession.

“We aim to be in stock 85 percent of the time on everything we have to show, and certainly, the community service helps,” he said.

All that’s paying off at Miskelly Furniture, which ranked first on Home Furnishings Business’ Power 50 ratings of independent retailers. “We had some of our best months and days last year that we’ve seen in six or seven years; and in the first three months of 2014 we’re still tracking ahead,” Miskelly said. “We continued to be aggressive with our advertising even during the downturn, and I think people remembered us when things started turning around.

“Long-term financing has built our average ticket, and as housing starts have improved we’re doing more housefuls of furniture.” HFB

Miskelly Furniture at a Glance

Founded: 1978

Headquarters: Pearl, Miss.

Store Count: 6 stores around the Jackson, Miss., area, including its 120,000-square-foot flagship store in Pearl; a 40,000-square-foot namesake location in Madison, Miss.; a 40,000-square-foot Miskelly Roomstore in Pearl; two 6,000-square-foot Miskelly Sleepstore locations in Flowood, Miss., and Ridgeland, Miss.,; and a 15,000-square-foot clearance center in Pearl.

Key Management: Oscar Miskelly, CEO; Betsy Tabor, marketing director; Alan VonderHaar, senior retail analyst and mattress buyer; Deborah Watson, COO; Tracey Dillard, marketing assistant.

Annual Revenue: About $50 million in 2013.

Employment: 250 employees.

Web site: Miskellys.com

A Look at the Market

As a middle to upper-middle price-point retailer, Miskelly Furniture has a good home in the Jackson, Miss., area. Fifty-one percent of consumers there are looking for middle prices; and 23 percent are at upper-middle points, according to market analysis from Home Furnishings Business’ parent company Impact Consulting. Retail sales of home furnishings in the market are on the upswing, as well, with 2013 sales totaling $142.4 million, a 1.1 percent increase over 2012, when sales were up 7.2 percent from 2011.

Free Time

Miskelly Furniture hung its hat in the Jackson, Miss., area, and that’s where CEO Oscar Miskelly spends most of his spare time. “I enjoy youth sports, and I’m very involved with that in our community, not just from a coaching, but promoting things to help kids, whether to advance to the point they get a scholarship or to provide an outlet,” he said. “I work on promoting that in our community.” Marketing Director Betsy Tabor also makes an effort to be involved with local high schools’ booster clubs. Miskelly Furniture is very upfront about being a faith-based business, and Oscar Miskelly and others in the organization are very involved in their church.

He also noted that he’s benefitted from traveling to see how other furniture stores operate. The store is a member of Impact Consulting’s Strivers performance group, but Miskelly said the family focus of so many retailers predates Miskelly Furniture benefitting from that association.

“We’ve been able to travel and visit with a lot of other retailers, and furniture retailing’s family orientation makes our business pretty special—you’re always taking with the principals,” he said. “Other people like Nebraska Furniture Mart are willing to spend time to talk about what they do. … I was just out in California to see Living Spaces.

“We try to stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on in furniture retailing across the country. That’s helped us a lot, the ability to travel and see how other people are doing things.”



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