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From Home Furnishing Business

Retail Details: Forward Motion

 

By: Powell Slaughter

Sometimes retailers are surprised at what strikes a chord with customers in the communities they serve—the sort of thing that makes a business a local institution.

In Knight Furniture’s case, it was a scale—an antique in front of the retailer’s main store in Sherman, Texas.

“We had a scale in front of our store that’s apparently become a community fixture,” said Joey Gunn, director of advertising and buyer at Knight, who represents the company’s fourth generation of family management. “It’s an old scale from the 1920s or ‘30s. It broke, so we pulled it inside until we could get the part.

“It’s so old that you can’t just go out and find parts for it anywhere, so we had it in back for a while until we could get it replaced.”

Gunn found himself inundated with messages asking where the scale was—apparently a lot of folks liked to stop and check their weight.

“I flirted with the idea of running a ‘save the scale’ sale,” he joked.

It might not have been a bad idea. Knight Furniture indeed is a local institution—dating back to 1912, when the store was founded. Knight operates two namesake stores in Sherman and Gainesville, Texas, on the outer fringe of the greater Dallas area; and an Ashley Furniture HomeStore it opened in Sherman two years ago.

 

CHANGING TIMES, CHANGING MARKET

Knight Furniture was founded 112 years ago by Joey Gunn’s great uncle, J.B. Knight. Back then Dallas was a lot farther away than it is now. While Knight Furniture competes today in a bigger world—metro Dallas—than its founder did, the store still has a “hometown” approach to dealing with customers that works.

“We’re about quality and value, and while that sounds old, you have to remember we’ve been serving this area for over a hundred years,” Gunn said. “We hear about customers buying things here that have become family heirlooms. We’re not going to be the place that sells the $100 sofa they’ll throw away in a year.”

Pretty soon, Knight and every other furniture retailer in metro Dallas will face a well-financed competitor that’s about to make a cannonball into the local pool—Nebraska Furniture Mart’s half-million-plus-square-foot showroom set to open next year.

Gunn actually looks forward to that challenge, since it will put a spotlight on furniture for miles around.

“They have a great organization, and I’ve been to their Kansas City store,” Gunn said. “They will make furniture popular in Dallas, and that’s a good thing, they’re going to make furniture cool—but if furniture’s going to be cool again, you have to be relevant and be part of the conversation.”

That kind of completion had better make retailers in the area pay attention to what they’re doing.

“You can’t get lazy—no matter what you’re telling your customer, they deserve more than that,” Gunn said. “Competition brings everyone up.”

Not only that, Gunn doesn’t think other furniture stores are Knight’s real competition as long as it takes care of its own business.

“The home furnishings industry competes with movie theaters, with maybe buying another car or a boat,” he said.

It’s all about what people have to spend, and with all the options out there, Gunn welcomes anything that puts furniture front-and-center in consumers’ minds.

 

STEPPING UP

All of which is not to say Knight Furniture is just waiting for a rising tide of furniture awareness. The retailer is in the midst of a remerchandising effort at the main Sherman store that will put key categories front and center in the three-story facility.

While bedding sales have run a respectable 18 to 21 percent of revenue, Knight was worried it was losing sales in the category. Right now, it’s moving its bedding department from the third to the first floor in an area designed by Connie Post.

“There were customers who came in here, purchased product and loved us, but never made it to the third floor,” Gunn said. “One of my worst fears is that people buy their furniture here but don’t even know we have bedding. And the Mattress Firm fraternity makes sure those people know they can get it at their stores.”

The Sherman store is on a square in town that gets a lot of foot traffic—and attention, remember the scale?—and Knight is big on window merchandising.

 “We’re always changing what’s in our front window,” Gunn said. “Since we’re on a square, we have a lot of people walking by, so we pay a lot of attention to those front windows.

“We create what we call ‘lifestyle pods’ where we offer a complete look. We change a lot, because all of a sudden that look can get stale, and we aren’t relevant.”

Knight Furniture’s window clings also capitalize on the retailer’s foot-traffic curb appeal.

“We have those themed along lifestyles like ‘Relax’ or ‘Comfort,’” Gunn said. “One of our tag lines for advertising is ‘We’ll make you feel at home,’ so we play to that.”

 

REACHING THE AUDIENCE

Figuring out the new advertising landscape is a challenge.

“Before 2008, you could get your advertising on TV and make sure the whole region saw you,” Gunn said. “Now, a lot of people have Dallas channels, Sherman channels, then you throw in cable and U-Verse.

“We’re still promoting a family feeling, and that it’s about the relationship and not necessarily making the sale. Sometimes we’re so busy selling something that we forgot to make a friend.”

Knight also is latching onto the days that get shoppers shopping. An event like Black Friday wasn’t important to Knight Furniture even a couple of years ago.

“I don’t know if it was because we didn’t have our message out there or that we’re just now catching up with what shoppers are doing in other categories,” Gunn said. “The amount of business we do on non-holidays versus holidays? There’s a lot of water flowing downhill out there, and you can tell when you’re hot and when you’re not.”

 

UP AND COMERS

Joey Gunn, 31, is heavily involved in an industry effort to build bridges among the rising generation of retail and vendor leaders—Next Generation Now.

After working in his family’s business since his warehouse days at age 14, he was very glad to encounter other young folk that wanted to carry on a tradition.

“Five or six years ago, that kind of thing wasn’t important to me, and I wasn’t important to them, but then I got to where I was making decisions here,” Gunn said. “I walked into a room and found a bunch of people with the same problems.”

By dint of age, Gunn and his fellow generation members find their elders looking to them for answers to breaking ground in areas such as e-commerce and social media as it relates to furniture retailing.

“They want us to solve the ‘technology crisis,’ and we’re front and center on that,” Gunn said. “That’s good, but even though I started working in our warehouse when I was 14, as far as being in a decision making role, it’s only been about five years.”

He said his focus is finding out who Knight’s customers are and who’ll they be in the next few decades.

“We’re at a very tricky stage,” Gunn said. “We want new customers, but we can’t lose our base. If we don’t get hold of the ones who are coming, we won’t do well.”

 



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