From Home Furnishing Business
Take 5: Brian Woods
Retailing veteran Brian Woods became CEO of Jerome’s Furniture on Sept. 7, taking the helm of a San Diego-based, family-owned retailer that has more than doubled in size in the past decade and opened its first stores in the ultra-competitive Orange County/Los Angeles market.
Woods, who most recently was president and chief merchandising officer of Virginia-based Haynes Furniture, talked with Home Furnishings Business about, among other things, his vision for the 13-store chain; tweaks he hopes to make to the product line-up; and the “endearing” company culture that sets Jerome’s apart.
Home Furnishings Business: What attracted you to the Jerome’s post?
Brian Woods: What attracted me was the culture. The culture at Jerome’s is very unique and very endearing, but the brand in the marketplace is also incredibly strong and loyal. Throughout the interview process, whether it was running into strangers or walking in the stores, literally every constituent, whether it was an employee or an outside customer, had positive things to say. There was not a single negative story about Jerome’s. Just the idea of leading an organization with so much brand loyalty was incredible. It was inspiring.
It also was an incredible opportunity to take a very successful model and lead that growth. And I’m a Southern California native, so it was like coming back home.
HFB: Your predecessor more than doubled the store count while he was CEO. Do you plan to continue adding stores? Can you name any specific markets?
Woods: Initially, what I’m really looking at are areas where we can strengthen our current position…strengthen the brand and position us for growth. When growth opportunities present themselves within our current distribution model, then we’ll take advantage of that. There’s absolutely a vision to continue in the growth pace that (former CEO) Lee Goodman set. I’m just looking to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
During Lee’s tenure, he took the company into the Orange County/Los Angeles market. Our brand position in terms of overall percent of sales are definitely slanted more toward San Diego currently. But now that we’ve got our store base there…I’d definitely like to strengthen our position in Orange County and continue to take market share.
HFB: What are the differences between the two markets?
Woods: From our perspective we’re trying to limit the differences between those two markets. We try to standardize as much as we can. We’re doing our best to provide the exact same customer experience whether it’s being sold in San Diego or Orange County. I think there’s opportunities within San Diego as well as the LA market. But we’re really focused around delivering the same exact experience regardless of what store the customer visits.
HFB: Are you planning to make changes to the product lineup?
Woods: I don’t want to talk about specific product categories because I don’t want to give away too much information to my competition, but I will say that we’re going to be moving toward better quality goods. There’s some open space with some of the higher-end boutique lines. With the Jerome’s brand, we can bring some of the better quality, higher fashion lines to the marketplace and deliver a very transparent, incredible experience.
Our bread and butter is right down the middle of the road. I would like to bring a larger assortment to attract some of those more fashion oriented customers. I’m looking to draw in customers who have not thought of Jerome’s in the past. And I’m also looking at giving our current, loyal customer base a wider selection.
HFB: How will Jerome’s address the growing competitive threat from e-commerce sites such as Wayfair and Overstock.com?
Woods: This is an area where I’m incredibly fortunate. Our Jerome’s e-commerce experience is by far the best in class. From the assortment we show on the site to our virtual room planner that allows our customer to see what it’s going to look like inside their house, we have an opportunity to expose customers to the Jerome’s experience before they ever pull in the parking lot.
I’m not looking to build an e-commerce site that is separate from the brand at all. I really want to use (our current) e-commerce site as a tool to allow customers to be exposed to Jerome’s anyway they want, whether that’s online or in the store. Well over 50% of our customers are looking online before they ever set foot in a store. We’re seeing triple digit growth in terms of year-over-year increases in online sales. I’m not comfortable sharing what percentage of our sales are online, but I will say that we expect that to continue to grow.
We’re definitely seeing all age groups at least do research online, but the Millennials are more prone to actually make the purchase online. But we want to bring that same experience in-store as well. The goal is to make it seamless between the online and in-store experience. I don’t know which one is leading. It’s built-in competition.
HFB: Are there any special challenges as an ‘outsider’ taking over a successful family-owned business?
Woods: I don’t know if I would use the word challenges. But definitely there’s a dynamic. The family is incredibly passionate and its multi-generational. The culture that lives within Jerome’s goes back several generations. Jerry (Navarra) is still the face of Jerome’s.
I look at it as me needing to adapt to the culture, rather than expecting the culture to adapt to me. (The culture) is the best thing Jerome’s has going for it.
HFB: Will you be making any changes internally to the management team?
Woods: I’m inheriting an incredibly talented leadership organization that is passionate and driven. From that perspective, I’m incredibly fortunate. I’m looking at the opportunities to take what is already working in a very successful business model, and an incredible culture, and strengthen those so that we can continue to deliver a better customer experience in whatever channels we’re playing in. I want to set us apart further and further for the competition and position us for growth.
We’re winning right now, and all the initial opportunities that I’m looking at have to do with continuing to refine and deliver an even stronger customer experience on the foundation that’s already been set.
HFB: So it’s safe to assume that Jerry will continue to be the face of the company, and the everyday low price strategy he developed will remain in place?
Woods: Absolutely. Jerry is in every single ad … in English and Spanish. He does it ad lib. There’s no script (laughs).
The everyday low pricing strategy is absolutely what defines Jerome’s. It’s truly the core of who we are and what we do. Literally any initiative we do is really about lining up and strengthening that value proposition.