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From Home Furnishing Business

Bound For Furniture

The Sigesmunds Have a Good Thing Going at Pittsburgh Furniture Retailer
By Powell Slaughter

How many of our readers had their first date with their future spouse at High Point Furniture Market?

We don’t expect a lot of affirmative answers to that question, but High Point is where contemporary home furnishings retailer PerLora’s founders, Perry and Lora Sigesmund, first started hanging out with each other.

“Both our parents were in the industry, mine from a small town (Steubenville, Ohio); and her family had a small store in Pittsburgh,” said Perry Sigesmund , who owns PerLora with wife, Lora.

Perry had worked for a year at his parents’ store in Steubenville before going out on his own to open a storefront carrying traditional lines such as Drexel Heritage and Pennsylvania House. Lora’s parents had a store in Pittsburgh.

“I went to open an interior design studio in Pittsburgh,” Perry said, and that’s where the couple’s paths crossed.

“Our first date was in High Point,” Lora said. “We’d opened another store in Florida, so I was going to the market with another furniture retailer from Pittsburgh.”

As luck would have it, Perry and Lora ended up spending time after hours in High Point, and the rest of their personal history is, well, history. The couple dated for five years and got married in 1990. Four years later they opened the first PerLora store on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Now the couple own and operate the original PerLora –for Perry and Lora, of course—on Pittsburgh’s South Side, which has a decidedly contemporary ambience; and PerLora Leather, located in a former leather retail store and which has transitional looks to round out contemporary offerings.

DEVELOPING A NICHE
The vision consumers see in PerLora’s stores developed over time.
“When we first opened, PerLora, believe it or not, was funky contemporary—all the velvets and contrasting welts—we had clothing, candles, all sorts of stuff,” Perry said. “As the industry changed, we got out of that funky mode and moved to cleaner lines.

“It took us a while to get away from that (funky) style. It was like when Ethan Allen started to sell contemporary furniture. It was hard to shake off that original image and change direction.”

How does that clean, contemporary vision translate on PerLora’s showroom floors?

“We want it to look, smell and feel like no other store,” Lora said. “Now the contemporary style is chic and trendy, but at the time we started it wasn’t. Originally we wanted to have something for everyone, from jewelry to food to furniture. And many of our employees have been with us from the beginning.”

Perry said the store segued away from some of those ancillary items for a long time, but has brought back in more home accents in recent years.

“In the last year-and-a-half we’ve been reading articles about some stores that are even carrying clothing, so we’ve moved back into some candles, accessories and jewelry—we’ve definitely gotten back into some of that.

“There are certain lines you know you won’t do huge volume with, but they make the store an inviting place—though we do concentrate most of the space on what moves.”

BEST FOOT FORWARD
The Sigesmunds leave no doubt as to the strongest way to communicate to consumers the clean, contemporary lifestyle projected on their floors.

“Your Web site is gold,” Perry said. “Right now it’s the most important thing for bringing people into your store, and your Web site had better reflect what’s in your store.

“The worst thing you can do is make your Web site very cool, very inviting, and have people not get that same feeling once they get into your store.”
PerLora concentrates hard on making customers who find the store online have an experience in the showroom that matches up to the promise made on the Web.

“The experience they have on your Web site should match the experience they have in your store,” Lora said.

DON’T BACK DOWN
PerLora also has been very consistent in keeping its promotional budget to between 5 percent and 6 percent of sales, and that paid off during the recession and furniture retailing’s slow recovery from a nosedive overall in 2009.

“We didn’t back off advertising,” Perry said. “We didn’t want to fall off people’s radar.”

In fact, 2011 ended up the store’s best year yet, and 2012 beat the previous year’s performance, Lora noted.

There was another key to PerLora’s continuing to thrive in a tough retail environment for home furnishings—the store’s membership in the Contemporary Furnishings Group retail buying and networking association.

“When you’re in a group like that, there are commonalities, even though we’re all different stores,” Lora noted. “We’re contemporary, Circle (in Boston) has traditional, but we all are trying to reach the same people.”

“That networking helped us find ways to save money,” Perry said. “We feel it’s kept us alive through those difficult times.” HFB

Publisher's Letter : Merchandising Can Set Stores Apart

Consumers have more choice than ever before, and everyone is trying to get their money.

Most retailers are quick to say the ecommerce business models are difficult to compete against. They have lower overheads and in most case, fewer employees, both which allow them to offer the same products at lower prices. So what is a brick–and-mortar retailer to do?

When I did my holiday shopping last month, I bought no gifts online, not even one. Yes, it would have been easier to sit on my sofa, watch TV in my warm house and shop online. No crowds to deal with, no worries about parking, no strollers getting in my way, just me and an iPad knocking out my list of gifts.

Instead, I ventured out to the mall and small retail locations to shop. Why you ask? Because I wanted to see what was new, and what retailers were doing to promote these items.

I needed to learn the latest kid friendly items, so I could get those gifts for my nieces and nephews. Not having (or wanting) kids of my own, I needed to find out what was available. I needed help because the kid’s department is not a familiar stop.

While shopping, knowing this retail merchandising was coming up this month, I looked at things a bit differently. How were these stores merchandising? I began my “surveying” as I approached every store. What did the outside of the building look like? Were the windows clean so I could see in them? Were the aisles clean and passable? Was the presentation of products appealing to me? Could I find an associate to help me with questions? (Remember I’m in the children’s section.)

These are the differences between a retail location and shopping online. This is where you have the advantage. You have the opportunity to have grand displays, whether it is seasonal or not. You have the chance to create an ambience that can’t be duplicated on a Web site.
You invested in the premium location, now you need to offer a premium shopping experience, that’s how you separate yourself from other retailers and Web sites. Merchandising is more than placing your products on a shelf, it’s about the image you want your business to have. The businesses I like to shop are clean, neat, well-maintained and always ask me to please come back again. These are the things that will get shoppers in your door and back again.

This month’s issue covers the merchandising angle and is a great read to gain a better handle on store merchandising. Learn from your peers about what they are doing to create an environment that attracts customers and helps get products moving out your doors. I’m sure many of you believe you are hitting all the right buttons to make this happen. If you feel this way, walk out your door and do your own “survey” with your location and then go to your largest competitor’s store. If you are so busy you can’t find the time, just ask a customer on the showroom floor for an honest opinion, that could be interesting.
Hope to see you around market!

On Bedding : A Few Minutes with ‘The Sleep Doctor’

 Known as “The Sleep Doctor,” Dr. Michael Breus , Ph.D. certainly has substantial cred to justify that title. A clinical psychologist who has specialized in sleep disorders, Dr. Breus is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. His 2011 book, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, details the connections between sleep and metabolism, and he has appeared on a variety of TV talk shows, including “Oprah” and “Dr. Oz.”


Dr. Breus has applied his expertise to a mattress collection, The Dr. Breus Bed, now at retail. He recently spoke with Home Furnishings Business about his beds, their benefits, and their retail potential.

HFB: Let’s say I’m a new customer walking into a store.  You’re a retail sales associate. How do you guide me to your beds?

Dr. Breus: I would say that probably the most salient points of the beds are, warm people sleep cool and cool people sleep warm. So one of the first questions that I teach RSAs about, is to ask people ,“How did you sleep last night?” Not what price they want to pay or what size—we’ll get to those questions later. I really want them to get into a conversation about health. And there are some easy questions to ask:

“How many times did you hit the snooze button?” That’s actually a telltale sign of how sleep-deprived somebody is. If you hit the snooze button more than once, your body doesn’t want to get out of bed, which means you haven’t gotten enough sleep yet.

I ask people questions like, “How long did it take you to fall asleep?” Somebody will say, “Oh, less than five minutes.” That’s actually not a good scenario. Your body should take somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. So if it’s not taking that long, again it means you’re sleep-deprived and your body’s forcing you into sleep very quickly.

We ask consumers if temperature is a problem for them. Also, “Do have any pain when you sleep?” So again, we’re talking about physiology-based questions. “How old is your mattress?” sometimes is a very interesting sign. I don’t believe there’s a particular number of years a mattress should be held onto by a consumer. I think your body tells you when you need a new bed. So when you wake up with aches and pains, it’s probably time to think about a new bed. I will say, I think there’s an upper-level limit, but I don’t like people holding onto their beds more than seven years.

HFB: Price is going to be a part of this conversation, especially in a tough economy.

So how do RSAs get past that and sell the benefits you’re trying to bring to this industry?

Dr. Breus: One of the things that I always talk to with RSAs is that we have to give people an understanding of what the value of sleep really is. For me, I think it is immeasurable, but I’m a sleep doctor, right? I understand that people have a fiscal responsibility that they have to know and understand. These products were designed to help you sleep better and sleep longer and deeper for an extended period of time.

This is not a product that you’re going to buy again in two years, three years, four years. It’s really an investment in sleep, so that’s how we have people talk about it. Price is really the last thing that they come to. It’s really about, “How important is sleep in your life?” And if sleep is important in your life, then this makes sense. It’s like eyeglasses to me.

This absolutely has been effective so far. There are definitely consumers out there who say “I’m not spending more than $599 on a bed.” I understand that. I’m responsive to that. That’s not where these products lie. Will we ever get there? Maybe. I’m not sure. Here’s my problem: The materials in these beds are so specific, and I spend so much time finding the right (ones), that if I actually get the right material in the bed, the raw materials cost more than $599. So I can’t get down to that price unless I cheapen the materials, and I’m just not going to do that.

HFB: How has the response been at retail for your line?
Dr. Breus: It’s been excellent. We’ve been thrilled with what’s been going on with people.  … We’ve been very thrilled with the response—and it’s interesting, people are much more interested in selling health as opposed to selling a puffy rectangle.

And I like that idea. I’m here to try to change the industry, with the industry. I want to educate the industry and all of the RSAs out there. I believe that everybody who owns a sleep shop or a furniture store that sells mattresses is actually a healthcare professional. This is a piece of healthcare equipment, that’s how I look at it. I always say, “If you were going to run a marathon, you wouldn’t do it in flip flops, right? You’d do it in good shoes.” The same holds true for a bed. The people should be matched—the right bed for their sleep needs, and they will perform better and be healthier.

Editor's Letter : Dining Inspiration

Lately in my travels, as well as here at home, I’ve been to a few restaurants. Some of them new; some of them well-established spots. Each of them sport their own special slant on eats, and some offer drop-dead, gorgeous décor. The design in a few give you the feel of walking into a RH catalog or, better yet, someone’s well-appointed, comfortably dressed home. How welcoming and calming.

While in Philadelphia for a team pow-wow last month, we went to a relatively new spot, Route 6 (Route6Restaurant.com) named after the highway that begins in Provincetown, Mass., and meanders through Cape Cod.  The restaurant is located just South of our offices in Philly, in an area that is undergoing a resurgence. A number of great eateries have popped up and more are sure to follow.

Walking through the door, it hit me that there is an abundance of decorating ideas staring every one of Route 6’s diners in the face. Cozy, linen covered banquettes coupled with a feast of blond wood and metal accents. The welcoming décor makes you want to move right in. It’s an upscale beachy feel, without being kitschy—or sandy.

Another favorite in the city of Brotherly Love is The Continental Mid-Town (ContinentalMidTown.com) on Chestnut Street, not far from the famed city hall. A small-plates joint with a great mix of food to meet a variety of tastes.

Both restaurants are owned by Starr Restaurants, but the vibe of each is quite different. The Continental Mid-Town offers a more retro feel with 1960s-era chairs, curved banquettes and brightly colored tables. Upstairs you’ll find hanging wicker swing seats that allow diners to gently sway while dining.

It’s just a hip, relaxed space that serves a mean lobster mac n’ cheese and scrumptious Thai chicken wraps. Never a bad meal.

On the West Coast in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., I was fortunate enough to dine with a great old friend recently at Veladora, (RanchoValencia.com/Dining)the stunning restaurant at the newly renovated and recently reopened Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa.

A spectactular farm-to-table menu and a beautiful hacienda-style setting with open ceiling beams and dramatic metal chandeliers make diners want to linger long over drinks, dinner and dessert.

So what the heck do restaurants have to do with furniture retailing? In addition to the fact that consumers spend a lot of change on dining out these days, restaurants have become another space for  consumers to turn for inspiration in home decorating.

Your stores should be the first stop in finding that inspiration. Well-merchandised stores tend to be more successful that those that just toss the sofas on floor and line them up like soldiers waiting to march out the front door.

In this issue, we talk merchandising. Most specifically the marriage of a well-merchandised floor and a well-merchandised Web site. The two must go hand in hand, working together to entice consumers.

Enjoy the read, and we all look forward to seeing many of you at the market in Las Vegas.

Sell Your Story

If you’re tired of hearing about how the online world impacts your business, turn to the next article, because like it or not the focus of this month’s issue—merchandising—leads us once again to cyberspace.

We hope the following will encourage you to take a hard look at your store’s Web presence and how well it integrates into the merchandising philosophy customers see when they walk in your door.

You have a store, you have a sign out front, and you advertise, but when your customer decides to shop for furniture, guess where they’re going and what they see first in most cases?

If your answers aren’t “the Internet” and “my Web site,” think again. You might spend a lot of time making displays with strong visual appeal. You might have a special area of focus—be it brands, “green” furnishings or Made-in-America—but if your Web site doesn’t tell that tale, you’ll likely tell your story on your actual showroom floor to fewer than might be possible.

Read on for thoughts from retail observers and service providers, and examples of your colleagues who are working to better match online and in-store customer experiences.

WORLDS COLLIDE
In a consumer’s mind, there’s no difference between your store’s Web site and the brick-and-mortar—it’s all what Paco Underhill calls retail “convergence.

“The better integration of the online world and brick-and-mortar—particularly in home furnishings, when someone might come to a store once a quarter, maybe once a year—is very important, their use of (online) to pre-shop,” said Underhill, CEO and president of New York City-based global research and consulting firm Envirosell.

“And when someone is in the store, encourage them to visit the Web site.

“It’s all ‘convergence’—the meeting of brick-and-mortar, smartphones and the Internet. Retailers are scared of it because of showrooming—afraid they’ll come to the store, look around, go online and buy it somewhere else—and some of that’s because many haven’t effectively utilized the available tools to this point.”
In his consulting with retailers, Underhill likes to show a series of pictures of a store’s online presence, and then compare those to pictures from inside the store. The process can frequently reveal disconnects.

“There (are) often inconsistencies in the language used online versus in the store—the product terms themselves are often different,” Underhill said. “Retailers have to remember that to customers, the Internet site and the store aren’t silos, but one integrated brand.”

FINDING SOLUTIONS
With consumers hitting the Web first in many cases when shopping for furniture, how do retailers build merchandising excitement online for what shoppers can anticipate seeing in the store? And how do they create a more seamless experience between their online and physical presence in terms of presentation and attitude?
Merchandising issues were front-and-center this past year for FurnitureDealer.net; the Minneapolis furniture Internet consultant created four new client merchandising positions—one each for mattresses and appliances, and two for furniture.
“We’ve been super-focused on customizing our basic template for merchandising,” said FurnitureDealer.net Founder Andy Bernstein. “A year or two ago, it was basically a giant product catalog, but now we’re building tools to make it super-easy for consumers to find a needle in a haystack.”
That led to FurnitureDealer.net’s development of “sites within a site” that communicate what Bernstein called “the businesses within the businesses” of its retail clients.

“We’re trying to go deep and understand our clients and their merchandising and business strategies,” he said. “We’re creating microsites that create a shopping environment for what the consumer is seeking. Unless a person’s building a new home, they’re shopping more specifically, say, for their daughter’s bedroom.”

And since that shopper will more likely search for “girl’s bedroom furniture” than a specific retailer, a store’s youth bedroom microsite popping up on the search benefits the retailer from a search-engine-optimization (SEO) standpoint.

“It’s a section of the Web site that talks about those merchandising terms,” Bernstein said.

BRAND SYNCHRONICITY

In addition to SEO optimization, microsites tied to specific brands can better ride the promotional wave generated by vendors around their products.

“There are advertising resources being spent to communicate these brands, and this allows our retailers to reinforce that,” Bernstein noted. “People go out and Google these in brand terms.”

Retailers are reacting, too. FurnitureDealer.net provided examples.

“I just did a program with Pilgrim Furniture City (in Connecticut) on Ashley’s iKidz, Bardini and Livin Den,” said Kayla Robb, one of FurnitureDealer.net’s furniture merchandising consultant. “Pilgrim wanted to call attention on their home page to each.

“For the new HGTV Collection, we’ve created a microsite page for multiple retailers.”

From the home page, a link takes browsers to a brand-specific microsite with art and/or video that creates an online atmosphere more like that in the store.

“We can also feature (microsites) by category—contemporary, mountain living, casual living, French laundry,” Robb said. “The pages link from their home page; and we use smart links to take the shopper directly to product. But before that, we can show customization available like wood finish and hardware.”

MERCHANDISING CATEGORIES ONLINE

Carolyn Mann, FurnitureDealer.net’s other furniture merchandising consultant, also has received requests for work on brands, but more as part of umbrella microsites than brand-specific pages.

“Specific brands are something I’ve been addressing lately,” she said. “I’ve been asked about Amish lines or Made in America, for example, so there are certain vendors clients want to feature.”

(See accompanying “Online Merchandising: Microsites” in these pages to find examples such as Upstate New York retailer Old Brick’s Amish Furniture microsite, or Florida retailer Hudson’s Furniture’s Made-In-America page.)

“Our goal is to reflect on line as best we can how they sell in the store,” Robb said.

“And it’s not just brands. Knight Furniture wanted to emphasize their baby business, so they made a microsite for it.”

ONLINE ‘CURB APPEAL’

The microsite approach, Bernstein believes, is a better way to set online shoppers up for finding what they want than presenting page after page of beds, sofas, etc. Of course, all that product information still resides on the Web site, and is accessible from the microsites via links once the consumer has a better idea of exactly what she’s looking for.

Microsites can be tailored to specific goals: Pilgrim’s Bardini site, for instance, is more about the collection and contemporary lifestyle; while Old Brick’s Amish furniture page highlights manufacturer attributes such as the hand-craftsmanship consumers would expect from the category.

“Instead of having a whole similar template they’re looking at, consumers now can explore a site within a site,” Bernstein said. “This is a translation on the Web of what they’ll see in the store.”

Vendors are excited about the idea. Take HGTV.

“In this case, it was relationship-driven with the manufacturer,” Bernstein said. “Our clients are committing serious floor space to that line.”

Mann said the HGTV microsite stands out as a visually appealing brand page.

“All our clients who see this who are carrying HGTV want this right away,” she noted. “You get a real vibe from the page.”

Mann added that Belfort Furniture’s Sealy Optimum microsite incorporates a lot of video: “That’s something we’ve been adding to a lot of pages.”
Video is especially useful in bedding, said Bernstein.

“Typically, a mattress offerings page on a Web site looks like all the same product,” he pointed out. “This allows you to really tell that Sealy Optimum story. It helps our clients create visibility around their brand message. … We’re working with manufacturers more on video to tell the story online.”

Other online merchandising developments Bernstein highlighted include tabbed browsing that emphasizes in-stock versus special order.

“Some retailers want to highlight their inventory position,” he said. “And we now have the ability to let the retailer control the sort order on product pages. They might have ordered a container, so they want to have that up front.”

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