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From Home Furnishing Business

Changing Channels

Traditional Furniture Stores Continue to See Competing Channels Emerge.

It doesn’t look as if there’s any end in sight for new consumer alternatives to traditional home furnishings stores.

For instance, high-end furniture retailers that haven’t lost sleep over different ways consumers might find the sort of product they carry might want to check out

The online consignment shopping site for upscale home furnishings launched in late February specializing in good condition, upper-end furniture, accessories and accents.

A browse through the site indicates the concept can move product—a fair amount of what you’ll see already is labeled “sold.”

Chairish aims to meet two needs in the marketplace. First, well-to-do and wealthy consumers who are moving or giving their home a makeover have a vehicle to get some cash out of their old furnishings versus giving them away or storing them.

Second, it makes gently used, but high-style furniture available at a savings to aspirational consumers, or those who while well-off, still want a value.

Think about how the value of that new car drops the moment you drive it off the dealership’s property. (I know I’ll probably never buy a brand-new automobile again.)

The site serves customers anywhere in the United States who have a major credit card, and offers white glove-shipping as well as a standard 48-hour return policy on all items.

For sellers, Chairish offers to levels of service: first, a standard service anywhere in continental United States. Sellers complete an online form, share the story behind their piece and upload photos. Once Chairish curators approve the listing, it is posted and ready for purchase. Listing is free, and Chairish receives a 20 percent commission upon sale. There is a $250 minimum listing price per item. 
The second seller-service level, Concierge, is currently offered in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Chairish is based, and will roll out in additional major markets. With this service, a Chairish representative comes to the seller’s home, inspects the furnishings, writes the listings, take the pieces from the home via white glove movers, puts them into secure storage, and professionally photographs the items. When the piece sells, Chairish manages payment, shipping logistics and only takes a 40 percent commission. Listing is free.  
The site brings plenty of e-commerce experience to bear, with its founding team includes entrepreneurs from places such as Hotwire, TripIt, Yahoo, Expedia, eBay, and Levi Strauss & Co.

Chairish is one of the latest examples of how people are finding furniture in new places.
Greensboro, N.C.-based furniture marketing consultant Joe Carroll has long maintained a list of distribution channels for furniture.
His updated list, which he shared with Home Furnishings Business, stands at 86 now, same as last year, but it has changed slightly, losing “computer specialty” stores and gaining a new category, “sleep specialty” stores. 
“Sleep specialty used to be under ‘product-specific specialty stores,’ but bedding specialists are one of the fastest growing channels within that group, so they rated their own listing,” Carroll said.
With retailers such as CompUSA no longer in the picture and consumers now purchasing office furniture at other electronics outlets such as Best Buy, Carroll felt the computer specialty channel had pretty much gone away.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people, and they say computer stores just aren’t carrying furniture anymore,” he said.


Along with “sleep specialty” stores, Carroll said he’s seen most growth in the “multi-regional chain,” “regional chain” and “national chain” segments among furniture stores; “online furniture retailers”; and “flash sales sites.”
“Online furniture retailers also have divided into three kinds: furniture retailers selling on line, wholesalers like Amazon selling online and the Internet-only dealers like Wayfair,” he noted.
Flash sales sites are a permanent part of the home furnishings distribution picture, he added.
“Flash sites are reminiscent of the ‘80s when catalogs came on, or when Internet sales began,” Carroll said. “Everyone said those would always be a small part of furniture sales, and now the Internet has $5 billion. Flash sales sites are growing, and they’re here to stay.
“That turned out not to be a ‘flash in the pan.’” HFB

From the Editor : Prepare to Win

As of press time, the country was just going into the Final Four weekend of March Madness of the NCAA championship. The four teams—Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse—have made their way to Atlanta, soon to be followed by ardent fans of the sport.

I absolutely love college basketball.

Some of that love comes from growing up in North Carolina where passions run deep and rivalries are hot. Back in the day, who could argue with the strength of Tobacco Road, and its majestic cluster of basketball powerhouses? Much of my love for the sport comes from spending my college years in Chapel Hill, N.C., at THE University of North Carolina. (The REAL Carolina, for all my friends in Columbia, S.C.)
While my beloved Tar Heels fell to the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas in the third round of play, I’m still watching. My bracket, chosen through loyalties to the ‘Heels and the Atlantic Coast Conference, started to fall apart weeks ago. It’s pretty much disintegrated now with none of my chosen four anywhere near Atlanta. Every year, I say I’ll fill in the bracket without following my heart. THAT isn’t likely to happen—EVER—and even if it did, given this year’s topsy-turvy, unpredictable month of games, my picks still would have gone down. I might could have improved my chances of winning the pool had I collected a few quarters and opted for a heads-or-tails strategy.

That’s the beauty of March Madness. Short of my team winning it all, the craziness and excitement of the unknown keeps me tuned in for “just one more game.”
I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck college basketball, March Madness and the Final Four has to do with the furniture retailing business.
The way I see it, retailing, like college basketball, is an extremely competitive sport.

To succeed and play well, it takes practice, the right tools and of course, some information on who your competition is. I have no doubt that each of the teams playing in the Final Four in Atlanta have been studying and reviewing the other teams to decipher their strengths and weaknesses in an effort to develop the most effective game plan. Coaches and assistant coaches are all poring over strategies that have been successful in previous games, but to do that, they must know their competitor.

Preparation is the key to success. Knowledge is power.

Who is your primary competition in your market? Is it Amazon? Your neighborhood pharmacy? Walmart? Target? The local bookstore? The Best Buy in the local shopping hot spot? Look around, you’re likely in the fight of your life with someone other than what we think of as a “traditional” furniture retailer.

Duking it out for those elusive consumer dollars, and the consumer’s time and attention.

So jump in with both feet, figure out who your competition is and be ready for the big win. Find the tools that make the most sense and put them to work in your operation. You’ll be thankful when you come out on top.

Now, back to basketball.

Thank goodness for Cinderella teams, underdogs, enthusiastic players and coaches with the desire and will to win. Going into the weekend of play, my heart lies with the Wichita State Shockers—a fabulous mascot given the circumstances.

Publisher's Letter : Who’s Your Competition?

So, who are your competitors? Seriously, think about this a minute before reading further, list them in your head. You probably named the traditional retailers in your area, but did you think of your local grocer or drug store? They didn’t make my list either, but after doing a bit of research and reading a rough draft or two of articles appearing in this issue, my list would be a lot longer.

I could list a few more for you here, but will let you uncover that information for yourself in later pages.

We all know the importance of real estate on your showroom floor, and I would imagine it’s the same in the grocery industry, so why is the widest aisle in my local Kroger the one with furniture and accessories?

I don’t believe it’s for the convenience, heck I’ve never said let’s run by Kroger real quick and check out those recliners. I’d like to know who has. I mean really, how would you get it in you basket and through the 20 items or less lane? I joke, but the only reason they would give up this floor space is because they are making profit on these items.

The same thing is happening at my local CVS. Now they haven’t ventured into furniture, but they have a few accessory products that could appear on your retail floor. Granted the quality is probably much different than what you offer, but my point is consumers have options besides the traditional furniture retailers today. In my opinion, these places seem very strange for a furniture purchase. I don’t believe

I would ever take a serious look at either location when shopping for something new for my home. That said, others must be purchasing items from them if the merchants are willing to give up the floor space to feature the products.

Traditional brick-and-mortar furniture stores are facing more competition than ever before. The days of being the only game in town have long past. It’s up to you to find a way to reach your customers and get them in your door. It can be done, you just need to point out your strengths and tell them why you are the better selection for making any furniture purchases.

Your core business is furniture and it always will be. You have a vast selection of products and designs to fit any home. You have the fabric and color selection that will allow them to have a custom piece in the home. Your staff is knowledgeable and can answer any questions or help with overall room design. Your delivery and customer service people will help them if needed after leaving your showroom. None of these items can be said for a grocer, drug store or most any other non-traditional competitor you might name.

This issue of Home Furnishings Business magazine takes a look at all the channels retailers face daily while trying to conduct business. After reading this issue, you will have learned a few things from other retailers and how they are positioning the traditional furniture stores to remain the first choice for customers. 
Are you the first choice for home furnishings in your marketplace?

Mobile Revolution

Thinking of Incorporating Mobile Technology into Your Operation? Read on for Issues to Consider.

Got a smartphone? Next time you have a few minutes, run a search on the App Store for “shopping apps.”

You’ll find a lot of companies already on the mobile technology bandwagon. Best Buy, Walmart, Toys r Us, Overstock, Amazon, Zappos, Office Depot, Staples—the list could fill a lot of this page.

In home furnishings you’ll see names such as One Kings Lane, Ballard Designs and Ikea—no big surprise there—on the App Store, but for the most part furniture retailers are playing catch up with other consumer products sectors when it comes to granting their customers access to their products and services via mobile phones and tablets.

Sales of those units are growing every year, and there’s a generation of consumers entering their buying years that has never known a world without digital mobile technology.

Just when we were getting used to shoppers heading first to the Internet, it appears that not too far into the future, they’ll be heading for their smart phone or tablet instead—a lot of them already are. When that time comes, will they find you?

Mobile technology presents both opportunities and challenges to retailers, said Myriad Software Principal Carolyn Crowley. The San Diego-based home furnishings retail automation specialist made mobile the centerpiece of a couple of sessions at its user conference last month in San Antonio.

With so many consumers using their smartphones during the shopping, and sometimes purchasing, process, Web sites optimized for mobile users and in-store mobile-friendly features for product information and such can be a competitive advantage.

Crowley pointed out that Lowe’s is deploying iPhone-based mobile POS to compete with Home Depot. Furniture retailing, she pointed out, has some catching up to do.

“When you go to places like Best Buy, the capability of what you can see and do online is better in other industries,” she said in a phone interview after the conference.

One reason is that furniture retailers looking to put information onto customers’ phones face challenges unlike, say, an airline selling tickets or taking reservations via mobile.

“That airline controls what it’s selling, its own tickets,” Crowley said. “The challenge a furniture retailer has is that you’re working with products that aren’t yours, you’re getting them from a lot of different vendors.”

Take QR codes that could be on product in your store.

“Does that QR code lead the consumer to the retailer’s Web site or the manufacturer’s Web site?” Crowley said. “Manufacturers need to make the information available on the retailer’s Web site. That’s an initiative that needs to happen.
“From a technology provider’s standpoint, the more connections we can give the retailer to the manufacturer’s information, the more the consumer will come into the store.”
She added that from her clients’ feedback, she believes manufacturers are more comfortable driving traffic to their Web sites versus the retailers’ sites.
“The customer’s often already doing the shopping on line and knows what they want, but not all retailers carry the all the product they see on the manufacturer’s Web site,” Crowley said. “Wouldn’t it be great if the retailer could tell the customers (who visited the manufacturer’s site) we don’t have that particular product in the store, but we can tell you everything you need to know.
“It’s a challenge that some of the retailers can’t show (a manufacturer’s) product on their own Web sites because the customers are driven to the manufacturer’s Web site.”
At a Best Buy, a shopper can know for sure via her smartphone if the product is at the local store, and maybe go ahead and pull the trigger on a purchase.
While with furniture, especially something like upholstery or bedding, the customer is more likely to want to come into the store for a “touch-and-feel” test, having a shopping list on the customer’s phone when she walks in the door is just one example of how mobile can make the furniture buying process easier.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk them around your store with their mobile device—you don’t even have to ask them what brought them into the store,” Crowley said. “Technology service providers like us should work with our clients’ manufacturers to get as much of that information available at their fingertips as possible. Ultimately, we’re trying to sell that manufacturer’s product line, and the more a Myriad or other service provider can provide to the retailer, to arm them for the consumer walking into that store, the better off we’re all going to be.”

Myriad brought an expert in mobile applications to its conference to give retailers advice on how to make the most of mobile. Scott Gamble, vice president of digital solutions at Alliance Data Retail Services, is accountable for all the Columbus, Ohio-based company’s consumer-facing digital initiatives in the areas of the Internet, mobile, e-commerce, social media and e-mail. He and his team are responsible for the development and execution of the Alliance Data mobile strategy, which has led to multiple industry-first products in the areas of mobile marketing, payments and service.
In addition to his 15 years with Alliance Data, Gamble has more than 20 years of experience in the retail payments industry, including management roles at GE Capital and SPS Payment Systems.
Things like virtual loyalty cards, optimizing credit programs for mobile users and “geo-fences” that alert customers to deals when they’re in a store’s vicinity are ways mobile can help retailers get consumers’ attention and build sales.

Location-based marketing using geo-fences, for example, targets customers in a defined area around a store. It’s important to note that those customers have to opt in to receiving information from your store.
“That location awareness ties the context of knowing that it’s a brand I’m aware of that I’ve opted to receive information from and that the brand’s nearby—it ties all that together,” Gamble said. “The cellular networks will sell you that (locational) data for customer’s who’ve opted into receiving information from you.
“You can build a ‘fence; and be notified that one of your customer’s is in that fence—you can then send them a text.”
Consortia of non-competing retailers in the same area, for example around a mall, have made locational marketing using geo-fences much less expensive.
A key is getting those customers to opt-in, and mobile-optimized loyalty programs are one way to inspiring that commitment. It’s also convenient for customers to have that loyalty program on their phone.
“I don’t know anyone who has space in their wallet for another (loyalty) card or room on their key chain for another one of those tags,” Gamble noted.
Alliance Data research indicates that 18 percent of consumers agree that a mobile loyalty program gets more valuable as they have begun to expect offers to arrive; and that 31 percent of consumers agree that the program gets more valuable as it gets more relevant to their interests.
“Allow consumers to express preferences and filter those messages to correspond to that data,” Gamble said. “This context drives them to action,” adding that ADS found 52 percent of those on the program will visit the store’s Web site, and 50 percent will visit the store soon.
“Someone isn’t going to sign up for text promotions from 50 different brands. We’ve found they’re open to six or seven,” Gamble said.

ADS research found that 61 percent of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience.
Be careful here—if that experience is unsatisfactory, the reverse is true. Say you have a QR code shoppers can scan. Gamble related an anecdote of a retailer whose code generated a message telling shoppers they needed to view the target site on a computer.
“If you don’t connect the dots all the way to the end, it creates bad vibes from the consumer,” he said. “There are plenty of options for you to make your Web solutions mobile-friendly without spending a lot of money. Don’t do anything just to go mobile without tracking everything all the way through.”
Retailers can go out and buy an e-mail list, but they can’t buy a list of phone numbers for a texting campaign. Engage customers in the store and on your Web site to create that buy-in to what you have to offer.
“Create a database of mobile short-message service (that’s text in common parlance) users, and engage them responsibly with relevant content,” Gamble said. “Seventy-nine percent of active shoppers would opt in to store alerts for special offers and discounts; and 75 percent are interested in receiving location-based offers when near the store,” according to ADS research.
Above all, make sure the experience is mobile-friendly from end-to-end. Provide product information and add links for consumers to share via social networking sites. HFB

Inset Story

Quick Tips
Scott Gamble, vice president of digital solutions at Alliance Data Retail Services, offered these suggestions for retailers considering the use of mobile technology.
• Respect the mobile consumer.
More and more shoppers are taking their mobile phones into stores, and they’re expecting to be able to use them in yours.
• Understand that mobile is a shopping tool.
Consumers are using their smart phones to access product information, coupons and offers, comparison shop, purchase goods online and locate stores.
• Control your customer’s mobile experience.
Make sure your Web site is optimized for smartphone and tablet users.
• Build mobile-friendly in-store experiences.
Create a database of mobile users, and engage them responsibly with relevant content.
• Use barcodes to your advantage.
Deploy barcodes on your in-store merchandise that take consumers to your mobile Web site for more product information.
• Make sure your digital properties are in sync.
Audit your digital properties from end to end to ensure smooth transitions between channels.
• Mobile-optimize your credit program.
Introduce the account acquisition process to earlier in the shopping cycle to increase initial-purchase size; and educate customers on promotional offers and spending power while you can still influence shopping behavior.

Come Out Swinging

Furniture Retailers Should Get Ready to Come out Swinging This Year.

Home furnishings retailers are getting back into fighting trim versus survival mode as the economy returns to some sense of normalcy.

Wretched headlines out of Washington and news media that seem more intent on generating heat than light in a 24-7 competition for attention sometimes overshadow the fact conditions favorable to our industry have improved. Could the furniture retail sector be in for a stronger competitive stance relative to other areas where consumers can spend their money, such as travel, electronics and automobiles?

While he predicts a “mild” recession next year, economist Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics in Boscawen, N.H., thinks the answer is yes.
Beaulieu talked to attendees at last month’s Myriad Software Conference in San Antonio about moves retailers should make this year and the next.

“2013 is going to be a positive year, but 2014 will have a mild consumer recession,” he said. “The government has ensured that” with changes to FICA and concerns about the impact of health care legislation.
He added that 2015-2018 will be see very positive growth, with increased hiring and economic activity.
“How do I get ready for 2015?” he said. “Training, cross-training, improving efficiency. Start doing it now, because training takes time.”
He pointed out that a little more than 40 percent of American’s still think the country is in recession, largely due to negative headlines and continued high unemployment levels.
“Don’t let the media tell you the economy’s going to crater,” he said. “This (2014) recession—a mild one—has nothing to do with the last one. … The consumer has done a tremendous job of right-sizing and deleveraging. … Debt-to-equity ratios are at 20-year lows.
“If you can reach that consumer and line up with their expectations you’ll find they will spend.”
Home furnishings, he predicted, will outperform other retail sectors, what with steady improvement in the housing market: “While overall retail sales are okay, people want to buy what you’re selling.”
He added that now is the time to borrow money to invest in your business, since the Dodd-Frank (Financial Regulatory Reform Act) will have a negative effect on lending in 2014.
“You have this year to get your best deal,” he said. “You have to spend money to invest in a growing business.”

While furniture retail is off to a desultory start in 2013, retailers should expect and set themselves up for brighter times ahead, said Jerry Epperson, director, Mann Armistead & Epperson, Richmond, Va.
“Unfortunately, we were slammed pretty hard in February—retail was tough in general, and home furnishings was one of the worst categories,” Epperson said. “We think a lot of that has to do with severe weather tax returns running 10 days behind. A lot of retailers are telling us March is flat at best.
“If you want the reasons we’ll have bad business this year, there’s a long list, and Washington has been a very generous contributor.”
Now, for a very large “but” that gives retailers reasons for optimism.
“The housing numbers are blowing the doors off what anyone expected in their wildest dreams—we’re getting in range of it being a healthy market,” Epperson noted. “This year, new household formations will be double what they were in 2010, and Amex just said 50 percent more people will be changing homes than during last year.
“If you focus on what we rely on as an industry, you can have a good year—if you just watch 24-hour news you won’t,” he said. “The things that create demand for home furnishings are up. That’s what we’re trying to get people to focus on. If you want to be miserable, be miserable, but someone’s going to be out there meeting demand for all these people.”
Epperson believes exciting concepts are emerging for home furnishings retail, such as Ashley’s Sleep and Art Van’s Pure Sleep shops, and pointed out that more retailers are expanding, with more new stores opening in any year since 2002.
“The larger retailers are investing in growth,” he said. “Last year our total sales for all routes of distribution were up 5.9 percent. The real driver was the mattress sector, which I showed as 9.7 percent growth, the third straight strong year for mattresses.
“I think this will be a great year for outdoor furniture sales,” Epperson said. “We had this exceptionally cold, snowy winter, especially compared with last year, and people are excited about spring and summer.”
New stores in Epperson’s home town of Richmond, Va., include a Rooms to Go, and he said what happened there is an object lesson in opportunity.
“Their being here has made our Ashley stores, our Value City stores, Haynes Furniture, which is local, better,” he said. “Television, print ads are way up. It’s like Rooms to Go woke up the city.
“I don’t have the exact numbers, but with their coming to town, I’m willing to say furniture sales around Richmond are up 20 to 25 percent because of all the excitement created by this big guy and what everyone else did to respond.”

Retailers don’t need to wait for new furniture competition to start building consumer mind-share for furniture relative to the real competition—other categories of consumer goods.
“The mom and pops need to not worry about the big boxes and the giants of our industry,” said Mary Frye, president of Home Furnishings Independents Association, which is merging along with the National Home Furnishings and Western Home Furnishings associations next month into the new North American Home Furnishings Alliance. “They need to tap into their knowledge of their customers and customize the experience for those customers.”
Frye always has believed furniture retailers’ true competition lies outside the industry, and that retailers should have some fun in taking on other sectors.
“Retailers can take a tongue-in-cheek approach regarding other categories in their communications,” she said.
Going on a cruise? You might come back with some pictures, and you might also end up on a broken ship. Did that hotel look as good in person as it did on the Internet?
“Spend your money on something you can’t keep, or you can turn your home into the place you want it to be,” Frye said.

Home Furnishings Business asked a number of retailers what they’re doing to get consumers thinking more about buying the products they offer.
With Internet shopping—and purchasing—gaining ever more traction across a range of consumer categories, e-commerce is getting plenty of attention.
Colfax Furniture & Mattress in Greensboro, N.C., for example, is getting set to open its online store within the next couple of months after it tested the waters with an e-mail program that generated a big response from consumers.
Starting at the beginning of February, the retailer began showing products on its Web site for which consumers could request a quote.
“We have a person who manages those e-mails and sends back a price to the customers,” said Jan Linder, finance operations manager for Colfax. “They can come to any of our locations with that e-mail with pricing, and we’ll process a special order for them.”
The move generated overwhelming response.
“We haven’t tracked how many of those converted to sales, and that’s the reason we want to get our shopping cart up and running,” Linder said. “The interest is out there—we’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest.”
Colfax is working with Micro D on phase two of the project, setting up online product displays with pricing.
“The general market is going toward online shopping, and also the ability to see the product and the pricing is often enough to drive people into the (brick-and-mortar) store,” Linder said.
The online move is attractive from an overhead standpoint, she added, noting that it’s far less expensive than opening another brick-and-mortar store.
“Online shopping is a boat that has sailed, and the furniture industry needs to get on it,” Linder said. “If we limit our shopping cart to our delivery area, we can deliver absolutely anything we can sell in our store. We believe it can do just as well or even exceed our brick-and-mortar sales.”
In March, Furnitureland South in Jamestown, N.C.,  went live with its online store, targeting shoppers across the country and beyond.
That initiative also came in response to consumers’ tendency to hit the Internet first when shopping for just about any big purchase.
It also builds on Furnitureland South’s brick-and-mortar service roots. Customers are encouraged to contact a design consultant for full-service design expertise; from space planning to color coordination and fabric selection, expert consultants work to create a turnkey service free of charge. Purchases also are delivered by the retailer’s in-house, white glove delivery team.
Colfax expects its online store to pay dividends at its brick-and-mortar locations.
“Everyone starts on the Internet seeing what styles they want, whether it’s a store they want to go to,” Linder said. “That’s very important for us because of where we’re located—we’re a destination, we aren’t sitting on Wendover Avenue (a major Greensboro traffic artery), and you have to make a decision to come see us.
“It’s not just a matter of convenience for shopping, it entices customers to come to the store if they’re not an online shopper.”
Above all, Colfax wants a “seamless” relationship between its online presence and its stores.
“We’re trying to design our Web site and our Web store to match the message and the quality of our brick and mortar,” Linder noted. “We don’t want customers to go to the Web site, decide to come see us and have get a different impression of the our stores.”
Frye at HFIA noted that retailers can offer customers via their Web sites service that pure online retailers often don’t.
“Retailer’s can search out that source and make things happen that the customer doesn’t know how to do,” she said, noting that with an Internet-only retailer, customers can be on their own. “We sell a very subjective product. What’s beautiful to one is awful to someone else. Our reasons for buying are equally subjective. Emotion sells so much more than statistics do.”
The economist Beaulieu noted that e-commerce held up better during the recent recession, and retailers should explore that avenue before the next downturn.
“E-commerce can provide additional opportunity if you can optimize your presence on the Web,” he said.

Bassett Home Furnishings licensee Bassett San Diego’s San Marcos, Calif., store is the network’s No. 2 performer nationwide, and Bassett’s new HGTV Home collection should help maintain that high standard, said Matt Huffman, vice president.
Bassett San Diego has been doing in-home sales for more than 10 years—the technique accounts for as much as 20 percent of business. HGTV is all about makeovers, and the Bassett/HGTV Home connection makes Bassett San Diego’s in-home efforts an easier sale.
“Our HGTV partnership helps tie up our in-home designer sales,” Huffman said. “And that’s really important since those are normally five times the average ticket of other sales.
“There’s a correlation between HGTV and what we’re trying to do. It makes what we’re doing so much easier—people just don’t invite you into their home very readily,” he said.
 Larry Marquez is president of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries of New Orleans in Metarie, La., which has two stores in the New Orleans market. His plan is to continue what worked last year.
“In 2012 we were up 30, 31 percent,” he said. This year we want a minimum of 12 percent growth, hopefully closer to 18 percent. Since we’re a La-Z-Boy dealer, the brand’s not an issue.
“We sell our quality story and the La-Z-Boy brand,” Marquez said. “It appears people are looking for quality products and that they do have the financial means to buy that middle to upper-end product.”
Marquez’s advertising goal is to focus on direct mail and television, the two media getting people into the stores.
“We’re also offering some special financing on occasion—30 months, no interest,” he said. “When you can buy something of quality and can pay it off in three years with no interest, that’s a draw. We do that once a quarter.
“It’s a simple plan—it worked last year and we’re going to try to carry it on this year.”

Harkness Furniture in Tacoma, Wash., isn’t into full-blown e-commerce, but it’s tweaking its online approach to grab consumers’ attention and business.
“It’s a long road. One of our main competitors is the technology realm—televisions, electronics,” said Kellen Harkness, purchasing manager. “The hard thing for us to compare against is the ease of purchase. We’re trying to make furniture easier for consumers to buy.”
For that reason, Harkness Furniture has added pricing to its Web site like Best Buy would.
“We aren’t in full-on e-commerce yet but we want to head in that direction with a cart or taking credit card information,” Harkness said. “We recently updated our Web site—we priced our top best-sellers that we know we have in stock. When people see anything priced online they assume you have it.”
The store was on an older version of Ayr1, but upgraded three months ago.
“If we do go with e-commerce we’re set up for it now,” Harkness said. “We’re still determining what to price and what not to. … The big boxes do that well, but it’s a slower process for furniture.”
Around 150 people a day review the Harkness Web site, which the store views as a virtual showroom.
“We get buyer inquiries all the time from the Web site. They can build a shopping cart and send it to us,” Harkness said. “I took those inquiries over, and I try to answer every one the same day, and I attach a $25 gift certificate good on any purchase in the store over $99.
“We don’t have a set letter, and I try to personalize that e-mail. If they’re looking for something we don’t carry in stock, I might say, ‘I can definitely special order it in X-amount of time, but we also have these options you can purchase immediately.’ I also include pricing.”
Formerly, Harkness just sent pricing on customer inquiries, but Kellen revamped the process when he took over the e-mail responses about a year ago. Those inquiries get a lot more traction now.
“In the first week, we had five people come in the store with the $25 certificate—before, we had none,” he said.
He’s also transitioning into a new position where he’ll have more access and more time to work on the Web site.
“In the near future, we’re looking at pricing as much product as we can,” he said. “That means staying up-to-date with what our competitors are doing; examining our stock levels; and if special ordering, focusing on the amount of time it will take.”

Vermuellen Furniture in Jackson, Mich., is examining where to put marketing dollars in a time its traditional print advertising partners are cutting back. Part of that process involves better tracking of what brings customers to the Jackson, Mich., store, and that’s one of the reasons Vermuellen signed on with Myriad Software a few months ago.
“Our local newspaper is printed only two days a week now, and is just online the other days,” said Denise Fisher, CFO at Vermuellen. “A lot of the (surrounding) rural communities had their own newspapers, and a lot of those are going away.
“We used to do a lot of print broadsheets, but we can’t rely on that now. My boss isn’t real comfortable with digital, but we’re pushing him into it—life is pushing him into it.”
Vermuellen has begun e-mail marketing, which Fisher said is cost effective, and more television advertising and is using its new Myriad system to better track what brings customers to the store (Vermuellen also operates three La-Z-Boy locations, but uses La-Z-Boy’s own system at those). Fisher said the store’s local market demands care in how it approaches digital marketing.
“Jackson is a very traditional town,” she said. “We can’t necessarily do what everyone else is doing. It has to be area specific. We’re getting more into television, but there you have to decide whether to go cable or broadcast.

“We do direct-mail pieces, but that’s pretty expensive. We’ve started doing billboards, but we haven’t determined their effectiveness … We need to collect more data on what brought people in, and Myriad has a program for that.”
Vermuellen’s advertising manager also is developing the retailer’s Facebook presence to appeal to newer customers.

“Expectations are very generational,” Fisher said. “Our older customers expect a lot of customer service—they’ll want to repair a 15-year-old recliner. The younger buyers don’t seem to want as much since they’re used to finding everything online.”


HFIA’s Frye said furniture retailers need to celebrate the fact that they do good things for people, and the smaller independents that make up so much of the association’s members can make that happen personally.

“I can’t imagine there are many retailers I deal with who can’t sit down and call all their customers and have a meaningful conversation in a reasonable amount of time,” she said. “Be the person who can make it happen, who’ll use all their contacts and all of their knowledge to get that customer something they might not even know they need.

“We need to give our customers permission to say, ‘I’ve changed, and this doesn’t fit me anymore,’” she said. “Furnishings can lift you up.” HFB

Inset Story

Checklist for 2013-2014

Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics in Boscawen, N.H., offers this checklist for ways retailers can
prepare for business conditions in the next year and a half.
•  Positive leadership modeling (culture creates behavior).
•  Invest in customer market research (know what they value).
•  Training programs (people, process, internal metrics).
•  Review and uncover your competitive advantages.
•  Spend money on new products, marketing, advertising.
•  Improve efficiencies with investment in technology and software.
•  Check systems for readiness to accommodate increased activity.
•  Add sales staff and hire top people.
•  Lock in costs.
•  Judiciously examine credit.
•  Work on “What’s Next” (What are you doing to get ready for improved conditions?).

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