From Home Furnishing Business
Here’s the scenario. Four women, one car, and a Friday afternoon and an all-day Saturday shop-a-palooza in Charlotte. Mission No. 1—hit Ikea so one of my friends could make her first-ever trek to the behemoth home furnishings retailer. Mission No. 2—keep aforementioned gal away from her Columbia, S.C., home for about 36 hours so her family could prep for a HUGE surprise party. Mission No. 1 came out of Mission No. 2 in a roundabout way.
Plans were set to run away from our homes and families Friday afternoon, have a great dinner in Charlotte, spend the night and shop all day Saturday before heading home, the suspect—or she might now say victim— decided we should venture out of town early. That way, we could accompany her to Ikea to check out sofa sleeper options for the family beach house. Her decision nearly derailed the entire plan, but that’s another story.
Also on the list of stores to hit—Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. RH had a shower curtain she’d been eyeing, and a matelasse comforter that another one in the crowd wanted to see. Don’t ask who was interested in Pottery Barn or even what was on the list there; we only did a quick-moving breeze through the store at SouthPark Saturday afternoon.
It seems like many consumers these days, we became distracted by the apparel and shoe sale racks and new season designs. Those are the stores that captured our attention and some of our dollars. But, I digress. Back to Ikea, simply because it was our first stop of the adventure.
On my best of days, I get overwhelmed in an Ikea store. The stores are huge, have a zillion little “shortcuts” designed to move you quickly from one area of the store to another, and darn near require a map to navigate the floor plan. This particular day required focus. Focus to keep the devious plan on track all the while being distracted by one of my co-conspirators about to burst from keeping the real mission under wraps. She’s like a three-year-old trying to keep a secret!
But here are a few tidbits that I took away from our FOUR-PLUS hours in the Charlotte Ikea. There’s no way one can walk into that store without buying something. It may not be a sofa sleeper—that mission fell way short—but something will always be bought. Maybe it’s the excitement of the hunt or the group shopping or the sometimes shockingly low prices, but the four of us left with a hodge podge of items.
The tally from the four of us looked something like this. Four sets of 99-cent funnels. We all snagged a set of two. Three down throw pillow inserts, a glass salad bowl, plastic kitchen storage containers, five wire bins, four curtain wires and clips for a back porch, a whisk, a set of wine glasses and four sodas to go. The takeaway? You never know what little item will strike someone’s fancy. Sometimes the cash-and-cary items can keep registers singing. By the way. The party was a hit and we all managed to keep the secret.
This issue of the magazine focuses on performance. This subject is timely since much of our attention has been focused on the Winter Olympics. These exceptional athletes have trained for and concentrated the last four years or longer on these moments when they perform. The attention to the details of their sport plus the impact of external factors (such as 60-degree weather on the downhill slopes) will make the difference between an athlete winning a medal or not. This is nothing short of mind boggling.
So what does this have to do with furniture retailing?
Much the same as these athletes are those excellence- pursuing retailers with whom I have been fortunate to participate whether as clients or as Performance Group members. Many have known both the disappointment of failing performance and then the exhilaration of the comeback.
What brings about this success after potential failure? There is no silver bullet. Instead it is a process of doggedly pursuing excellence by understanding what impacts profitability and growth. In this issue of Home Furnishings Business, we break down the various revenue and expense elements for today’s retailer. While the bottom line may not be overwhelming, it will provide you a datum by which to measure your operations. Gaining a deeper understanding will allow you, similar to the downhill racer who shaves a tenth of a second off his or her performance time, to trim a percentage from each expense element. That continued effort will allow you to achieve 10 times the average.
The retail sector has few publicly traded companies for comparison and development of best practices. Our consulting and research allows us to collect comparable data, but this is all under the cloak of confidence. My dream would be to recognize those retailers who have achieved exceptionable performance in each area as well as overall. Our Performance Groups provide that recognition to a small group of peers, but not to the industry as a whole.
It is difficult to strive for excellence without recognition from others.
Once upon a time in a cozy home in the suburbs, there lived a consumer couple who was eager for a better night’s sleep. A busy couple—both hard-working and parents to 2.06 children—they craved a solid eight hours so that they could wean themselves from the three-cup-a-day Starbucks’ Venti addiction. Prescription sleep medications weren’t doing the trick, so the couple decided to follow the advice of a friend and visit the local bedding specialty store in seach of a better sleep experience. At the store, they found a knowledgeable sales associate who was patient, kind and completely understanding of their need for sleep.
The associate explained the benefits and drawbacks of the various types of beds from innerspring to gel to air to memory foam and beyond. The couple “rest tested” a number of options as the sales associate suggested and after not much time later, they had agreed on the best mattress for them. The sale was completed; delivery scheduled and off Mr. and Mrs. Consumer went to await the quick, same-day delivery of their new mattress. Once delivered, the couple fell quickly into the bed where they slept happily ever after.
If only every mattress transaction were as simple and easy as this fairy tale, the bedding retail business would be full of sunshine and kisses every day. According to Home Furnishings Business’ latest consumer survey on mattress purchasing, consumers are for the most part pleased with their latest buying foray into the category.
More than half (53.7 percent) of our consumer panel bought a traditional innerspring bed. That percentage was followed by memory foam with 37 percent opting for that construction. From there, the next closest sleep surface option was air, like Select Comfort’s Sleep Number beds at 5.6 percent. Most of our consumers bought mattresses for the master bedroom (77.4 percent) with guest bedrooms taking a distant second place at 20.8 percent. The top selling size? You guessed it, queen with 46.3 percent landing there.
Second in line was king with a third of the panel opting for the larger sleeping space. Bedding consumers are quite the price-conscious bunch. More than 77 percent spent less than $2,000 for their bedding purchase. In fact, price ranked as the most important factor in buying a mattress following by rest test options, brand and sales associate’s recommendation. Never underestimate the need for consumers to rest test a bed. More than 53 percent spend at least 10 minutes testing out a mattress in the store. Thirty-seven percent of them opt for 15 minutes or longer. A mere 13 percent—a surprisingly high number—shun the rest test completely.
While here in furniture land we spend a great deal of time talking about adjustable bases, temperature regulation and adjustable firmness, the consumer isn’t quite there—yet. According to the survey, those three functions got only a mediocre rating, and very few consumers ranked them “very important” in their purchase consideration.
As with newer trends, those perceptions could all change with education during the shopping experience. Price constraints were a drawback for consumers who considered a memory foam mattress but bought an innerspring instead. More than 35 percent said the price was cost-prohibitive. More consumers bought from a bedding specialty retailer (37 percent) than other retail channels. More than 22 percent bought their new mattress from a traditional furniture store, 16.7 percent bought from a department store and 13 percent opted for a warehouse club. Another 11 percent bought online.
Overall, our consumers were pleased with their shopping experience. More than 62 percent of our panel rated their shopping experience as “enjoyable” to “very enjoyable”. The sales associates’ product knowledge also pulled in kudos with 68 percent saying they were “satisfied” to “very satisfied” with the service.
One missed opportunity among our consumers is the high percentage of sales associates—68.5 percent— who didn’t mention that it can take up to 30 days for a body to adjust to a new sleep surface. That tidbit of information could possibly lower the 18.5 percent exchange rate of new mattresses.
What Retailers Say
Simmon’s Beautyrest Munising
“It’s extremely popular due to its ‘best of both world’ construction. With the
cool and conforming layers of Air Cool memory foam topping the trusted and battle tested Beautyrest pocketed coil, our sales force flocks to this bed time after time to appeal to customers from both sides, memory foam and innerspring. Add the fact that our sales force knows this product was built specifically for us and our customers, and you have a homerun collection and a No. 1 mattress.” Retail is $2199.99 for a queen set.
Art Van Furniture
Viva Sleep By Del Sol
“We created our own private label with a local vendor. We call it Viva Sleep by Del Sol. It’s great because it can’t be shopped, it’s a great value, and we offer a lifetime guarantee since it’s by ‘us’. “
Del Sol Furniture
Restonic’s Comfortcare Signature
The ComfortCare Signature Mattress is a multiple winner of both the Consumer’s Choice Best Buy Award and the Women’s Choice Women’s Certified Award. It’s one of Restonic’s best selling mattresses because it truly offers the best of both innerspring and latex. For the Women’s Choice Award, 96 percent of people who bought this mattress would buy it again. This mattress collection features a consciously casual Bur berry ticking over a layer of individually wrapped micro coils (as well as a layer of supporting individually wrapped coils in Restonic’s Marvelous Middle) along with Outlast technology, TempaGel and a unique Airflow edge for superior temperature regulation throughout the night.
The Beautiful Mattress from Pure LatexBliss
The Beautiful Mattress is the top seller for Pure LatexBliss because the 12 inches of latex is a unique and clear differentiator for the product. Not only does its construction and sleek design elements stand out on a showroom floor, but there is tradeoff between price point and the comfort feel consumers look for. The layers – a 6 inch Talalay Latex pressure relief layer and 6-inch Talalay latex support core – deliver unparalleled support and pressure relief at a competitive price. Suggested retail is $3,500 in queen.
Gold Bond’s Smart Series
This is the company’s first hybrid line and has an ultra-plush feel and contemporary look as well as the support of an innerspring system with the added comfort of a top layer of gel or gel-infused latex. Keeping with company’s mantra of high quality mattresses at lower price points, the collection will feature American-made gel and gel-infused latex components. It is successful because over-spacing the product gives retailers an advantage to operate at a higher margin, because they know Gold Bond’s sleep products are reliable and have consumer value.
Passions by Kingdown
One of the company’s largest lines, Passions offer a variety of constructions, comfort feels, and competitive price points ranging from $599 to $2,099 in queen. Passions boasts more coils than any other brand, more than doubling the number of earlier models to 1,791. With 18 innerspring and foam models, the line is designed to fill a void in the marketplace, offering high-performance mattresses at middle-market price points.
KLUFT’S PLATINUM PREFERRED COLLECTION
The Platinum Preferred Collection signature look and feel is unlike anything else on the market today. Featuring high-end materials that provide a luxuriously supple feel, the artisan handiwork Kluft is known for and the best in phase-change technology, the collection is consistently a winner for both retailers and their consumers. Suggested retail is $2,499 - $5,000 in queen.
The Terra is a unique four-sided mattress that offers a supportive plush feel and is favored by consumers for its comfort and versatility. Engineered with a medium firm base mattress and topped with a two-sided removable certified organic rubber 3-inch pillow top, consumers in urban areas have come to know this mattress as the “Guest Topper Mattress”—when they have visitors, they simply detach the pillow top and use it as a guest bed to save space in small apartments. Suggested retail is $5,795 in queen.
By Powell Slaughter
SOME BIG NAMES IN FURNITURE RETAILING MAKE SUSTAINABILITY A PRIORITY
If you think paying attention to sustainability is more trouble than it’s worth at your store, be aware that retailers with far-flung operations believe it’s an investment in the future. And they won’t be shy about letting consumers know what they’re doing. Tamarac, Fla.-based City Furniture, for example, completed its sixth LEED-certified store late last year. LEED—Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design—is the U.S. Green Building Council’s standard for energy efficient building design.
The retailer’s proprietary Kevin Charles upholstery line uses soy-enhanced cushioning, which takes the place of petroleum-based foams; and City also is examining the possibility of converting its truck fleet to operate on compressed natural gas. “We aren’t ‘tree-huggers,’ but it’s the right thing to do balanced with business sense,” City Furniture President Keith Koenig said during an interview at last October’s High Point Market.
Late last year, Ethan Allen, which had fulfilled registration for the American Home Furnishings Alliance’s Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture (EFEC), began extending the program into its retail operation. That process should be complete this year.
“Ethan Allen has certified our entire retail home delivery center operations under EFEC and we are now working on our retail design centers,” said Chairman Farooq Kathwari. “The company has also certified our manufacturing and distribution operations under EFEC, and then took our manufacturing to the next level with the Sustainable by Design (SBD) designation.”
While Ethan Allen used its EFEC experience with manufacturing and distribution for certifying the retail home delivery operations, Kathwari said the retail design centers do present additional challenges, especially the scale of the company’s store network.
“With 150 design center locations it requires more conformity between locations and more statistical sampling to ensure locations have met the requirements,” he said. “We have decided to continually sample the retail locations as a method to ensure that the requirements are being met. To do this we have set the requirements, trained on the requirements, and continue to audit the requirements.
“Another challenge is that our retail segment is staffed differently than our manufacturing divisions that have dedicated associates in place with environmental compliance backgrounds who can lead the EFEC requirements,” Kathwari said. “We therefore, for retail, have a focused auditing and training program in place supported by regional EFEC team leaders. These team leaders were established to help focus the efforts across a region and to also work with the other team leaders to maintain consistency across the division.”
Ethan Allen’s retail training focus is twofold: to establish and maintain the practices to meet certification; and how to communicate to the consumer what the company is doing as a company in being environmentally responsible.
“The relevance to the product seems to be the key driver for retail, more so than the certification itself,” Kathwari noted. “We already started preparing for it and feel confident we can achieve EFEC certification in 2014. We have a training plan and supporting testing plan we are implementing. All our associates see this as an important initiative so as any challenges arise we have a lot of creative energy to find solutions.”
A WAY OF DOING BUSINESS
While Room & Board has a strong customer following that appreciates the responsible way the 15-store, Minneapolis-based retailer does business and the eco-friendly product it carries, going greener was more of a business decision, according to Steve Freeman, the retailer’s vendor resource manager.
“We did it mainly because we find working overseas can be difficult at times,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t have some good foreign vendors. These days, though, the price difference for sustainable doesn’t mean as much cost difference” at Room & Board’s price points.
“We try to keep our sourcing as local as possible, and while we don’t push that, there is a sustainability factor when you look at transportation impact,” Freeman continued. “We’ve done these things just because that’s the way we want to do business. We changed our lighting to LED—there’s a cost to do it, but the payback in energy savings is there over time.
“We’ve gone to re-cycled packaging because it costs us less than taking it to the dump. If you gain a little marketing edge as a result of those things, so much the better.”
What are the costs and challenges involved for a retailer who wishes to move toward a sustainable, environment friendly operation, and what do they need to include in their planning process moving forward? “The costs are variable and a component surrounds the time consumed training our associates,” said Ethan Allen’s Kathwari. “But we have found that with the return on recycling and reducing energy costs at each location, the cost is more of an investment that does generate a real ROI over time.”
Sustainable Furnishings Council Executive Director Susan Inglis said both costs and benefits of flooring sustainable product vary tremendously. “Anything that is certified is going to cost more, but often the choices do not cost more—wood that is legally harvested from well-managed forests, bamboo and other rapidly renewable resources,” she said. “And the benefits are varied, too: There is the matter of an improved future in the long run and in the immediate future. It can be challenging to be concerned about the future—cancer caused by exposure to a toxins off-gassed from furnishings does not show up quite as immediately as flu caused by exposure to a certain virus. “Similarly, the prospect of our grandchildren’s having a very different life from ours because of climate change is hard to imagine. But the benefits of non-toxic and low-impact furnishings include exactly these hard-to-imagine futures: less cancer in our families, and affordable consumer goods even in a future that will include higher costs of insurance, higher costs of food, water scarcity, decreased water quality and other ecological problems.”
In addition to its high-end upholstery business, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams operates 20 retail stores. Mitchell Gold, co-founder and co-chairman, believes the costs of going green are negligible, especially compared with the consequences of not doing so. He’s fairly outspoken on the topic.
“What is the cost to destroying our environment?” he said. “If you believe in rapture and don’t care, that’s a seriously flawed approach. We are seeing the cost to climate that is wreaking havoc on our lives and businesses.”
FINDING SUSTAINABLY SOURCED GOODS
What are the barriers to flooring ecofriendly goods? Gold summed it up in two words: “Stupidity and greed.” He added that it’s almost impossible to floor 100 percent sustainably sourced goods. “Yes, you can ‘go half-way’—consumers are very interested in having the choice,” Gold continued. “They would rather be shown a range of products including those that respond to their own environmental concerns, than not to be shown any with that sort of story. They actually tend to have more respect for a company that at least offers them a choice.”
Freeman at Room & Board said its easier now to find products made in wood that’s certified as sustainable. “It’s not affecting our pricing a lot, but we’re in the mid to upper price ranges so it’s easier for us to absorb any extra cost,” he said. “Because we stay with product made in the U.S. for the most part, it’s easier for us to make sure vendors are doing what they say they’re doing. “I think some manufacturers think sustainable materials may cost them more than it really will. … I was born a skeptic, so I’ve always asked more questions than some people would like. If a supplier says they ‘can’t,’ there’s someone out there who might be able to get what you want.”
Room & Board’s approach is that environmental responsibility is a by-product of business practices that have worked for the retailer. “We feel we have a strong customer following that appreciates the way we do business, but we did it mainly because we find working overseas can be difficult at times,” Freeman said. “That’s not to say we don’t have some good foreign vendors. These days, though, the price difference for sustainable doesn’t mean as much cost difference” at Room & Board’s price points.
“We try to keep our sourcing as local as possible, and while we don’t push that, there is a sustainability factor when you look at transportation impact,” he continued.
“We’ve done these things just because that’s the way we want to do business. We changed our lighting to LED—there’s a cost to do it, but the payback in energy savings is there over time. “We’ve gone to re-cycled packaging because it costs us less than taking it to the dump. If you gain a little marketing edge as a result of those things, so much the better.”
Air-quality and fire-retardant issues regarding home furnishings have made headlines of late—and could make retailers think about environmental concerns whether they want to or not. “We just went right to CARB 2 compliance even before anyone had to be CARB 1-compliant,” Freeman said. “The same thing is true with all these regulatory issues—we’re staying in front of regulations. Make sure consumers are aware of what you’re doing and why. “Rules and regulations change, new products reach the market. It’s harder for smaller retailers and manufacturers to keep up. They’re wearing all the hats, opening the store, running the day-to-day business.”
“I think some manufacturers think sustainable materials may cost them more than it really will.”
Room & Board
“All our associates see this as an important initiative so as any challenges arise we have a lot of creative energy to find solutions.”
“(Consumers) would rather be shown a range of products including those that respond to their own environmental concerns, than not to be shown any with that sort of story.”
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
By Powell Slaughter
LANDING CONSUMERS INTERESTED IN “GREEN” HOME FURNISHINGS CALLS FOR EDUCATION, CAREFUL LANGUAGE.
With issues such as formaldehyde emissions from furniture and hazardous fire retardants in upholstery and mattresses making headlines, consumers are indeed more concerned about environmentally conscious purchasing when it comes to home furnishings. And some are willing to spend a little extra to ensure the goods they buy are more earth friendly. Those are among the key takeaways from the 2013 Green Home Furnishings Study, conducted last spring by Impact Consulting and underwritten by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams for the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Nationwide, 460 consumers took part in the survey. Almost three-quarters, 72.5 percent were age 25 to 54; 62.3 percent reported income between $50,000 and $150,000; and 54.3 percent plan to spend the same or more on home furnishings in 2014.
Important conclusions from the study include:
· Style, quality, and price are the top factors for consumers when they make their next furniture purchase. That is, “green” product still has to fit those other considerations—eco-friendliness isn’t enough.
· 42.9 percent of respondents shop the Internet before going to a furniture store. Education of consumers about living green, a key take-away from the study, has to take place online as well as in the store.
· Two factors indicate that consumers are adapting their lifestyles to environmental awareness: 76.3 percent are replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents; and 75.5 percent are recycling in the home.
· There is still a price concern about eco-friendly product: 58 percent of respondents believe that if a product carries a “green” claim it will probably cost more.
· Highlighting the continuing need to make consumers aware of environmentally responsible home furnishings, less that half of respondents, 46 percent, were unaware of any “green” home furnishings; and 45.2 percent would be definitely interested in buying such furnishings as long as the styling and cost were about the same as non-green alternatives.
· Half of respondents, 50.4 percent, were “definitely interested” or “very interested” in purchasing wood furniture that was certified as “legal” rather than wood furniture that did not carry this certification.
CONSUMERS NEED TO KNOW
SFC Executive Director Susan Inglis said there’s a growing amount of goods made in North America (lower fuel impact), certified woods and recycled materials in just about any furniture store. The problem is, a lot of consumers just don’t know it.
“There is a great deal that sales people can talk about,” Inglis said. “The consumer, of course, always wants their style at their budget. But these ecoattributes are available in all styles and at all price points, so retailers stand to gain by simply talking them up. Consumers respond to what they care about; when they are given their favorite ‘feel good’ as well as their style and price point, they are more likely to buy immediately.”
A high percentage of Minneapolisbased Room & Board’s 15 showroom floors nationwide comprises product sourced in the United States; or has another green story, such as certified wood. It doesn’t come up a lot from consumers, but the retailer has plenty of talking points for those who are interested.
“From a consumer standpoint, there’s a percentage—not a big one—who will ask how eco-friendly a product is,” noted Steve Freeman, vendor resource manager at Room & Board. “… There’s more on the radar now with the health issues around chemicals and foam. Mitchell Gold, co-founder and co-chairman of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, which operates retail stores in addition to selling high-end upholstery wholesale, hopes eco-friendly product eventually will be a given. Remember “dolphin-safe” tuna? You don’t see the designation on cans anymore because it’s become a standard for tuna sold in this country.
“Consumers would pay more, but they think green should be par for the course throughout the industry,” Gold said, adding that retailers looking to tie in to a growing green consumer base, they still must “communicate what they have and do.”
THIS JUST IN
During follow-up surveying in December, Impact Consulting found a couple of areas that had changed significantly since the original April survey for the SFC.
Following is a sample:
· 54.3 percent respondents in April said they plan to spend the same or more in home furnishings in 2014. Where respondents were queried in December, that percentage was up to 75.3.
· When asked to rate from 1 (very important) to 7 (not at all important) the importance of “good for the environment ” in making their purchase, 34.2 percent respondents answered 1 or 2 – in December the percentage offering that rose to 44.7.
· Overall, concern about various environmental issues (1=very concerned; 7=not at all concerned) remained about the same or even. Respondents concerned about global warming fell from 26.7 percent to 21 percent in December; and the percentage that doesn’t believe in it rose from 18.9 to 24.
GREEN BUYING TRENDS
The importance of education and making consumers more aware of green purchase options was reflected in a couple of changes in survey responses from April to December. For example, the percentage of respondents who say they have purchased green products in nine consumer categories ranging from automobiles to paper products fell for all sectors, including a drop in home furnishings from 10.4 percent in April to 6.4 percent in December. Consumer objections to purchasing eco-friendly home furnishings remained roughly the same with couple of exceptions that bode well for the availability and look of such goods: “not available where I shop” fell from 18.9 percent to 13.7 percent; “did not suit my style” dropped from 12.2 to 7.7 percent. And consumer interest in green furnishings improved over the course of 2013. Survey respondents “possibly”, somewhat,” or “definitely interested” ticked up from 39.5 percent in April to 43.7 in December.
Again, on the need to make consumers aware aware of their options, the percentages of respondents who’ve heard of these green options in home furnishings—certified wood, reclaimed wood, rapidly renewable resources, latex or bio-based foams, organic fabrics, recycled content, Energy Star-rated, social equity code of conduct—declined in all cases.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
The Green Home Furnishings Study also found that while some consumers are interested in eco-friendly product, there are words you want to use in describing attributes and words you don’t. In both April and December, respondents were asked their preference for terms that could be used to describe products that are good for the environment, with 1 being their favorite and 6 their least favorite.
From top to bottom, the list remained the same: “Sustainable,” Eco Friendly,” “Environmentally Safe,” “Green,” “Eco Conscious,” and “Pro Planet.” Apparently consumers still have “radical” connotations for the terms at the bottom of the list. In a nutshell, don’t beat them over the head. And with so many terms floating around, the SFC’s Inglis cautioned retailers not to add to the confusion with “greenwashing,” that is, promoting misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims for products.
“Where does the confusion lie? A lot of companies make claims without knowing what it is they’re claiming,” she said. “I think there is a lack of clarity about what’s a valuable claim to sustainability.” Cotton, she pointed out, is a “natural” material, but one whose cultivation and processing has a high environmental impact. Fabrics incorporating bamboo—a rapidly renewable resource—sound good, but the finished product often has high rayon or other content.
“It uses a lot of water and harsh chemicals, though some have modified the process to make it an eco- friendly product,” Inglis said. “Or someone might say ‘It’s made with MDF, using recycled materials.’ That industrial waste wasn’t going to the landfill anyway—useful industrial waste is going to get used. What you have to ask is, “Is it post-consumer recyclable material?” HFB