Area rugs are to a room like jewelry is to a well-put-together outfit. They’re great at pulling other items into a coherent space. Rugs are an anchor for the area. They’re nearly magical in their ability to transform a room.
According to a Home Furnishings Business consumer survey last month, area rugs are gaining in momentum as the go-to accessory for dressing up a space. Sales in the category climbed more than 6.6 percent from 2012 to 2013, and the category is poised to make similar gains this year. No surprise, more than half of the rug purchases— 57.6 percent—were bought for either the living room or den. The bedroom followed at a distant 11.9 percent and the dining room at 8.5 percent.
Shape was a deciding factor for our consumer panel in rug selection. Nearly 73 percent chose rectangular shaped rugs, while at a distant second, 11.8 percent opted for the “other” shape. Beyond that, runners and square rugs were each chosen by 6.8 percent of the sample.
A wide range of sizes were bought by our panel of consumers ranging from the smallest 2x3 to the much larger 12x18 and every size in between. Consumers most often opted for either 5x7 foot rugs (18.6 percent) or 8x10 foot rugs (17 percent).
Nearly 65 percent spent between $100 and $1,499 on their most recent rug purchase. The largest cluster of rug purchases (45.8 percent) fell within the $100 to $399 price range. Much like the rug arena, our consumers bought a broad array of color and style families, but didn’t stray far from the strong neutral family. Neutrals led the color parade with more than 69 percent choosing black, white, beige or the like. Green, a strong player in the upholstery arena, followed with a distant 13.6 percent. Other colors that got a mention, include blue, pink, red and yellow.
Our consumers appear to like to play it safe when it comes to rugs. While the design elements were quite varied, the largest cluster of consumers (28.8 percent) played it safe and bought a solid rug. Florals and geometrics tied at 17 percent; traditional motifs, 13.8 percent; contemporary designs, 10.2 percent; and stripes, 6.8 percent. Zig-zag patterns and animal prints rounded out the balance.
Not surprisingly, most of our consumers (76.3 percent) bought their rug after making their furniture purchase. Only 8.5 percent bought the rug with their furniture purchase.
Our group of shoppers showed a penchant for buying their rugs from mass merchants, like Target or Walmart, (30.5 percent) or home improvement stores, Lowe’s or Home Depot. (25.4 percent). Traditional furniture stores (11.9 percent) ran neck and neck with rug only stores (11.9 percent) and the Internet (11.8 percent) as the channel consumers chose for their rug purchase.
What Retailers Say
Nourison’s Luster Wash CK10
“Because of the beautiful copper color, it works well in many of our contemporary desert living homes. Because of it’s subtle abstract design, it can be mixed with other patterned rugs. It’s also available in other colorways and sizes.” It’s part of the Calvin Klein collection.
Retails at $1,099 for a 5.6’x8’
Retails at $699.99 for an 8x10.
Rizzy’s Napa Merlot
“An overall great value and style. This rug is hand-tufted in a New Zealand wool blend and features a heavy 10 millimeter loop pile.”
Company C’s Sheffield Stripes
“Company C is a very good vendor for us, and we do very well with the line. It’s not inexpensive and comes with an MRP so it doesn’t get kicked around for price.”
Retails at $2,055 for an 8x10.
What Suppliers Say
Surya’s 3300 From the Banshee Collection
This rug offers a soft, plush texture with a lustrous sheen. Hand-tufted in India of 100 percent New Zealand wool with viscos accents, the organic design combines with earthy and deeply saturated hues of copper and slate for a sophisticated style.
Nyla is designed and created to look like an antique, hand-made rug. It’s popularity lies in the design, and its affordable, power-loom price. Nyla is also available in a number of different colors.
Kevin O’Brien Tuscan Sun Bu Capel
This award-winning rug has a unique ombré look created with different shading throughout. Its extra-dense construction utilizing cut and look construction and texture from different yarn systems make this one of our best sellers.
Jaipur’s Garden Party from the Blue Collection
A welcoming blue ground offers the blossoming vine a cozy background. The livable design makes Jaipur’s Garden Party a winner among consumers.
Roses Rug from Company C
A whimsical rug with a botanical motif in wine, berry, and purple. The imagery portrays the vibrancy of English roses in full bloom against an evergreen ground. Carefully crafted with mottled green and black yarns the roses are tufted while the background has a loop pile for textural appeal in 100 percent wool.
Revival from Oriental Weavers.
A staple, day-in day-out top seller, the Revival collection meets the huge demand for over-dyeing The collection is made in the U.S., giving retailers a home-spun story to tell consumers.
Hints on staying on bad PR, enhancing your brand
Sometimes you just get surprised. Universal Furniture CEO Jeff Scheffer was working on the road—way on the road in the Middle East—when he got word last June of a headline-making controversy surrounding Paula Deen, the Southern chef who’d lent her name to a highly successful licensed collection at Universal. She was accused of making racial slurs in a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination.
“I was in Dubai, we’d just gotten in from Kuwait,” Scheffer recalled. “We were all tired, and we went downstairs for a late bite to eat. I went back to my room and was working on my tablet, and I got an e-mail from (Universal Vice President of Marketing) Kevin Miller saying I’d better take a look at this. The news was just breaking.
“It wasn’t what I expected to see at one in the morning,” he said.
Robert Pritchard, a professor at Oklahoma University, served 25 years as public affairs officer for the U.S. Navy. He is a fellow of the Public Relations Society of America, and chairs PRSA’s educational affairs committee. During his years with the armed forces, he was no stranger to handling tough public relations situations. He had advice for companies facing negative publicity.
“Crisis management was the bulk of my experience,” Pritchard said. “The first thing to do is not hide. Analyze the situation—sometimes saying nothing is the best thing, but you always have to acknowledge the situation. “A good PR person can help avoid crises by recognizing a smoldering situation that could flare up,” he said.
Second, never lie. “Be truthful, and your message has to be consistent,” he said. “In my experience, 95 to 97 percent of the time if you present the right information, people make the right decision about you. “Sometimes you need to get poked in the eye and make changes. The Chinese word for crisis incorporates the word opportunity, and you should look at a crisis as a chance to improve. You need to be quick to respond, consistent, true and transparent.”
FIELDING THE BALL
When the Deen controversy hit the news, Universal tried to get out in front of it as quickly as possible. “I believe the news broke on a Thursday, and we talked with Paula over the weekend,” Scheffer said. “With everything moving so quickly, we felt it was important to take our time and not over-react or knee-jerk. We watched and listened on a number of fronts—the developing news, what our own people were saying. We did come out with a statement to our customers fairly quickly that we were examining the situation.
“The first thing we did was to bring our own folks together and explain what happened,” he said. “We don’t tolerate discrimination—we have a lot of diversity in our company, and we’re richer for it. We also talked with the other people in our building—Legacy Classic’s here, too.”
The company also held a conference call with its sales force and sent a letter to sales representatives to put in customers’ hands. “The other part of that conversation is that since things were moving so fast, a lot of people were rushing to judgment, and others were coming to her defense,” Scheffer said. “Wrapped around that was a recognition that we’re going to watch and listen, and take the time we need to make the best decision.”
In the end, Universal stuck with Paula Deen, and Scheffer said the reaction to its decision was overwhelmingly positive.
“Our phones lit up the day we made the announcement,” Scheffer said of Universal’s decision to continue its association with Deen. “Our Facebook page got something like 2,500 likes in a 24-hour period.”
The good news of a PR flap is that in many cases, people’s attention wonders elsewhere in an era of 24-7 news and viral outbreaks on social media. “We saw a 20 percent dip in (Paula Deen) orders in the five weeks after the news broke, but by six weeks it was back to normal, and we resumed growing with the brand,” Scheffer noted. “I’m sure there may be something we should have done differently or could have done better, but at the end of the day
I think people gave us good marks for the way we handled a difficult decision. “I don’t profess to be an expert, but I think the biggest (lesson) is that in a 24-7 news cycle and what seems like an instant gratification world where someone wants an immediate answer, you have to remain calm and not knee-jerk. You gather as much information as you can. You watch, you listen, you look at the facts, but it’s your decision and you have to trust your gut—after looking at everything.”
Public relations isn’t always about crisis management— there’s a big upside in using it to build your brand and tell about your participation in the communities you serve. San Diego-based Jerome’s Furniture expanded last year into the Los Angeles area, and good PR helps gain a foothold.
PR is a critical component in brand building,” said Jerome’s CEO Lee Goodman. “The third-party credibility aspect really goes a long way with the consumer who is tired of a world filled with advertising. “It’s critical to be relevant and interesting, or no one (media or consumer) will care about your message. It’s also important for your PR strategy to reflect who you are as a company. Do good things and let people know what you’re doing. It really comes down to that. We have long believed that as a furnisher of homes it is important for us to be good neighbors to our community. We are proud of how we give back. Sometimes, we get enough credit, some days we don’t, but we always rest well at night knowing we are working hard to do good things in the communities we serve.”
Got a funky promotion going on, something that really hooks up with your community? Make it an opportunity to toot your horn in the market you serve. When Harkness Furniture in Tacoma, Wash., offered customers free furniture if the Seattle Seahawks scored a touchdown on their first Super Bowl kick-off return, they figure it was a safe bet. Well, the Seahawks’ Percy Harvin did just that to open the first half in January.
Harkness’ initial promotion hadn’t gotten much ink, and there wasn’t a lot of hype even after Harvin’s return. The process of paying out to its customers, though, created an opportunity—for a party. “After the actual run back in the Super Bowl, we didn’t get quite as much publicity on the front side,” said Harkness Furniture Owner Dave Harkness. “It was when we held the party. We’d insured the promotion, and the insurance company required us to get signatures from all the winners that they’d purchased furniture on this day and for this amount. It would take about four weeks for the checks to process, and that gave us time to think about how we wanted to handle it.”
Harkness personally called all 65 winners to explain the process and to get them back to the store to sign the paperwork. “We got a lot of mileage out of that alone,” Harkness said. “We wanted to capitalize on this and make it a truly special event. When we came up with this idea, we didn’t dream they’d actually return their opening kickoff for a touchdown. We decided to throw a big party for all the winners.”
In addition to their reimbursement checks, customers who’d participate in the promotion got an 8-by-10 color photo of the run-back; and a chance at five reproductions of the local newspaper’s Super Bowl story. “I think there’ll be a big following if we do something like this again,” Harkness said. “We can show that we’ve had winners, and people shouldn’t miss out on the chance. We think we’ll have big participation.”
Among other coverage, Harkness Furniture ended up on the local front page with the party. “We were on the 5:30 and 6 o’clock news the night of the party, and the story got picked up by AP (The Associated Press),” Harkness said. “I’m not one much for Twitter, but our marketing guy made a Tweet that Percy Harvin re-Tweeted on his feed, and he has something like 200,000 followers. We got a ‘thank you’ signed by all 65 contest winners, and I’ll mail that to Percy Harvin … We want him to feel a part of it.” According to Harkness, who spoke in mid-APRIL, business has been booming ever since. “We had a record February and President’s Day, and APRIL is off to a great start, too,” he said. “Our business has just flourished since the Super Bowl, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. “I think, too, that those 65 winners are customers for life who’ll talk to their friends about the store.”
LIPSTICK ON A PIG
Public relations by itself is not going to help a brand that doesn’t deliver on its promise and add value. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig,” Pritchard said. “Well, you can, but it’s still a pig. Public relations can help a brand in two ways. First, it helps an organization identify and understand its core values.
“Second, PR, if it’s done the way I teach it, is the bridge between the organization and its customers. It helps the organization’s values line up with its line of business. For example, furniture retailers may think they’re in the business of selling furniture. A public relations approach to that is that they help people lead better lives.”
PR should integrate your message across all platforms— online, marketing, in the store—and to help everyone who touches the customer articulate that promise.
“A brand is not a name or a logo, it’s a promise,” Pritchard said. “Take Motel 6. Motel 6’s promise is a comfortable place to stay that’s the lowest price of any national chain. The people they talk to are frugal people.
“The first thing to do is understand with whom you’re interacting, not just sending information, but receiving something. “The communication strategies must be integrated, and PR is the focus of this particular effort. Identify every point of communication, and explain the message to everyone who touches the consumer.” HFB
Community commitment, faith in action help Miskelly Furniture ‘Own Its Backyard.’
Beautiful stores, a family friendly environment, strong in-stock position and faith in action have made Miskelly Furniture a go-to destination for home furnishings in Mississippi’s largest urban area.
The family owned business chalked up almost $50 million in sales last year, and an unabashed positioning as a faith-based company—backed up by action— coupled with big showrooms and a wide selection of home furnishings have made Miskelly a powerful local brand in central Mississippi.
Growing Up in Retail
Brothers Oscar, Chip and Tommy Miskelly founded the business in 1978. While the others retain ownership in the store, Oscar is the only one still active in day-to-day business. The brothers grew up in a retail environment and a region dominated by furniture manufacturing.
“Our dad was in the retail clothing business in northern Mississippi,” CEO Oscar Miskelly said. “There’s so much furniture manufactured in Okolona, (Miss.) where we’re from, that we were around that business all our lives, too.”
The brothers had a friend whose family ran a furniture store in Okolona, and they noticed that people came to that location from 150 miles around.
“We wanted to take that concept to a larger metro market,” he said. That market was Jackson, Miss. (See sidebar “A Look at the Market”)
The Miskellys opened their first store, a 10,000-square-foot operation in Jackson, in 1978. The new retailer got a boost the next year when a huge flood had a lot of people looking for new furniture, but the company didn’t expand its footprint much until 1980, when the brothers opened a new 25,000-square-foot—including warehouse—location at the site of the present Roomstore in Pearl, Miss.
“We’d seen double-digit growth every year, and we outgrew our old store,” Miskelly recalled. “We had 12 parking spaces when we started—we couldn’t envision taking care of more people than that at a time—and we ended up with people parking up and down a four-lane highway on weekends.”
The retailer’s current flagship store went up in 1995 in what was then an 80,000-square-foot space in Pearl with attached warehouse. Miskelly added another 40,000 square feet to the showroom in 2004. A previous location had converted to a clearance store in 1996. The retailer’s original Pearl location became Miskellys Roomstore in 2007, offering savings on room packages.
The Miskelly shopping experience starts with a sales staff that has a service mentality. “We have a family friendly environment—if it’s bad weather, we’ll have our staff outside with umbrellas,” Miskelly said. “We have automated doors so they aren’t struggling to get in with a baby carriage, no curbs. We have an area when you first come in and can decompress before getting approached by a salesperson.
“People form an opinion when they drive on your lot and walk through your door.”
That location, the “tower area,” is sacrosanct for arriving shoppers. There’s a display of furniture, and they have a chance to orient themselves, and look about the store. The area also features Bible verses—Miskelly is front-and-center about being a faithbased operation—and gives newcomers a sense of what they’ll find as they go deeper into the store.
When the customer makes a move, Miskelly Furniture takes a service-oriented approach to the sales process. “Once we have that initial greeting, that customer is aligned with a salesperson—and that salesperson is a servant,” said Alan VonderHaar, senior retail analyst and mattress buyer. When it comes to merchandising, Miskelly Furniture likes to offer a big selection by category.
“We’ll have upholstery laid out by lifestyle, kids furniture in one area,” Miskelly said. “We had a big re-model in 2011 when we did an area called ‘The Marketplace.’ It’s eclectic, one of a kind items, and the salespeople love it because there’s always color, new items, reclaimed looks that give them a lot to talk about.”
The Marketplace offers shoppers unique upholstery, wood pieces in surprising finishes, goods from countries ranging from Mexico to India, and interesting pottery. There’s more fun to be had with the “Caring Carousel.” The merry-go-round, which Miskelly found in Argentina, offers kids a place to enjoy themselves while their parents shop. It’s also part of Miskelly’s commitment to improving the community where it does business.
“We ask people to donate a dollar to ride it, which goes to a children’s charity we select on an annual basis,” Miskelly said. “Over the past 12 years we’ve raised $500,000 in money and furniture. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s one of the most rewarding things we do in our business.”
Building on Bedding
Miskelly Furniture’s first sleep store opened in 2008, and its second came online in 2010. After puttering along at 10 percent for a long time, the bedding category now accounts for around 25 percent of business. “We’d always carried bedding,” Miskelly said. “We were growing with it, but not dominant around here. “We still have it in the other stores, and as you build a specialty in it, it helps the business at all locations. We’ve been able to capitalize on a lot of the new technology and memory foams. It’s really given us a boost.”
Health-conscious shoppers and aging baby boomers are driving a lot of bedding business Miskellys’ way. “Our attachment ratio in power (bed) bases is one of the best in the industry,” Miskelly noted. “Once you try one of those out, you’re likely to buy.”
Marketing and Advertising
Miskelly’s primary advertising vehicle for sales is television. “In all advertising, you put your best foot forward, and our furniture is our best foot,” said Betsy Tabor, marketing director. “Television is best, because you can’t really capture our atmosphere with still photography. “All other (media) are supporting vehicles. Our local newspaper has gone down drastically in circulation, and we’ve supplemented the loss of print with social media.” Right now, Miskelly has around 9,000 “likes” on Facebook. The retailer is active on Twitter and does a lot of strong e-mail blasts.
“We fragment the message to make sure we reach our customers where they’re looking,” Tabor said. “We do a lot of online advertising.” While the social media world has made her job more complicated, it’s also made it a lot more interesting. “You can find new ways to reach more people and spend less money,” she said.
“We’ve always said, ‘We have to own our backyard,’ and with that we not only try to serve the people coming into the store well, but give back to the community that’s done so much for us,” Tabor said. With advertising “we’re positioning selection, service and price. We do want them to know why we’re the best choice around.”
A lot of the advertising highlights brand attributes of selection, service and a lovely shopping environment.
“As I said, we like to put our best foot forward, and for me, those brand spots are my favorites, because they show how beautiful our stores are,” Tabor noted.
Miskelly’s slogan is ‘beyond furniture’ and its ‘Sweet Dreams’ program with Tempur-Pedic is an example. “Tempur-Pedic approached us with a great deal of single mattresses they had available,” Tabor said. “We located the 501-3C’s for delivery. … It took us quite a while to find organizations that would qualify, and that would be able to use a single twin mattress. We then partnered with a local TV station to put together a campaign.
“Every week we’d deliver to another organization, and the station was great about giving coverage. Tempur-Pedic was extremely pleased, and they have taken our model to develop a campaign they’ll share with other dealers.”
“It’s a feeling and a passion passed from the owners to the employees,” VonderHaar said. “When you talk about branding, you have to talk about the community.”
Oscar Miskelly credits the size of Miskelly Furniture’s showrooms, economies of scale, depth of selection and same-day delivery for strong growth coming out of the recession.
“We aim to be in stock 85 percent of the time on everything we have to show, and certainly, the community service helps,” he said.
All that’s paying off at Miskelly Furniture, which ranked first on Home Furnishings Business’ Power 50 ratings of independent retailers. “We had some of our best months and days last year that we’ve seen in six or seven years; and in the first three months of 2014 we’re still tracking ahead,” Miskelly said. “We continued to be aggressive with our advertising even during the downturn, and I think people remembered us when things started turning around.
“Long-term financing has built our average ticket, and as housing starts have improved we’re doing more housefuls of furniture.” HFB
Miskelly Furniture at a Glance
Headquarters: Pearl, Miss.
Store Count: 6 stores around the Jackson, Miss., area, including its 120,000-square-foot flagship store in Pearl; a 40,000-square-foot namesake location in Madison, Miss.; a 40,000-square-foot Miskelly Roomstore in Pearl; two 6,000-square-foot Miskelly Sleepstore locations in Flowood, Miss., and Ridgeland, Miss.,; and a 15,000-square-foot clearance center in Pearl.
Key Management: Oscar Miskelly, CEO; Betsy Tabor, marketing director; Alan VonderHaar, senior retail analyst and mattress buyer; Deborah Watson, COO; Tracey Dillard, marketing assistant.
Annual Revenue: About $50 million in 2013.
Employment: 250 employees.
A Look at the Market
As a middle to upper-middle price-point retailer, Miskelly Furniture has a good home in the Jackson, Miss., area. Fifty-one percent of consumers there are looking for middle prices; and 23 percent are at upper-middle points, according to market analysis from Home Furnishings Business’ parent company Impact Consulting. Retail sales of home furnishings in the market are on the upswing, as well, with 2013 sales totaling $142.4 million, a 1.1 percent increase over 2012, when sales were up 7.2 percent from 2011.
Miskelly Furniture hung its hat in the Jackson, Miss., area, and that’s where CEO Oscar Miskelly spends most of his spare time. “I enjoy youth sports, and I’m very involved with that in our community, not just from a coaching, but promoting things to help kids, whether to advance to the point they get a scholarship or to provide an outlet,” he said. “I work on promoting that in our community.” Marketing Director Betsy Tabor also makes an effort to be involved with local high schools’ booster clubs. Miskelly Furniture is very upfront about being a faith-based business, and Oscar Miskelly and others in the organization are very involved in their church.
He also noted that he’s benefitted from traveling to see how other furniture stores operate. The store is a member of Impact Consulting’s Strivers performance group, but Miskelly said the family focus of so many retailers predates Miskelly Furniture benefitting from that association.
“We’ve been able to travel and visit with a lot of other retailers, and furniture retailing’s family orientation makes our business pretty special—you’re always taking with the principals,” he said. “Other people like Nebraska Furniture Mart are willing to spend time to talk about what they do. … I was just out in California to see Living Spaces.
“We try to stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on in furniture retailing across the country. That’s helped us a lot, the ability to travel and see how other people are doing things.”