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From Home Furnishing Business

Looking Good, Making Money

By: Powell Slaughter

What are the elements for blending eye appeal and a profitable product mix on your floor?

“Non-traditional” competitors for consumers’ disposable income for home furnishings such as Arhaus, Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, perform quite well on much smaller product assortments shown than in the traditional home furnishings retail store.

How do you stack up against that competition?

Naples, Fla., retailer Clive Daniel Home’s floor is decidedly large at 85,000 square feet. Management decided early on that its merchandising scheme, which might not work for a lot of retailers, would have definite appeal for its high-end clientele.

The strategy requires an abundance of attention from the retailer’s merchandising team. Attention that the owners feel is warranted and with a big floor, there are lessons here for other retailers when it comes to creating their own, distinct space. 

“Out of the gate, what we continued to do is have a very eclectic approach—we’ll mix and match manufacturers on the floor, show one’s table with another’s chairs,” said CEO Daniel Lubner. “That’s difficult to do, but we have an exceptional merchandising team, and Clive (Lubner) to this day is the greatest visionary in the business.

“We took (eclecticism) a step further by putting architectural salvage and vintage furniture on the floor. We have a lot of single-turn items—once they’re sold, they’re gone. For managing the showroom it makes merchandising much more difficult, but it gives the client a one-of-a-kind feel and design. It just feels right for us.”


POINTS OF INTEREST Retail consultant Bob Phibbs said the furniture industry in general doesn’t do a very good job of engaging shoppers from a product standpoint on showroom floors.

“Too often, (vignettes) look like a model home where nobody lives,” he said, “or it’s a boring line-up of brown.”

That’s one reason Dallas, Texas-area retailer Stacy Furniture & Design has been shaking things up of late, adding more color and cleaner lines in a market that’s traditionally been geared toward safe looks.

“We create points of interest, and we try to do a better job featuring individual items,” said Dorian Sims, president.



What are some tips for merchandising for visual impact, encouraging consumers to actually buy, creating aspiration?

“You have to mix it up,” Phibbs. “Choose a bold piece that gets someone talking, maybe smaller groups, a chair with a table, not as many whole rooms.”

Phibbs is a bit contrarian when it comes to the idea of retailers creating aspiration on their floors: “There’s no one size fits all. If I walk in the door I’m aspirational, I’m looking for something.”

One of the biggest issues furniture retailers face is a failure to connect the consumer’s purchase of the products they sell to the most important result or benefit they get from those products—greater happiness with both their home and lifestyle, according to Tom Zollar, practice manager with Impact Consulting.

“Next to family, the home is the most important thing in most of our customer’s lives and our mission is to deliver the style, comfort and livability that they,” he said. “Therefore, the better we merchandise and display our products in our stores to help the consumer visualize the result in her home, the more successful we will be at helping them fulfill their aspirations and thus deliver on our mission.

“To do this, our store must be visually exciting and inspire them to fulfill their dreams—it is absolutely critical.”



Phibbs said in-store signage is an area where a lot of furniture retailers fall woefully short. He described many of his experiences in the furniture universe as boring and drab.

“You need compelling signage,” he said. “Signage is one of the most overlooked things in furniture retailing.”

Why not step up your point-of-sale messages with messages along these lines? Say you’re selling recliners: “Can you see yourself watching television in this?”

Do you have an intimate vignette, say a comfortable chair and table? How about: “Can you see yourself reading a book by the fire here?”



As if inspiring you customers isn’t enough, eye-catching merchandising can help excite your staff about what they’re selling.

“You look at some of these stores and it’s no wonder (employees are) bored,” Phibbs said. “The merchandise can’t do the heavy lifting—it can only catch the eye. If you have some guy standing there with a calculator that’s not going to inspire customers.”

Try using a color scheme throughout particular vignettes, said retail consultant Connie Post, CEO of Connie Post International and Affordable Design Solutions.

“Bedroom and dining presented in a color-block story is a great way to get attention,” she said. “Color blocking is using one color through out the vignette ... It simply creates a ‘wow,’ and it is also an opportunity for smaller dealers to appear on trend.”

What Does "Wow" Mean?

Retail consultant Rick Segel thinks retailers constantly on the prowl for interesting and different products may overrate their reaction to the goods.

What if they've already seen them at another store or online? It's no longer a "wow" to the customer.

"When it comes to exceeding expectations, we tend to think there’s this line—above it lies 'wow' and below it lies disappointment," Segel said. "We treat meeting expectations like there's no middle ground. We feel that we’ve either exceeded expectations or failed them completely.”

Segel, principal of Rick Segel & Associates, said customers sometimes have neutral attitudes to furniture—neither impressed nor disappointed.

"Obviously, we strive to constantly create that wow factor, but we if don’t, that doesn’t mean we’ve failed,” he said. “All it means is that the customer has seen our new product elsewhere. It’s still a good thing that we carry the product."

Disappointment is often out of the retailer's control, but one way to create "wow" is to leverage the element of surprise.

"The element of surprise works on everyone because there are no expectations involved," Segel said. "For example, if a young lady’s boyfriend buys her a one-carat diamond ring she wasn’t expecting, you better believe she’ll be wowed. However, if she’s been dating her boyfriend for two years and is expecting a diamond ring, that same one-carat ring probably won’t wow her. She expected a bigger diamond. She expected more."

Rather than seeking to exceed customers’ expectations, Segel suggests focusing on surprising the customer.

"Do things differently than you have in the past—and different than your competition."



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