Havertys' new accessories program takes shape
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, January 11, 2012
LAST MAY, DURING A QUARTERLY FINANCIAL conference call, Havertys President and CEO Clarence Smith said his company was reworking its accessories lineup and that, after a six-month search, Susan Black had been hired to oversee the process.
By the time of his announcement, Black, who previously managed accents and case goods for the former Norwood, Mass.-based Domain and later directed the accessories program for Bassett stores, was three months into her new position and had already been to High Point with Havertys' buying team. She started with rugs, and has since moved on to lamps, wall décor, top-of-bed and tabletop.
Today, the roll-out of Havertys' new accessories program is under way, online and in stores, some categories farther along than others, and Black reports that it's going well. "As you can imagine it has taken time to develop all of the product lines that we are introducing to our stores," she said. "We started last summer with five color palettes and have worked with a number of different manufacturers across all categories to come up with our new assortment. Some of the product has arrived, but the bulk of it is just beginning to reach our floors now."
Around the same time Black was hired, Smith announced the launch of Bright Inspirations, a company-wide remodeling and merchandising program to upgrade Havertys' interiors, create a more engaging and appealing environment, and bring the stores up to speed with its web presence. The upfitting process is also under way now, with some showrooms finished. "We are renovating additional stores to the Bright Inspirations design in our other major markets. The program should be completely rolled out to most of our locations by early 2013."
Accessories are playing an important role in the Bright Inspirations upgrade, a move also intended to bring more consistency to the stores. "We brought Susan on to help us centralize the buying and distribution of accessories," Richard Gallagher, Havertys' senior vice president of merchandising said earlier this year. "Up to this point, the vast majority were purchased by Havertys' individual markets, which inherently made it a little difficult to make sure we had the same presentation from store to store" - one of the goals of Bright Inspirations.
One of the first things the company did, Black said, was clear out a lot of the old accessories. "When I started with them, they were just starting this new program, with the concept being that accessories are an important supporting player - they are there to make the furniture look good," Black told Home Accents Today in September. "But in addition to that, we feel as though there is a great opportunity to not only enhance the shopping experience for our customers, but to better define the groups, to create add-on sales - which is really, really key in this market today - and also to create foot traffic. Part of my responsibility is to really brand Havertys as a place to go to shop for design ideas and as a place to go to look for really great accessories."
During May's conference call, Smith said the company's investment in store improvements are coming while many of its competitors are unable to do the same, which should help Havertys continue to grab market share. "The new merchandise, our improved store displays and our marketing are on track to attract a better customer, more customers and to get credit for the higher quality and better values that we offer." On the accessories side, Smith said Havertys is committed to "making our rugs, accessories, lamps and top-of-bed program the best in our markets, helping to drive our furniture sales," but also with the goal of becoming a profitable growth category on its own. He also said the company was bringing out a "significant number" of new furniture collections targeted to appeal to a more style-oriented customer.
At last month's annual Furniture Today Leadership Conference in Naples, Fla., Havertys was honored as Retailer of the Year. Founded by J.J. Haverty in 1885 in Atlanta, and publicly traded since 1929, Havertys has grown to 120-plus stores in 17 states in the Southern and Midwestern United States. The company has more than 4.2 million square feet of retail floor space, employs more than 3,000 people, and had 2010 sales of $620.3 million. Forbes named Havertys one of the "Most Trustworthy Companies of 2010," and Chain Store Age named Havertys to its "Ten Healthiest Retailers" list.
During a video presentation at the awards dinner, Smith, who is J.J. Haverty's great grandson, recalled the days when the company delivered furniture with horse-drawn wagons on gas-lit streets. "We survived the Great Depression and other difficulties as we saw countless competitors fall by the wayside. Without fail, we adjusted to the challenges of the time and grew. The key to the company's longevity is our people. Havertys could not be where we are today without the dedication and hard work of our associates." L. Phillip Humann, Havertys' non-executive board chairman, praised the company for its strong balance sheet, which has no debt.
Havertys finished 2010 with a profit, compared with a loss in 2009. In 2010, Havertys closed four weakening stores and moved some to better locations, taking advantage of real estate opportunities brought about by the difficult retail environment. Last summer, the company strengthened its position in southeast Florida by entering Boca Raton with a 48,000-sq.-ft. store in a former Carls Furniture showroom. As part of its Bright Inspirations initiative, a $2.4 million remodeling and improvements plan is currently in process at 10 of Havertys' Atlantaarea showrooms, with an expected completion date of first quarter of 2012.
In September, Black told Home Accents Today that rugs and lighting are Havertys' two largest accessory categories, and that accessories are a key part of the retailer's business strategy, more than they have ever been before. A few weeks ago, she agreed to update us on the program's progress and her new role at Havertys.
Accessories are playing a much bigger role at 125-year-old Havertys as the company implements its new remodeling and merchandising program. Some of the new introductions — in rugs, wall décor, top-of-bed and lighting — are online and/or beginning to hit store floors this month.
Where did you start, how is it going, and what's next? The first category we addressed was rugs, and we do have our new, more transitional collection in the stores now. We're in the process of adding more floored rugs to our settings and are introducing a new program of Custom Choice Rugs that complements our Custom Choice Upholstery, which is so successful. We tested the program in the Atlanta market in the fall, were pleased with the results, and will roll it out to the rest of the stores next week. We are anticipating very good rug sales in 2012.
Our new art program is also going extremely well. We really worked on providing value to our customers as well as a range of styles and subject matter. All of the art is on our website, and we have been pleased to see that customers are seeing the art online and coming in to the stores to purchase it.
In the next couple of weeks most of the new top-of-bed will be on our floors. It reflects the trend in color and materials that are prominent in the market today. We've focused on blues, spice colors, black and gold and gray combinations, and have updated our fabrics to reflect the interest in linens and more textured cloths.
Our first containers with our Havertys-branded lamps just arrived and will also be in the stores in the next few weeks. We are excited about the quality and styling that we are going to be able to offer our customers at very good prices with this program, and anxious to get it into the stores.
We have also developed proprietary tabletop for the stores, but won't see that arrive until later this winter.
About how much of Havertys' annual sales are accessories, and do you have a target growth goal? Historically, accessories have been around 3% at Havertys. I am optimistic that we will see this number increase as we get into 2012.
You mentioned a few months ago that rugs and lighting are the two largest accessory categories at Havertys. Is that still correct? Rugs and lighting are still our top categories, however we see art becoming a much more significant part of our accessory business.
Are all of the accessories designed, sourced and produced under the Havertys brand? At this point we have a mixture. We are certainly moving toward the majority of our accessories being Havertys exclusive product. Most of our products are sourced in Asia, but we have some domestically produced products as well.
Who are your key vendors? There are so many companies designing great accessories today and we have partnered with several of them in developing our Havertys-branded product. We do not, however, share our vendor contacts.
What are the biggest changes you've seen over the years in the way stores buy and sell accessories?
Both stores and consumers now understand that accessories add the finishing touch that makes a room or setting special. In furniture stores, where upholstery tends to be neutral, accessories are an essential element that add the color and fashion that excite the consumer and keep her returning to the store for ideas and inspiration. What is key, however, is to be strategic in how you plan your accessory buys. You need to have color stories and themes that tie merchandise together and that the consumer can recognize and respond to in your store. Consumers really understand that adding new accessories to their homes can go a long way to achieving a fresh look. We want to satisfy their desire for this type of product as well as provide them with great furniture.
How long have you been associated with accessories merchandising/buying, and what were your roles at Domain and Bassett? For many years, I had a high-end juvenile products company that produced children's furniture and accessories and had a number of retail stores. At Domain, I was the divisional merchandise manager of case goods and accessories, and at Bassett, I was the director of the accessory division. I was with Bassett for three years prior to joining Havertys.
How do you like working with the Havertys team so far? I really have the best of all worlds working at Havertys. It is a wonderful company with a rich history and a tremendous sense of integrity. The merchandising group is small, operates as a team and has good communication between its members. The interest in and support that I have received in developing the new accessory program has been amazing.