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  • Susan Dickenson

Retailers weigh in on the recession and the changes in their businesses

Retailer Insight

This is a special year, my 20th anniversary, and I can't have the big party and celebration I wanted. The most difficult change has been not expanding my marketing efforts as I had projected. I am networking more with local business, social and industry groups. More than ever, I am utilizing grassroots-type efforts to promote business. Our inventory turn of accessory items has increased, while major furniture has decreased. Pocketbooks are smaller, but our customers still love to shop. Many accessory items don't require a large financial commitment. Accessories satisfy our customers' needs, so they continue to shop with us despite having a smaller budget. We attended Las Vegas and will attend High Point in April. High quality, American-made products are our focus, but price and manufacturer incentives will be more important than ever. — Valerie Watters, Valerie's Furniture & Accents, Cave Creek, Ariz.,valeriesfurniture.com

The most difficult change? Being overly hands on — making sure all damage claims are followed up on, making sure to constantly look at sales and trim or expand orders as needed, keeping store as close to perfectly merchandised as possible, keeping inventory “moving” around the store so it always looks fresh. It basically boils down to having to constantly keep your eye on all the balls and not allowing anything to slip — stressful to say the least! You have to be so focused and really use your eye and knowledge of your customer base to purchase great stuff and just enough of it. We're balancing very carefully, purchasing one-of-a-kind unique items that make the store stand out with tried and true sellers that we can depend on turning. In 2009, we'll shop Atlanta, New York and High Point. — Jamie Merida, Bountiful, Easton, Md.,bountifuldecor.com

The most difficult change we're making is adjusting employee hours in order to keep our bottom line where it needs to be. No more over-padding busy weekends with staff. We can see customers being more careful in general right now. In 2009, we'll shop Atlanta, New York and Chicago. We're thinking twice, then three or four times, before writing every order now. We want to make sure everything we buy is absolutely delightful or totally practical, usable and still cool. And ideally, it's something we can get a great markup on, but we won't sacrifice our brand for better prices. That's the quickest way to undermine your store's reputation for unique, quality merchandise. Our brand remains paramount, even in economic crisis. — Abby Kerr, The Blissful, Canton, Ohio,theblissful.com

My favorite “job” as a retailer is buying, so cutting back has been a trial. However, as with all dark clouds, there is a silver lining. For us it's that we have more time to be creative with merchandising and planning strategies. We have only added merchandise where it would complement an existing category for a fresh look, and are using our advertising and e-mail outlets to bring our customers in. For the moment, it's all about cash flow, but for the future it's all about brainstorming and planning for where we want to be when we come out of the recession. Consequently we are concentrating on running more streamlined and customizing our look and inventory. For us this means we will try to partner with some of our resources to create our own custom lines in certain categories. It's a good strategy for us, we just never had the time to pursue it before. We'll shop the High Point Market in April and Atlanta in July, looking for special items to add to our collection. — Barbara Collins, The Whistling Elk, Chester, N.J.,thewhistlingelk.com

We are focusing on the grassroots of how my company started. To that end, my collection showrooms become more of a living showroom for the interior design aspect of the company. My staff are taking on more serious design jobs and I've personally done a half dozen projects in the last few months. We're also going back to longtime clients to refresh/change their homes a bit. We've always sold off the floor, too, allowing for steady turn of inventory and immediate client satisfaction. I believe, 100 percent, that positive energy is absolutely part of the business. If I, as head of my company, don't remain positive, it affects everyone from salespeople to shipping. As for shopping, I always shop the New York gift show and High Point. Small gift items are important because I still want the client to come in and enjoy the experience we've always put out there. — Barclay Butera, Barclay Butera Home, Los Angeles & New York,barclaybuterahome.com

Kathy

This time period has presented us with some great opportunities to really look at what we are spending and what value we are getting for it. One good thing that has come out of this recession is that we have decided to put some products on our Web site for sale. We have created a new postcard announcing “Kathy's Finds” which are available on the Web site and in our stores. We are showing great organic, soulful products, all under $50, that I found at the New York International Gift Fair. They make great gifts, we wrap in eco-friendly burlap wrapping, and make your home smell wonderful and feel special. We are getting the word out that the customer can trust us to find beautiful, tasteful organic products at wonderful prices. Our top selling sectional, sofa bed, table and chairs are 30% off all the time. There are many colors in stock and delivery can be right away. We are buying more, getting better deals and passing the value on to the customer. The customers feel special, and love the feeling of buying in a local store from someone that they know. So the good news is that being a retailer in this difficult time period has made me think better and be smarter about our products and service. — Kathy Walsh, Homeward Bound, New Milford, Ct.,homewardboundstyle.com

I have implemented two changes in the past 60 days to spark interest and jumpstart our sales: an e-mail monthly newsletter and the opening of a consignment furniture showroom in what was previously our stockroom. They've both proven to be an economical way to reach our target market and stay in touch with existing and new clients. Next up, we're planning a four-week in-store design class called Creative Camp — why not, summer is camp time! — Carol Davis, Interior Homestore, Sherman, Texas,interiorhomestore.com

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