• Susan Dickenson

The big (At) Home advantage

We’re Seeing Some Interesting things happening in retail right now. One day we’re reporting a store closing or downsizing, and the next day we’re reporting store openings/expansions or positive financial results. The big retail transition that experts and consultants have been telling us about for some time is no longer just talk. It’s here.

Yes, it’s resulting in some shifts and shakeups, with department stores, discounters and malls taking the biggest hit right now, but it’s also giving rise to new selling strategies and formats.

Some retailers are thinking smaller – Kroger, Sears Hometown Stores, Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market, and Target’s “flexible format” concept for example that, at one-third the size of a traditional Target, enable the retailer to take its tailored assortments into new urban areas, provide on-the-go convenience, and facilitate online shopping/in-store pickup processes.

On the flip side there’s home décor chain At Home, which is not only sticking with the larger format stores, it’s opening more of them, and apparently doing a booming business.

In 2015, At Home rebranded (from Garden Ridge), refocused its merchandising, and began adding stores. Last year the retailer went public, which means it now shares financial results, the most recent of which were pretty impressive: annual net sales grew 23% on top of 11 consecutive quarters of 20%-plus gains, and 23 new stores were added during the year bringing the total to 126, a number CEO Lee Bird says he plans to grow “by five times.”

The financial results and narrative were in such contrast to some of the other retail reporting of late, I decided to put on my retail editor hat and pay a visit to the Greensboro store to see what was different.

For starters, At Home houses the largest selection of home décor in one room I have ever seen. At Home’s average footprint is 120,000 square feet, and every category of home is represented: accessories, wall décor, housewares, rugs, soft goods, seasonal, furniture, outdoor, home organization, frames, mirrors, mattresses… nothing’s left out.

Upon entering, At Home feels a little like a Target-World Market-Ikea mix. The layout is open with an industrial modern warehouse vibe, and the displays and merchandising are colorful, organized and easy to navigate. The signage is visible, the fonts are modern, and the lighting feels natural.

There’s something very satisfying about the consistency and cleanliness of the displays, particularly since this much product could easily take on the appearance of a jumbled mess if allowed to “run amok.” I don’t know if it’s due to a very attentive staff or a genius layout, but it was neat as a pin.

Decorating decor At Home’s
Decorating vignettes, product aisles and display islands showcase more than 50,000 home decor items in At Home’s massive stores.

Every type of home décor product I can possibly think of is represented here. A dozen aisles of several thousand throw pillows ($10-$20) are arranged by color families and shelved upright; an equal number of aisles of wall décor are displayed flat so product can be viewed without having to touch or flip frames; floor displays are devoted to subcategories such as mirrored accent chests ($159 to $349), pineapple lamp bases ($49), folding floor screens, bar stools, baskets of every shape and size (eight aisles), and an enormous collection of bagged bedding sets.

The wall décor, pillows and outdoor cushions selections were impressive. The upholstery will probably improve. I saw some well-priced bargains, and a couple question marks. China (the country) is well represented, but I saw a fair number of Made in the USA products, particularly in the rug section. There were also some little room vignettes with decorating suggestions and better-than-average product/price signage, the latter being something that aging eyes appreciate and more establishments should replicate.

My only criticism: turn down the background “music,” or play some nice jazz or instrumental instead. But in my humble opinion, that’s advice that needs to be heeded by a number of places these days, and not just At Home.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how this format plays going forward, especially as At Home’s brand new integrated marketing campaign – launched this month – begins to roll out to an untapped market.

“Looking ahead to the upcoming year, we have robust marketing and merchandising plans in place and a pipeline of store opportunities we are very excited about,” Bird said in March. “We have a young brand that has significant room to grow and a value proposition that is increasingly relevant in today’s retail environment.”

If you come across new store formats or interesting merchandising ideas, share them with us. Drop an email to sdickenson@homeaccentstoday.com or tlester@homeaccentstoday.com.

Susan DickensonSusan Dickenson | Editor in Chief

Susan Dickenson is the editor in chief of Home Accents Today, where she has spent more than a decade covering trending topics, best practices and news items pertaining to the manufacturing, retail and interior design segments of the home furnishings industry. A graduate of UNC, Dickenson spent 15 years in the Washington, D.C., area, writing and researching in both the public and private sector. After relocating to her native North Carolina in 2003, she freelanced as a writer of general interest, business, garden and home items for local and national publications before joining Home Accents Today in 2006 as retail editor.

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