Retailers discuss accessories, Millennials, e-commerce
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, 5/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
In today's smarter, savvier, mobile marketplace, home furnishings retailers are finding more opportunities than ever - in accessories. Furniture and online retailers shared a few opinions and strategies on that, and on subjects ranging from younger consumers to market shopping lists, during a roundtable breakfast hosted by Home Accents Today's editors April 22 at the 2013 spring High Point Market.
Sandow Media Marketing VP Connie Lineberry welcomed the retailers and buyers to the event, which was held at High Point's String & Splinter Club in Historic Market Square. Editor in Chief Jenny Heinzen York followed Lineberry's remarks with a presentation that shared highlights from recent Home Accents Today exclusive research reports.
Rugs, mirrors, pillows are strong
Notable in the research data, rugs look to be a hot category this year, with more than 15% of surveyed American consumers telling Home Accents Today they plan to buy a rug in 2013. The attending retailers agreed that rugs are going strong.
"I've seen a bit of a turnaround with rugs recently," said Lori Konzen, accessory buyer for Iowa's Homemakers Furniture. "We're moving away from luxury and focusing more on mid-level price points."
Homemakers Furniture customers are drawn to more casual, contemporary looks, and Konzen said she was finding more rugs in that style than at past markets. By offering rugs at mid-level price points, she said she hopes customers will feel that replacing the rug in a year or two is an affordable option.
"Our rug department is about 5,000 square feet, but we show rugs under pretty much every group on our floor," Konzen said. "The designers, every time I get a new collection in, they just soak them up. They can't get enough of the new rugs, so that's my big focus this market."
|Top 100 furniture stores and leading e-commerce
sites were represented at the buyers’ breakfast during
the High Point Market.|
|The buying team from El Dorado Furniture also took
part in the group discussion.|
Buyers from Florida's El Dorado Furniture were also shopping for rugs in High Point. The store's rug business has increased by about 25% in the past three years.
"In our case, (rugs) are very important," said Pedro Capo, chief operating officer at El Dorado. "In addition to having them in stock at the warehouse, we have them in stock at the store for cash and carry."
Capo said he was seeing a lot of bold, bright colors in rugs while shopping the spring market, which should make for eye-catching merchandising in the store. El Dorado displays its rugs on the floor, on swing racks and on the walls to give customers a complete look at the design.
El Dorado was also seeking contemporary accent chairs. "The challenge is trying to find something that says ‘wow,'" Capo said.
Wall décor is an in-demand category among brick-and-mortar and e-commerce alike, according to the group who attended the breakfast. Sarah Kim, category manager of accent furniture and décor for Wayfair, said wall art and mirrors are a growing category for the e-tailer.
For Gallery Furniture, designer, merchandiser and accessories buyer Micheal Burnes said floor mirrors are a top seller in accessories. "We do a tremendous amount of floor mirrors at all price points, and they sell," he said. Sarah Crockard, a designer and merchandiser at Gallery, said many customers are also looking for smaller, decorative mirrors. "On Pinterest, the message they're seeing is ‘Don't just use the builders' standard, use these decorative ones,' so that's something we're focusing on - little ones we show in multiple."
Several of the retailers agreed that top-of-bed options at mid-level price points are a void in the marketplace. Burnes and Susan Black, corporate accessory buyer for Havertys, said finding textiles and top of bed is typically the most challenging part of shopping the market for their stores.
|Representatives from Gallery Furniture, Havertys,
Badcock and One Kings Lane share insights
with one another during the Home Accents Today
"You get the lower end or the luxury," Burnes said. "I searched four or five markets trying to find something."
While top-of-bed isn't always a major seller for full-line furniture stores, Black said it's a critical merchandising tool. Attractive bedding draws customers to a vignette, and then they notice the bed itself.
Though top-of-bed is a challenge, One Kings Lane cofounder and Chief Merchandising Officer Susan Feldman said decorative pillows are a growing category. "When we got into the business, it was hard to find good decorative pillows. People today think of their homes as a form of self-expression and change it up more often. Pillows are an easy way to update a room, so I think that's why we sell a lot of them."
Homemakers Furniture showcases pillows from vendors such as Surya, Nourison and Rizzy Home in several floor-to-ceiling wall displays, Konzen said. "We've done really well with throw pillows lately. Our furniture is a lot of brown, a lot of taupe. The pillows brighten it up."
Retailers who attended the breakfast also discussed strategies for addressing the changing consumer. According to Home Accents Today's research, Millennials (age 18 to 36) regularly shop for home furnishings at lifestyle furniture stores, second-hand outlets and online more than other retail channels.
To attract more Millennial customers, Badcock Vice President of Merchandising for Accessories Cathy Allen said Badcock is trying to infuse the lifestyle mentality into its full-line furniture stores. "At Badcock we're hiring younger buyers," she said.
At Gallery Furniture, part of merchandiser Jerome McLemore's job is updating the store's Pinterest page, a social medium the retailers in attendance agreed is becoming increasingly important for the home furnishings industry. Gallery Furniture's Pinterest page features 43 boards showcasing color trends, styles, materials and more, and has attracted more than 1,100 followers. The Houston-based company brought 19 people to High Point, including a videographer and social media team who shared product trends and documented the buying trip on the company's website and social media platforms.
Gallery Furniture Social Media Director Billie Van Slyke said the retailer is also shifting its advertising to include more "soft-sell" vignettes featuring eye-catching pieces to capture the young consumer's attention. "We just present it differently," she said. "If they're interested, they'll go to the website, see if they like something, come in and buy it. But they're going to definitely do more research."
Konzen said Homemakers Furniture is also selecting more youthful accessories for its ads. "We're doing a lot of social media, Twitter is working for us and we're running ads in more youthful magazines that tap into the social scene," Konzen said.
Havertys is well into year two of a successful accessories revamp, led by Black. The furniture retail chain last year launched a brand repositioning campaign that includes its humorous "meet the parents" and "speed dating" commercials, which put more of the spotlight on the consumer instead of the product.
"We are using accessories to establish ourselves as more of a style-conscious, design-oriented business and really leveraging it to pull in a new customer," Black said, a sentiment echoed by several of the other retailers, some of whom now have a dedicated social media team staffed with creative young women who are "enamored with accessories."
Feldman and One Kings Lane Merchandising Vice President Day Kornbluth described the team behind their online private sale site as a group of enthusiasts who are "madly passionate about the category and product," and talented buyers who are empowered to "do the heavy lifting - find fantastic product, vet it, merchandise it and present it to the consumer."
Accessories drive traffic, grow tickets
Heinzen York also shared highlights from a recent Home Accents Today/Apartment Therapy consumer survey which implies that while furniture is more of an "every seven years" purchase for consumers, accessories provide an opportunity to keep customers coming back.
To drive that end of the business, Burnes said it's important to keep the accessories turning. "Keeping the accessories fresh and new gets everybody excited about it - the salespeople and, in turn, the customers," he said.
The furniture retailers also discussed the challenge, and the importance, of getting salespeople and customers to see accessories as more than just a prop or merchandising tool - recognizing a decorative pillow that is sold separately as opposed to being part of the sofa it's sitting on.
"Our furniture salespeople are strictly commission, and we were having a bit of a hard time getting them to focus on the accessory category," said one retailer. "So we hired an accessories staff, they receive an hourly wage plus commission, and they're really focused on that experience. Now they have a client list - people come to them repeatedly seeking advice and help with specific decorating issues, and when we get new product, they'll call the customers. It's a great one-on-one working relationship."
Gallery Furniture offers a free accessories program. "If you purchase $4,000 or more in furniture, you get 20% back in free accessories, and that turns them really quickly," Burnes said.
Badcock has a similar program, added Allen, in which customers can earn credit for free accessories when they buy a certain dollar amount of furniture.
It's a promotion that several of the retailers use, they say, because it works on several levels - by growing the ticket, building repeat traffic and generating customer loyalty.
"A lot of people, after buying a room of furniture, become pretty exhausted, so they'll come back later with the accessories credit and end up spending more money," Crockard said. "Once they start to focus on accessories, and putting things with this sofa, that lamp, etc., suddenly it's picture-perfect and they forget about the price."
Capo said El Dorado has had success by sending out designers to decorate a customers' house with accessories on approval to coordinate with the furniture that they just bought. He said that service nearly guarantees a 100% close rate on those accessories; once the customers see them correctly "merchandised" into their homes, they don't want them to go back to the store.
The breakfast, attended by retailers from the worlds of both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, also discussed how the Internet is changing the way consumers shop.
"We launch new product on our website every day," Feldman said. "We look at it as we sell to our customer twice - once when they come to the site and make a purchase and once when they receive the package."
Feldman said online home décor resources today have evolved from "e-commerce 1.0" when shoppers typed a product into a search box and were met with a barrage of possibilities. Sites like One Kings Lane still offer quantity, she said, but place the highest importance on quality, thanks to a team that is passionate and enthusiastic about home furnishings.
Feldman said she thinks if brick-and-mortar stores embrace e-commerce, it can actually be helpful to their business - some customers may not want to buy a sofa online without testing it in person, so while seeing a product online inspires them, they may turn to a brick-and-mortar retailer to make the actual purchase. "If you're working with vendors the online retailers are working with, consider partnering with them," Feldman suggested. "Because we know that when we run a brand on our site, there's an average of a 500% lift to that vendor's website that day. So that means the people who don't want to buy it on One Kings Lane, those that want to go touch it and sit in it, are going to look for the dealers on the vendor's website."
Burnes said Gallery Furniture is embracing that mentality, with the store's social media efforts and revamped website its "100% focus" right now. "(Younger consumers) do their research," Gallery's Crockard added. "They'll come in and show you, ‘I found this and this online. What do you have that's similar?'"
Badcock's Allen said furniture stores' advantage is in their customer relationships. "You (online retailers) inspire our customers to do more in their homes and then, if we've done our job in developing a relationship with that customer, they'll come to us hopefully rather than shop online."
"We can help people be inspired; hopefully they'll shop more on our site, but it's good for everybody," Feldman said. "It's really about getting people excited about fixing up their homes. It always starts with a pillow, then all of a sudden the lamp doesn't look right, the room needs a new rug. I think whatever we can all do collectively for the industry ... is good for everybody."
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