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Buyers at Las Vegas Market react to retail expansion

Some say economy could justify future growth

LAS VEGAS - Furniture buyers attending the market here have various takes on the recent spike in retail expansion activity occurring in major metro markets, but they're united in one sentiment.
Good economy or not, those big retailers making the moves are wisely planning for the future.
First, a quick rundown: In the last few months, the industry has seen reports of both Living Spaces and American Furniture Warehouse heading to the Phoenix market for the first time. Both Art Van Furniture and ZZZ's by Ashley have opened their first of several planned Chicagoland stores and The Dump, owned by Haynes, is coming there at the end of August with its largest store to date.
Nebraska Furniture Mart has broken ground on a 1.86-million-square-foot store and distribution center opening in spring 2015 in north Dallas; Rooms To Go, already in that Texas market, is planning its largest store right across the street. And in California, San Diego-based Jerome's is pushing into Los Angeles from its San Diego base with a store planned for Torrance, Calif., in the fourth quarter.
Retailers here had only slightly differing takes on what's prompting all this activity.
"First of all, you have to be ahead of the curve all the time," said Howard Fineman, an Ashley Furniture HomeStores licensee with three stores in greater Jacksonville, Fla.
"Everyone making these moves is staking a claim for the growth that's coming. Also there's a lot to be said for scale." A larger physical presence gives more operational advantages, he noted.
"They're forecasting a more global retail environment," Fineman added, so the most progressive retailers are building their physical presence to supplement or go hand-in-hand with their digital or online platforms.
Whether or not current economic conditions justify the growth the industry is seeing right now, Fineman said he believes, "there's a ton of opportunity." Although Fineman wouldn't elaborate on his own plans, he added, "We're definitely in the expansion mindset."
While there has been a lot of expansion news of late, "don't forget that there has also been contraction, particularly on the East Coast," said Eric Blackledge of Blackledge Furniture in Corvallis, Ore.
It makes sense for the larger players with cash to infill in preparation for an improving economy, and he fully expects these Top 100 companies to expand in large markets where they gain economies of scale.
"But among independents, we probably won't see it nearly as much," he said.
"Most independents tend to operate in small comfortable markets and are making money," Blackledge said, adding that he doesn't know of anyone in the Pacific Furniture Dealers buying group (Blackledge is a member) who is planning to expand at this time.
Ron Page, senior director of merchandising for the Furniture First buying group, said many of its members see the opportunity now and are adding more stores than he's seen in a long time. He's not so sure the economy justifies all the expansion the industry is seeing, but "They can't stand still," Page said. "You can't let the economy totally dictate what you do."

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