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  • Clint Engel

Chicago welcomes first Art Van

ORLAND PARK, Ill. - Art Van Furniture's 50,000- square-foot Windy City showroom here is a first in several ways.
     It's the first of six coming to the market over the next few months. It's the first of eight Art Van stores coming to brand new markets through early next year. That includes a just announced store for Fort Wayne, Ind., and the previously announced 90,000- square-foot showroom coming to Toledo, Ohio. All told, including a just opened 183,000-squarefoot cross-dock warehouse in Bolingbrook, Ill, this will be a $40 million investment, said Art Van CEO Kim Yost.
     The Orland Park showroom on South La Grange Road also represents the Warren, Mich.- based Top 100 company's first step on a three- to five-year mission to top the $1 billion sales mark through a network of stores spanning four states - Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. (The retailer's furniture, bedding and accessories sales totaled just more than half of that - $515 million - last year.)
     If grand opening day is any indication, the retailer may reach that goal sooner than later. While the company wouldn't disclose early sales figures, Orland Park - despite being one of its smallest stores - turned in the best volume performance of any of Art Van's 36 full-line showrooms, said Diane Charles, director of corporate communications.
     "When you look at Chicagoland, (it has) well over $2 billion worth of furniture and mattress volume," Yost said in an exclusive video interview with Furniture/Today.
     "We anticipate a market share of 10% plus. We can get $200 million of this market with approximately 12 to 16 stores, but our demographics, psychographics and density of population give us at least 18 locations (opportunities) throughout Chicagoland."
     But the retailer isn't stopping there. One of its top priorities will be to begin opening some 23 Art Van PureSleep specialty bedding shops, strategically flanking the first six full-line stores, over the next three years.
     The retailer has drawn a circle around its 1 million square- foot distribution center, which will expand by another 300,000 square feet, Yost added. That circle around Art Van's Warren home base has a 250-mile radius taking in four Midwestern States.
     "Our goal is to get to that billion dollars' worth of sales by focusing on those four states ... and we will open as many stores as it takes over the next several years," he said, adding that the company has a threeyear expansion plan.

Fusion’s Poppy
Fusion’s Poppy living room group stands out at the better end of Art Van’s 4,600-square-foot in-store clearance center. A room package including sofa, loveseat, three tables and two lamps goes for $1,449.
The Chloe sectional, part of the Style collection for Art Van by England gets prime display space near the front of the retailer’s 50,000-squarefoot Chicago-area store in Orland Park. Style, exclusive to Art Van, offers consumers 50 fabric choices at no extra charge and three- to five-week delivery.
The Chloe sectional,
The Illusions three-piece
The Illusions three-piece sectional ($2,699), part of the Cindy Crawford Home line produced by H.M. Richards, and the No. 1 living room for all of Art Van, is featured prominently in the new Chicagoland store.
Art Van created a mini gallery of L.J.Gascho dining tables, fully customizable, offered in two choices of solid wood and seven finishes and colors. The line is at the better end of Art Van’s price spectrum and accounts for a large percentage of its overall dining room business.
Art Van created
Art Van’s 4,500-square-
Art Van’s 4,500-square-foot PureSleep bedding department is the first to closely mirror its standalone PureSleep stores and is larger than the departments in its other locations. Suppliers include Kingsdown, King Koil, Tempur-Pedic, Serta, Simmons, Sealy and Stearns & Foster.

     That growth includes the upcoming Toledo store and what Yost called "the three Cs," Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.
     "And as we continue to open our stores, we are going to continue to add new and exciting elements so that we're constantly in evolution," he said.
     "We want to be serial innovators."
     The Orland Park showroom is internally referred to as Art Van's "2.0" model, and while on the small side for Art Van, it features several new twists for the retailer, including a new exterior design that plays up the retailer's signature "chair in the square," logo along a 42-foot high façade, easily visible from the busy South La Grange Road.
The interior is much more open than the oldest Art Van stores, noting that any interior wall or partition is easily movable so the store can be refreshed quickly to meet changing consumer needs and tastes, said Amelia Ellenstein, vice president of brand strategy.
     This store and future stores also are organized more by select lifestyle as well as product category, which Ellenstein said makes it easier to shop. In Orland Park, Art Van chose to highlight the "Casual" and what it calls "Recliners," lifestyles (recliners also incorporates all of the motion upholstery category as well as casual dining and home entertainment furniture).
     She noted the lifestyles for each new store will vary, again to reflect the tastes of area consumers.
     At the back of the stores is Art Van's largest PureSleep department to date, 4,500 square feet, and the first set up to mirror the stand-alone PureSleep stores.

An area official and Art Van Furniture executives and family cut the ribbon on the Top 100 company’s first Chicago-area store in Orland Park, Ill. Up to 17 more full-line stores are planned for the Windy City.
An area official
Jeff Van Tuyle,
Jeff Van Tuyle, left, King Koil; Art Van Elslander, Art Van Furniture, Warren, Mich.; Kurt Darrow, La-Z-Boy; and Kim Yost, Art Van Furniture at the “Motown Spectacular” party in Art Van’s first Chicagoland store in Orland Park, Ill.
Gary Van Elslander, left, Art Van Furniture, Warren, Mich.; Janet Van Elslander; and Bill Colegrove, Aspenhome.
Gary Van Elslander,
Art Van Furniture Founder
Art Van Furniture Founder and Chairman Art Van Elslander poses with The Temptations Review, the entertainment during a Motown-themed preopening party.

     Just before a party celebrating the opening, Founder and Chairman Art Van Elslander told Furniture/Today that it had just leased an additional 15,000-square-feet in the vacant space next door to expand the showroom.
     Yost said the retailer will most likely use the space to bring in additional living room furniture and expand its already large clearance center, which the company said could stand on its own as the second largest furniture retailer in Michigan, just behind Art Van.
     Eventually, the retailer will bring its other brands and departments to Chicago, Yost said, including Art's Backyard, Paul's TV and World of Floors.
     The store saw strong consumer response during its weeklong soft opening and drew some 700 industry guests, new employees, community leaders and consumers to its Motownthemed party two nights before its official July 20 grand opening, said Charles. The entertainment for the evening: The Temptations Review, featuring an original member of The Temptations.
     "I love it," said Aspenhome CEO Bill Colegrove.
     "I see a certain demographic they're going after - the Millennials - in the design, layout and look. This store has them right in its sights in every aspect. It's clean, fresh, crisp, colorful, and communicative."
     It's an exciting time for the Art Van team, Van Elslander said, adding, "I have no question about Chicago being a real success for us." He added the retailer is even considering acquiring a bedding chain to help speed up its rollout of PureSleep.
     Asked about why Art Van was moving into this neighboring market five hours up the road and whether with its aggressive expansion plans the company risked growing too far and too fast, Van Elslander was reminded of something he told Furniture/Today years ago.
     "I take calculated risks, but I don't gamble, and that hasn't changed," he said.
     Consumers have been asking for Art Van to come to Chicago and the company has the leadership in place to take on the challenge, he said.
     Yost added that Chicago "can use our secret sauces."
     "There is no brand in American furniture and mattress stores that is unique and close to Art Van, and the market can use our differentiation, he said.
     And finally, Yost said, the timing is right for this push.
     "Our balance sheet has never been stronger," he said. "Our single shareholder is excited about the future. He believes that we have a great team positioned to grow and with the success of our 50 years, the timing is so right."

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