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Clint Engel

Gearing up for recovery

HIGH POINT - Retailers shopping the furniture market here have mixed opinions on whether the economy and the industry have hit bottom and are on the path to sustainable recovery.
     Some say business is still a slog and that the consumer's pattern of shopping heavily primarily around holidays hasn't changed.
     But for the most part, business appears to be up this year for furniture stores across the country, including American Furniture Warehouse in greater Denver, where a rebounding housing market, among other things, has helped the changing to double-digit sales gains this summer.
     And smaller players like Broyhill of Denver also are notching gains. Lael Thompson, chief operating officer of the family business, said "Things have leveled out," and consumers are acclimating to a new normal, deciding "it is OK to spend a little."
     In the greater Boston market, Circle Furniture's Peggy Burns said business is on the upswing and despite some inconsistency from month to month, retailers "need to stay positive and believe that better days are here to stay."
     "Very important," she added in an email: "NO WHINING!"
     These retailers were planning visits here this week with varied shopping lists, ranging from the all-important special deals, to more made-in-America goods to standout accent and occasional pieces and other items that can turn consumers' heads with bold colors and innovative design.
     Below is a sample of what retailers are saying about their needs this market, what they'll be shopping for in High Point, and their capacity for taking on more product.


Mark Mueller, Mueller Furniture, Belleville, Ill.
     What's your open to buy and how does in compare to six months ago?
     "Right now our open to buy is less than it was six months ago. Sales have been good, but special orders as a percentage of our business continue to increase. We've invested in some split containers in case goods and in leather upholstery, and eventually I'm confident we will get a strong return on investment. But at the present time, our inventory levels are a little higher than we would normally like them to be, and consequently, we have less open to buy."
     I'm in the market for ... "Niche categories that will quick ship (two to three weeks) and that we anticipate a high turn rate on. We've seen higher customer demand for categories like contemporary barstools, accent chests with the reclaimed wood look at lower price points, fashionable drop-leaf tables for down-sizers, and script-style fabrics on accent chairs."
     Any new vendors on your shopping list? "Vendors I'm currently not selling that I'd like to check out would be Hillsdale, Pure LatexBliss, Samuel Lawrence and Legacy Classic."
     I can't wait to see ..."Best Home Furnishings' new YOLO line. It's a 26-piece group of trendy chairs, glider rockers, etc. They ship quickly so I'm hoping to find several pieces that we can turn over and over at a good margin."
     My star categories this year have been ... "In mattresses, it has been a series of latex foam beds from Bemco and gel-infused memory foam mattresses from Bemco and Serta. In order to maintain the same quality of life, our customers are working harder and longer. They need to make their six hours of sleep count. Therefore, they are willing to invest in a higher quality mattress. Comparing a high-quality Talalay latex or a high density gel-memory foam mattress to an innerspring bed is like comparing a Firestone rubber tire to a wooden wagon wheel.
     "In furniture, it has been Amish-made bedroom and dining room furniture. Customers appreciate the craftsmanship and the beautiful finishes as well as the customization possibilities."
     What's the most important thing you hope to take away from High Point? "In addition to the things I mentioned above, if I can find some great mattress promotions and a good sales training program that we can implement in-house, I'd call the market a success."

Peggy Burns Circle Furniture, Acton, Mass.
     Open to buy? The future is looking bright and we are much more excited about the furniture business this market than the past few years. We want to be cautious in our decisions and not just buy for the sake of buying.
     I'm in the market for ... "I would always love to find nicely priced dining that is made in the USA and would like it to be transitional and clean. Affordable occasional would always be a good find and, again, we want it domestic and styled right. I just want beautiful cocktail tables with some style made in the USA."
     New vendors? "Not really. We enjoy our vendors right now and I'm not sure we could even handle another placement, as our footprints are small. But I am always open to the possibilities, should something knock our socks off."
     Can't wait to see ... "Fabrics and the new colors and trends in fabrics as I see it. This is the most fun at market and the bolder the better."
     Star category: "Upholstery. This category is what is working for us, and I believe we have the right partners right now in fabric and leather. If we came across a domestic line in leather that was totally awesome and stylish, priced well and made amazingly we might consider it."
     Most important takeaway? "I like spending time with our vendors and seeing the new product and what direction they may be heading. We base our business and vendors on relationships as well as product, and there are some vendors that we would never see if we didn't come to High Point because they don't travel. Putting some faces to the product and making some contacts with people at the factories is important."

Jake Jabs American Furniture Warehouse, Englewood, Colo.
     Open to buy? "About the same. We just got back from spending a week in China so we have a pretty full plate. We have normal open to buy but no more than usual."
     I'm in the market for ... "Special deals. Seems like there are a lot of special deals out there. For example, Corinthian just sent us some really good closeouts. You're always looking for closeouts that are good, not junk. Good fabrics. Maybe (some upholstery suppliers) are stuck with a bunch of kits. I think one of the reasons our business is up 15% is we're selling a little higher end goods all the time. I don't think we're looking for much higher end in sofas but (we will be) in case goods - home office and bedroom."
     Can't wait to see ... "I've got Furniture/Today (Oct. 1 issue) in front of me and on page 26, there's a picture of Global's (multi-colored sectional). I'm anxious to see what that looks like. We'll probably give it a try. I think it will appeal to younger consumers, which is a good demographic; kids will love it. We‘re not going to buy heavy but it's worth trying."
     Star categories: "Upholstery, and we're selling a lot of memory foam mattresses - over 4,000 a month, including Healthcare (a Chinese import) and Sealy. Sealy is changing their lineup and we bought from all 17 of their factories their entire 2012 memory foam mattress line (at a discount), over 2,000 pieces. Also, home office - contract business, office furniture - is picking up and we just own that business in Colorado."

Kris Kolar Clive Daniel Home, Naples, Fla.
     Open to buy? "Because were in a seasonal kind of state, our April market open to buy is always larger than October. We order in April and set the showroom new in early fall and September, when customers start coming down."
     I'm in the market for ... "We always have our eyes open for new styles, trends. We're always looking for the new. We run a very sophisticated store that's more design-oriented. Everything you need for the home is here. So we're always looking for trends and a lot of times we see that in odd little places. It's often not the big companies that set the trends. It's the little, innovative, take-achance kind of guys."
     New vendors? "The thing we always do during one of the first couple of days is go through Interhall, because that's where the new, smaller and maybe trendy vendors are. We're always looking for that diamond in the rough. I think a lot of other stores tend to schedule visits with the big case goods companies first. But we don't do that."
     Can't wait to see ... "The new Bridal Collection from Caracole, Swaim, Cisco and Maria Yee's new showroom."
     Star categories: "I would say furniture accents, high end lighting, top of the bed and decorative accessories. In accents, I'm including interesting cocktail tables, outstanding chests, consoles and drink tables. A lot of people don't pay enough attention to it, but we show it like it's special. The other thing were doing is we started a little business of vintage furniture, retro items and old items (we refurbish) and it has been quite successful. Consumers really like these one-of-a-kind things."
     Important takeaway: "Always ideas, trends, where the market is going, colors. That's what I take away bar none. We always want to see what's on the horizon."

Tom Phillips Wee k e n d s Only Furniture Outlet, St. Louis
     Open to buy? "It's about the same as six months ago. Our concept is based on an ever changing assortment of products at a great price, so we always have open to buy for market leading values. The key is finding the deals that are relevant and meet our customers' needs for both style and value."
     I'm in the market for ... "We're always in the market for good closeouts, overstocks, and opportunity buys. But fashion for a price has seen more growth over commodity items. So we also seek better quality, fashion oriented product for a great price; we look to strengthen our master and youth bedroom categories, and more ‘wow' accent pieces. "
     New vendors? No specific names. We'll compare notes at market with our (Furniture Marketing Group buying group) members and go from there. We also like to just walk the halls and drop in on vendors we've never visited."
Can't wait to see ... "The first floor of the Design Center ... what trends they are highlighting, what's new in design and function. We also like to shop the Suites at Market Square for the same reasons."
     Star categories: "Mattresses, accents and rugs. Motion has been good, and bonded leather has seen strong growth."

     Important takeaway? "A temperature of the industry, first, and to learn how our suppliers are thinking about growing our respective businesses together. We look to new introductions as good barometers as to how vendors are positioning themselves for 2013. From a product standpoint, we always seek to find exceptional product at exceptional value, from both new and current suppliers, that will drive customer footsteps to our doors."
Lael Thompson Broyhill of Denver, Aurora, Colo.
     Open to buy? "I have space in my showroom to work with. We are in a good position to buy, but we will definitely be shopping cautiously."
     In the market for ... "Strong value middle price point case goods and custom upholstery suppliers. We would like to support the growing and returning segment of American-made products. They have a wonderful selling story, ship quickly, and they tend to feature quality construction features. We want to do our part in bringing this industry back home."
     New vendors? "I am excited to see John Thomas and the crew at Whitewood. They have a solid wood table/chair program that looks like it has a lot of power. I am also hoping to find some new vendors that are rising stars. I want to find some ambitious companies that are not being smothered by huge retailers that have r
eal opportunity for partnership."
     Can't wait to see ... "The Made in America Pavilion. It represents a very important segment of this industry. I want to learn more about companies that never left America to companies who are new and investing in this industry and country. I also love seeing the people at market. The vibe, the flow of information, and the chance to see old friends are always a market highlight. I can't wait to see the other young people at the Next Generation event on Saturday night!"
     Star category: "I would have to say that bedroom has been a real improvement for us this year. Many people who have been putting off furniture purchases are coming back into the market and taking care of themselves. Normally people take care of the rest of the house first during tough times. Seeing people choose to take care of their bedrooms tells me things are getting better. That makes me very happy."
     Important takeaway: "I hope to take away some new ideas that represent new opportunities for growth. I want to get a fresh energy and renewal to face this next quarter with."
Eric Easter Kittle's, Indianapolis
     Open to buy? "Ours is totally a function of what we find. If we find a lot of differentiatin
g and/or high volume potential product, then we will buy a lot. If we don't, then we don't."
     In the market for ... "Unique, different, colorful product that is backed with strong logistics."
     Star categories : "Upholstery, motion, bedroom, accents and bedding." Important takeaway: "A differentiating assortment at every price point."
Jeff Seaman Rooms To Go, Seffner, Fla.
     Open to buy? "It's the same as six months ago. We don't really use an open to buy. We flow it pretty well (throughout the year), so we don't really have inventory issues like that. 2012 was (a good year for business). I'm a little concerned about next year, with the fiscal cliff and all these decisions we're going to have to make as a country, but it's not affecting our outlook at the market."
     I'm in the market for ... "Furniture. You always want to be surprised. We're in the market for good surprises."
Star category: "Living rooms are good."
     Important takeaway? "One of the great things about the market is you get to talk to other retailers, and that's always a good thing for us. We get a feel for what's working for them and give them a feel for what's working for us. I think you learn more from other retailers - we do, almost - than from the vendors at the market."

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