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Retail sales gains spur buying as Las Vegas Market opens

Clint Engel, Don Hogsett -- Furniture Today, January 30, 2012

LAS VEGAS - With business solidly in positive territory for many furniture stores, buyers arriving at the just-opened winter edition of the Las Vegas Market are looking for the kind of goods that will keep sales flowing.

They are shopping the market for its strengths, and since bedding is such a dominant presence here, retailers indicated the category will get a large share of their attention as they seek out everything new, from gel beds to the latest in adjustable foundations.

While consumers appear to be loosening their purse strings a bit, retailers say increased sales have come only through aggressive promoting, so the emphasis here remains on unbeatable value, though not necessarily the lowest price. Some looked for hot promotional deals at the Lifestyle Enterprise's Forbidden City Furniture Show, which ran Friday through Sunday at the Riviera Hotel.

Also getting a lot of attention here is Ashley, which hosted dealer meetings before the market opening and is promising new developments in its Ashley Sleep program, among other things.

Retailers also are checking out the WMC's new Made in the U.S.A. pavilion, featuring nearly 40 domestic sources on the second floor of Building B, a followup to the successful Made in America pavilion at the High Point Market in October.

"Vegas, for me, is hopefully going to be a market that has something slightly more exciting and unique (than High Point)," said Jeff Selik, president of the contemporary Hillside Furniture in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Selik is likely to be one of the first buyers through the Made in the U.S.A. area. Living and working in greater Detroit, Selik said he knows how important U.S. production is to his customers and his family. While it's important for Hillside to offer a balance of domestic and imported goods, the retailer goes out of its way to promote domestic product as such through signage.

Business has been good for 15-store Charlotte, N.C.-based Broad River Furniture. The company, which operates Ashley Furniture HomeStores and a multi-line Savvy Spaces store format, saw same-store sales increase more than 10% this past year, with the biggest gains coming in the second half of the year, said Charlie Malouf, a partner in the business with Jonathan Ishee.

"Traffic was mostly flat, but we did more with the traffic we got," Malouf said, adding that the company also enhanced its internal operations by aggressively recruiting new sales and management talent, among other things. Last year, the retailer opened three stores - Savvy Spaces and an Ashley Furniture HomeStore outlet in the Charlotte market, and a HomeStore in Fayetteville, N.C.

"We're exiting survival mode and entering growth mode," Malouf said.

Gary Woodham, vice president of merchandise for Greensboro, N.C.-based Colfax Furniture, was coming to Las Vegas early to attend both the Furniture Marketing Group's annual Symposium at the Bellagio and Lifestyle Enterprise's show at the Riviera before heading to the World Market Center.

"I'm more or less tire kicking," he said, adding that the consumer remains value-driven. That means Woodham will be driven by the same force here, looking for the best values - but not necessarily the lowest prices - that Colfax can advertise to help drive traffic to the store.

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Furniture Outlets USA, which operates both multi-line stores and Ashley Furniture HomeStores, experienced a 12% sales gain last year and is off to a strong start so far this year, but it doesn't have a lot of needs heading into Las Vegas, said Gordy Wallenstein, president.

Nevertheless, Wallenstein and other buyers for the Top 100 chain will be here, making sure they're up to speed on trends and market introductions. Among other things, the retailer will shop for fresh looks in casual dining from $599 to $999 for a table and four chairs, and upholstery at these same price points for sofas.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based City Furniture, another multi-line and HomeStores dealer, is here primarily to see what's new with Ashley, both in new collections and fill-in goods, said President Keith Koenig.

"Overall, we're seeing modern and contemporary becoming more and more important so our merchandise team will be open to buy in that category," he added.

Austin, Texas-based Louis Shanks of Texas also is coming off a strong year in its Texas markets, said Mike Forwood, president. While Las Vegas may not contain as much high-end product as he'd like to see, Forwood will be busy checking out the latest from Lexington Home Brands as well as seeking out a few new lines it hasn't worked with before.

(For a longer version of this story, see today's print issue of Furniture/Today.)

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