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  • Clint Engel

Holiday sales healthy

Bernie and Phyllis Rubin, co-foundersBernie and Phyllis Rubin, co-founders of Norton, Mass.-based Bernie & Phyl’s Furniture, star in a TV commercial for the retailer’s 30th Anniversary sale, which coincided with Memorial Day weekend.
BOSTON - The weather here was miserable for most of the Memorial Day weekend - rainy, cold, the dreary kind that keeps people away from the beach.
     And Bernie Rubin, chairman and co-founder of furniture retailer Bernie & Phyl's couldn't have been happier.
     For five winter weekends in a row, Rubin said his market was pummeled by snow, which killed business. This holiday weekend weather, on the other hand, was a different kind of bad; it drove business into his eight stores.
     "After the winter we came through, it was wonderful to have an excellent weekend," he said. "Finally, we got bad weather that helped us."
     Rubin said he wasn't sure the retailer's strong results were due to the weather or Bernie & Phyl's 30th anniversary promotion, which hit on the holiday, or a little of both, but he and other retailers around the country noted a positive consumer vibe over Memorial Day. Some cautiously said it's a sign that the pickup in business may be more of a trend than a blip.
     Bernie & Phyl's sale let consumers choose from any one of 30 offers the retailer had run over the years - from no-interest financing to an offer to discount the equivalent of sales tax.
     Rubin couldn't give a percentage increase, but said sales for the holiday weekend beat the previous year by a good amount.
     "I'm very optimistic that it's just the start of some very good things," he said. "The economy has improved from what it was two years ago, so it can only get better."
     Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture saw a double- digit sales increase for a holiday promotion that ran Friday, Saturday and Monday (the chain closes on Sundays).
     Miskelly lured consumers with an up to 60-month, no-interest financing offer through Wells Fargo and another offer for $100 off on a purchase of $799 or more. Both were well received, said Oscar Miskelly, a partner in the family business.
     The financing offer "really caught the customer's eye," he said, and helped drive up the average ticket dramatically.
Bedding, including premium mattresses, was a category champion, accounting for about 27% of holiday weekend sales compared with about 20% on a typical weekend. And premium lines, including Tempur-Pedic, Serta's I Comfort and Simmons ComforPedic, all did well, Miskelly said, thanks in part to the finance offer.
     On Memorial Day, Miskelly boosted the $100- off offer to up to $150 off a minimum $799 purchase for anyone lined up at the door at opening time. That drew an early-bird crowd of about 280.
     "It turned out to be the single largest Memorial Day and Memorial Day weekend in our history," Miskelly said.
     "Usually Memorial Day is a real harbinger of what your summer business is going to be, and it was definitely an encouraging sign, particularly with the consumer confidence up," he added. (The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index gained 7.2 points in May, climbing to 76.2, the highest level in more than five years.)
     "It was a buyer's weekend," he said. "People were in and not just looking; they were buying, probably more so than we've seen in some while, so that was a very positive indicator."
     Michael Allen, vice president home furnishings for the Anaheim, Calif.-based Brand- Source buying group, surveyed a few dealer members abou
Kittle’s Furniture lured consumersKittle’s Furniture lured consumers in with deferred financing on top of a big discount and bonus cash for making a charitable contribution.
t the holiday weekend and heard reports that business was good, particularly in the larger metro areas.
     A North Carolina furniture retailer told him sales were up about 20% over the same period a year ago. A Tampa, Fla.-based appliance and bedding retailer gave the weekend an A+ grade, saying it had promoted heavily and had "absolutely outstanding sales across all categories," Allen said.
     "The housing market has become so strong right now," Allen said. "Houses are selling fast. Prices are on the rise, and that gives people a little more confidence because their largest asset is worth more than it has been."
     He added that bedding dealers also got a huge shot in the arm this holiday from powerful national ad campaigns run by Sealy, Serta and Simmons.
     Indianapolis-based Kittle's Furniture promoted aggressively during the holiday too, with a "50+50+50" offer - at least 50% off and 50 months no-interest on purchases of $1,800 or more, plus $50 bonus cash with the customer's $25 donation to the Alzheimer's Assn.
     Consumers also could enter to win a free three-year lease on a 2013 Mini Cooper that was on display.
     "Traffic was strong the entire weekend," said Kittle's Vice President of Marketing Ferd Burgman - even on Sunday, when the Indy 500 race was going on. Sales were up about 5% over last year's holiday weekend, which also was very strong, he said.
     But he said was hesitant to say this was any indication of what's to come, despite indicators of an improving housing market in Kittle's Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, trading areas.
     "You never know what the next trigger point is going to be" that stalls consumer confidence, Burgman said.
     "Thirteen or 14 years ago, big holidays were huge events and people came in and didn't look behind them," he said. "Now it just seems tougher. It just seems like it's easier for momentum to be lost. And I'm not just speaking for our company." He networks with other area business operators and "everyone is singing the same tune," he said.
     Regency Furniture of Brandywine, Md., however, is among those singing a happier tune. It had a strong Memorial Day weekend - sales up 10% to 15% over last year at its Ashley Furniture Home Stores, Marlo Furniture and Regency Furniture showrooms - and President Mark Stuart said he isn't looking back.
     "The momentum seems to be carrying, and I feel it's an indicator things are going to get better. We'll have a good Fourth of July, summer, then September, October, November - the heaviest (sales) months of the year," Stuart said.
     "I think the worst of it is behind us. I'm looking for nothing but steady improvement."

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