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Clint Engel

Hefner's crazy for customers

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - Hefner Furniture & Appliance here has spent the past year reinventing itself while building on its reputation for fun displays of unusual collectibles and toys - from classic cars and mechanical sharks to race boats and now airplanes.
     The retailer, with two stores in Poplar Bluff and Farmington, has phased out its Sluggo's promotional outlet store brand, converting the space in both markets to the full-service Hefner's. For more than a year, it has also been doing away with gallery presentations in favor of category displays, and it's now seeing the fruits of these labors.
     "We had a big year (in 2011) and this (past) year is bigger," said owner Slug Hefner, who estimated that total 2012 sales topped $14 million, up double digits over the previous year. About 70% of the retailer's business comes from furniture, bedding and accessories.
     Hefner attributed the growth not only to the format changes, but to improvements that include changes in inventory, better sales training and more targeted advertising. Hefner moved away from newspapers and has gone primarily to television ads with some radio spots.
     Consumers who haven't visited Hefner's in a few years may still recognize some of the collectible cars and other fun display gizmos, but the layout has changed completely. With the move away from galleries, Hefner tore down walls and dramatically opened up the showrooms.
     About 26,000 square feet of the roughly 115,000 square feet of display in each of its markets had been devoted to Thomasville, Broyhill and Lane galleries. It also had Natuzzi and La-Z-Boy Showcase galleries at each location.
     Hefner now says that segregating product by furniture supplier wasn't his best idea.
     He said the big suppliers "had the clout to mandate to you. But the problem with too much loyalty to a brand is they have 20 different SKUs of widgets, and if you're carrying all their widgets, you've got their first, second and third best selling, but you also have their fourth to the worst selling.

A Quonset hut
A Quonset hut with its signature semicircular roof connects the former Sluggo’s outlet to the main Poplar Bluff, Mo., store and serves as a walkway to the new motion department. The area includes a drag boat crash scene mural and a TV running footage of drag boat races.
Hefner’s newest toy is a 1960s two-seat training jet, mounted in front of the new Quonset hut connector at its 115,000-square-foot Poplar Bluff, Mo., store. The installation process drew a crowd of curious consumers, who stuck around to shop.
Hefner’s newest

     "By spreading out the floor and not letting anybody automatically have a certain amount of floor space - they get it by merit - we now have everybody's best selling widgets."
     In appliances, Hefner's consolidated the other ways, cutting suppliers Frigidaire and General Electric while increasing its assortment from Whirlpool and its sister brands Maytag and Jenn-Air. Hefner said that move reflected the desire to cut duplication from various brands and broaden the range of truly different product.
     Hefner's adjusted its furniture offerings, switching to product category displays and adding

Hefner’s devotes aboutHefner’s devotes about 18,000 square feet of space in its Farmington, Mo., store to the World of Motion department, featuring sofa-sleepers, recliners, motion upholstery and lift and massage chairs.
some new suppliers. It still does a strong business with Furniture Brands International lines - including Broyhill - as well as Ashley, Natuzzi and Flexsteel, but it also does more with suppliers such as Wynwood, Fusion and another Furniture Brands (a small importer of bedroom and dining room furniture from China).
     It's also seeing nice sales from modern, urban looks from Moe's and reclaimed wood looks from Bauer International, he said.
     Hefner's slogan: "We're all things to all budgets, from Ashley up to Thomasville and everything good in between."
     Instead of segregating its most promotional goods in a separate Sluggo's outlet, Hefner's now includes those items in the good section of its good, better, best (he calls them bronze, silver and gold) category displays of mid priced furniture.
     The Sluggo's space had been attached to the Farmington Hefner's. The showrooms in Poplar Bluff were separated by a few yards, but the company joined the two buildings with a 2,000-square-foot Quonset hut that Hefner refers to as a "tunnel."

A replica of a 1918
A replica of a 1918 Fokker D-VI biplane, with yellow iron cross and skull and crossbones, perches atop Hefner’s Farmington, Mo., store about 60 miles outside St. Louis.
Hefner Furniture & Appliance mounted a skater boat to the side of its Poplar Bluff, Mo., store, promoting its new World of Motion department of motion furniture.
Hefner Furniture

     "We did the flair like we normally do," Hefner said. A wooden hydroplane race boat from the 1960s is strapped it to one wall and some old neon Buick signs add more pop.
     "The ladies here call them toys," he said. "I call them visual aids."
     "I'm a believer in motivating the mood," he added. "If everyone comes here and they get upbeat and see fun stuff, and they get excited, they're more eager to spend money. My belief is when they shop, they want to have fun doing it."
     One of Hefner's latest ventures has been the creation of World of Motion upholstery displays featuring "anything that moves," from sofa-sleepers and recliners to motion upholstery, lift chairs and massage chairs. The areas, about 10,000 square feet in Poplar Bluff and about 18,000 in Farmington, feature brands including La-Z-Boy, Lane, Flexsteel, Franklin, Natuzzi and Ashley.
     World of Motion has a motorsports theme, including a 32-foot skater boat that he bolted to the outside wall.
     On the roof on the Farmington store, Hefner has mounted a Dirty Duck Racing boat (the team is sponsored by Hefner Furniture and the driver is none other than Slug Hefner). He also added a replica of a 1918 Fokker biplane to the one end of the Farmington store roof.
     And in Poplar Bluff, he has just finished installing a 1960s two-seat jet training airplane in front of the new tunnel connector. Hefner said traffic and sales were "amazing" while a crane was positioning the plane, with its 40-foot wingspan, as curious consumers stopped to watch before deciding to shop.
     He said it's difficult to put a price on all the improvements, but estimated the cost of interior work, the Quonset hut and installation of the skater boat, jet and signage came to about $400,000, including construction and labor.
     "We're creating that energy level, creating talk," Hefner said. "We've been fortunate enough to generate enough business to keep making changes, and I guess if you don't change, you decay."

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