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Jay McIntosh

Holiday sales offer hope

Promotions likePromotions like this trio of motion upholstery pieces, plus a free rug, helped draw Memorial Day traffic for retailers including Laurel, Del.-based Johnny Janosik.
HIGH POINT - Memorial Day ranged from average to great for furniture retailers around the country, offering some hope for the rest of the year.
     A number of retailers surveyed by Furniture/Today said they still had to work hard to promote business for the holiday weekend, with discounts and financing offers continuing to play key roles.
     And several said good weather over the weekend was not so good for business, as would-be shoppers took part in festivities to kick off the summer and to honor the nation's fallen heroes.
     "Our Memorial Day event was very solid and consistent throughout the chain," said Steve Stagner, CEO of Houston-based Mattress Firm, one of the country's largest sleep shop chains. "It appears that the consumer is beginning to respond to our category as this recession is beginning to subside."
     Sunny skies on the North Carolina coast were bad news for the Fred's Beds store in Wilmington, N.C., where the company is based. "That was no surprise," said Lisa Stansbury, vice president. "The weather was beautiful and it's really hard to get people away from the beaches."
     But she said the retailer's stores farther inland in the Raleigh area did well over the weekend.
     There were similar reports of business lost to great weather in areas ranging from Delaware to Colorado to Oregon, where retailers had a hard time competing with the lure of the outdoors.
     In Denver, the weekend was "on the quiet side" for retailer Broyhill Home Collections, said Lael Thompson, chief operating officer. Beautiful weather drew people to the myriad of outdoor festivities that take place in the area, he said.
     "Also, while lots of people just assume that Memorial Day weekend is one of those slam-dunk weekends for retailers, this holiday along with others has become far less predictable in terms of sales opportunities," Thompson said in an e-mail. "Even so, we were pretty much on par with last year's Memorial Day sales."
     He added that while the retailer didn't have a specific themed sale, it does advertise 20% off the manufacturer's suggested retail prices, which helped drive traffic into the store.
     "Without a doubt, our biggest selling category continues to be upholstery," Thompson said. "We do lots of custom fabrics and our shoppers clearly prefer that to off-the rack looks."
     Great weather also took a bit of the shine off Memorial Day weekend results for Johnny Janosik, a Top 100 retailer based in Laurel, Del., said CEO David Koehler. Sales were strong the week leading into the holiday, including Friday and Saturday, but were a little behind last year on Sunday and Monday as the sun drew shoppers to the beaches.
     For the month of May, written business was up 5% for the company and delivered sales were up 13%, Koehler said.
     In a promotion Johnny Janosik is running May 21 through June 7, the big categories have been upholstery - motion, recliners and stationary - along with master bedding and bedroom, he said.
     "Customers are still cautious but we are starting to see a move towards trading up slightly to better products, versus trading down to inexpensive starting price points," Koehler said.
     John Wanat, a co-owner of two-location closeout home furnishings retailer FWS in western New York, said the store had "unbelievable" traffic on Memorial Day weekend. FWS started a two-week tent sale at its Buffalo, N.Y., store that weekend to work through excess inventory to make way for new product.
     While the jury was still out on whether dollar sales would beat last year, the number of furniture pieces sold during the weekend was up, Wanat said.
     Memorial Day was the biggest weekend in the five-year history of I.O. Metro, the 16-store midpriced lifestyle specialty retailer based in Rogers, Ark., said CEO Jay Howard.
     "The consumer was very excited and eager to buy, and buy now. We did not have a huge sale, but rather heavily discounted our aged accessories," he said. "While we did move a lot of those, the majority of our purchases were larger furniture, so higher ticket items (although they were not on sale)."
     Robert Levin, president of Smithton, Pa.-based Levin Furniture, with 13 stores in greater Pittsburgh and the Cleveland, Canton and Akron, Ohio, areas, said his business was up over last year. He added that Levin did some deep discounting as well as a five-year, no-interest financing offer for its main promotion, which ran Friday through Monday.
David KoehlerDavid Koehler

     "We were up against not overly difficult comps, but we beat it handily," he said, adding that the holiday weekend business "helped reverse an otherwise unimpressive May."
     Asked if he sees the improvement as any indication of business to come, Levin emphatically said no.
     "It's too hard to predict right now whether it's just a function of shoppers shopping on holiday weekends. Those generally have been strong for us," he said. "The future is very unclear whether that is a leading indicator of any kind (of future) business. We will continue to be as aggressive as we need to be."
     Mitch Keller, director of stores for Dayton, N.J.-based Value City Stores, said Memorial Day sales "were very strong." But like other retailers, he said the retailer's Value City and Ashley Furniture stores had to compete with the great weekend weather in the region.
     "We have a number of stores close to the beach and with the weather as good as it was I was initially worried that shoppers might choose the beach over shopping. But when all was said and done, we had a strong turnout with sales up a bit over last year," he said.
     To lure shoppers, the company ran two promotions, offering a 60-month deferred payment plan on bedding and 48-month deferred payments in other categories. While both worked well, Keller said the allure of the five-year payment plan made bedding the weekend's best selling category.
     Giff Gates, president of Gates Home Furnishings in Grants Pass, Ore., said business was hampered by beautiful weather, which kept people outdoors and away from stores.
     "Saturday and Monday were pretty good, but Sunday was dead," Gates said. He said the good weather brought out large crowds to a local festival on Sunday that featured a parade and boat racing.
     He added that consumers responded to a financing promotion that offered no down payment and no interest until 2012. And despite the mediocre weekend, he's upbeat about the direction the business has taken. He said that in 10 of the past 11 months, sales have been higher than in the comparable month the previous year.
     "That is very encouraging," Gates said. "We seem to be going in the right direction."

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