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Hooker Furniture helping dealers with e-commerce

Chicagoland’s Toms-PriceChicagoland’s Toms-Price is one of the first retailers to launch a co-branded ecommerce iStore selling Hooker’s branded lines of products. The new program is designed to comfortably and affordably move Hooker dealers into e-commerce.
HIGH POINT - Hooker Furniture is helping its dealers get into the e-commerce business.
     The case goods and upholstery supplier has developed P3, (for preferred partner program), a co-branded partnership with independent retailers focused on bringing them up to speed for young, tech-savvy consumers who are doing most of their shopping online.
     The new strategy includes a supported Web marketing program and locally focused e-commerce websites called iS tores.
     Hooker is working with ecommerce specialist Channel Redefined of Green Bay, Wis., to develop the iStores featuring Hooker's four bands - Hooker, Bradington-Young, Sam Moore and Seven Seas Seating - along with other information including blogs produced by Hooker's marketing team.
     The iStore connects seamlessly to a retailer's existing multi-line website and eventually will be opened up to include e-commerce capabilities for a dealer's other sources, said Johne Albanese, Hooker vice president, corporate marketing.
     The program launched recently with four retailers - Wheaton, Ill.-based Toms-Price, Lancaster, Pa.-based Interiors, Piedmont, S.C.-based Maynard's and Dulles, Va.-based Belfort Furniture. Ten more iStores are online and will be e-commerce enabled in the next few weeks.
     Albanese declined to say how many retailers he hopes to bring on, saying only that Hooker is "truly humbled by the depth of interest and desire to participate by a wide range of leading retailers."
     "We recognized the Web is nothing less than critical to the way businesses run today," Albanese said, noting a Forrester projection that within three years, consumers will have purchased more mobile devices than there are people on the planet.
     "We are indelibly tied to the independent retailer," he said. "We need to help retailers navigate this new paradigm."
     P3 and the iStores are Hooker's way of doing that, by offering fully functioning ecommerce platforms that essentially take the work out of the equation for the retailers. Albanese said it's "a way for them to head into ecommerce without diving in first."
     To accomplish the task, Hooker brought in Channel Redefined, and a team led by CEO Jesse Akre. Akre wouldn't disclose the name of the former pure-play company he was associated with, but said his team has spent over 15 years in the ecommerce industry.
     The iStores are designed to include key tools and information online shoppers have come to expect from an online seller, including a large offering of Hooker brands' products, with pricing, options and a shopping cart.
     Consumers can zoom in for a closer view of an item. Written content is limited, focusing primarily on the type of product information the hurried consumer is most interested in, such as price, construction details, dimensions, fabric and finish options and shipping details. The ability to digitally drape fabric on frames will be added before the end of the year, Albanese said.
     There's also a way for consumers to credit sales to the salesperson or designer they may have worked with in the store.
     "At this time, and in keeping with our local-focused strategy for P3 retailers, goods will be flowing through the retailer's existing infrastructure," Albanese said.
     Blog posts about product trends and other subjects are provided for the retailers and will vary from one iStore to the next, avoiding the kind of duplication Google doesn't like when offering up search results. Retailers also can post their own blogs.
     The Web program is backed by what Hooker is calling 3P University, which includes webinars to help guide dealers through the digital world as well as training, service and marketing support, the company said.
     Albanese wouldn't disclose the cost to participate, saying only that, "We worked very hard to make this affordable."
     Scott Price, an owner and operator of Toms-Price in the Chicago area, said the monthly fee is "extremely reasonable" - less than what the retailer pays for maintenance of its main website - and that he assumed Hooker is subsidizing the cost.
     "We're a midsized retailer, and I really appreciate having somebody else take care of all the maintenance of the website," he said. That includes things like updating the site for new products and removing discontinued fabrics, leathers and products.
     "We have 100 vendors. We're a custom order house, and they all have a thousand SKUs and a thousand fabrics. It would just be a maintenance nightmare for us to try to undertake an ecommerce platform internally," Price said.
     He said it's too early to judge consumer acceptance, but he believes the iStore will be a great tool to attract buyers who do most of their shopping online as well as a convenience for the retailer's existing customers. While the company's physical stores are open every day, they close in the evening, unlike the iStore.
     "Our online store can be open 24/7 and can close out existing customers, or allow the customer who has been in the store to make the purchase online at a time when they're ready - after going home and measuring (or) talking to a spouse," he said.
     "For the kind of store we are, we may see more success with it for order fulfillment than new order inception or a way to attract new customers, but I'm hoping for both."

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