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Retailers plan to buy big at Las Vegas Market

Business picks up as housing market rebounds

LAS VEGAS — Retailers coming to this week's Las Vegas Market say business has picked up since the November election, and with housing on the rebound, they'll be shopping aggressively to build on the momentum.

The election and the so-called fiscal cliff are behind us. And while the 2% increase in payroll taxes - just now taking a chunk out of consumers' paychecks - could slow things down for a while again, retailers interviewed for this story didn't seem overly concerned about the prospect.

Improvements in the housing market are having a greater positive impact, they said, and it's showing in their fairly lengthy shopping lists.

All the key categories will be shopped aggressively here, with buyers giving more attention than usual to products such as home accents. Some retailers say they will put more emphasis on eclectic looks and lighter, contemporary finishes.

Now that Las Vegas is the premier bedding market, retailers will be busy studying the promised innovations and technology in the category. Some also were arriving early to stop at the Furniture Market Group's symposium at the Venetian Resort and the Lifestyle Enterprise Forbidden City Furniture Show at the Riviera Hotel, which opened before market.

San Diego-based retailer Jerome's, coming off a sales increase of more than 10% last year over 2011, expects to be busy at market and will have an eye out for step-up product.

"We're seeing a much bigger marketplace for higher price points in every category," said CEO Lee Goodman.
A few years ago, like most stores, Jerome's was chasing prices down. But now, "that $299 sofa - we've taken it off the floor," Goodman said. "We're trying to stretch our price points, and quite frankly, we haven't stretched to a point where we're overstating the marketplace. We've been able to gain market share."

Andy Andreotti, Jerome's vice president of merchandising, said master bedroom is "always something I'm looking for ... because it's like a moving target."

Sometimes sources will raise prices too much, or stop making something that's still selling well. So Andreotti is always on the lookout for the next best thing, even if his slots are full.

This market, he's on the hunt for bedroom at the middle to upper end of Jerome's price spectrum - a queen bed with dresser, mirror or nightstand that can retail from $1,499 to $2,999. Both formal and casual dining also are on the list, as well as recliners, desks and leather motion upholstery, the latter in $999 to $1,199 price points for non-power versions.

In upholstery, Andreotti said he will spend time with his California suppliers. He'll stop by United Furniture, Robert Michael, Michael Nicholas, E.J. Lauren and Comfort Design - all with California plants. In many cases, he has given these manufacturers a particular exclusive project that they'll be showing to him here.

Oscar Miskelly, a partner in Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture, is coming in early for the Furniture Marketing Group symposium, then expects to stay busy for a day or two at the World Market Center.

"We're continuing to look for the eclectic looks; that seems to be something the consumer is getting her arms around in all prices and categories," Miskelly said.

Consumers are buying fewer groups or collections, such as bedrooms suites, he said, preferring eclectic looks with a lot of interest in accents, from suppliers such as Jaipur, Dovetail and Peninsula.

"Even Ashley has gotten into some of the upholstered beds and looks you can mix and match," Miskelly said.
Color will be important here for Miskelly as the retailer shops for the next vibrant, fresh looks that follow what's going on in women's apparel. (Purples and bright golds are among the colors that have been well received on Miskelly's floor these days, he said.)

And while browns continue to be a best seller, he will look to spice up the floor with colorful accents, including pillows, throws and cocktail ottomans from sources such as Jonathan Louis.
Power motion is approaching 50% of Miskelly's total motion business, so that's a category that also will be shopped aggressively.

Bedding represents nearly 30% of Miskelly's sales, and Las Vegas "is the market for that" category, Miskelly said. He'll study the latest innovations from sources such as Serta, Tempur-Pedic and Simmons.

At the same time, he said the retailer is seeing more financially squeezed consumers interested in lower priced bedding, so he will also look for what's new in mattress sets from $599 to $999.

Miskelly finished 2012 with a same-store sales increase of about 3% - its third consecutive annual increase - and while business this year hasn't been extraordinary, it is tracking with the company's goals, he said.

"There's quite a bit of optimism out there right now," he said, noting, for instance, a homebuilder friend who is simultaneously building 26 homes in the Jackson area, a venture that would have been unheard of just a couple of years ago.

"The business climate is improving," said Keith Koenig, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based City Furniture, operating both City Furniture and Ashley Furniture HomeStores in South Florida.

"Housing is improving and we feel like we're running our business pretty well. It's still nowhere near (fully) recovered ... but we're encouraged enough to have substantial expansion plans under way."

Koenig said the end of the payroll tax holiday could put a crimp in consumer spending on furniture, but he thinks that will be outweighed by housing's continuing rebound. He said City's design team has been doing more work with homebuilders - including furnishing model homes - than it has ever done before, and "we're very optimistic that's going to continue."

Las Vegas is first and foremost an Ashley HomeStores market for City.

"We've been very pleased with Ashley's product and direction over the last two, three years, and we're hoping we continue to see more innovative, competitive, exciting product," Koenig said. He also expects to see more in the way of innovative marketing from Ashley.
Buyers for the multi-line City stores will also be busy, he added. Lifestyle Enterprise is becoming a "better and better resource for us," so a pre-market stop at the Forbidden City show was planned.
Koenig said that in styling, contemporary has been on the rise for some time now, "but we would be delighted to see some more coastal products." City's customers also have been asking for more contemporary in lighter finish options.
"And we're putting a bigger emphasis on mattresses in 2013," Koenig said. City has mostly completed an update of its bedding program, "but I'm sure there will be some new product (in Las Vegas). That's' neverending," he said.
Alfred Rude, co-owner of the 20,000-square-foot Brookings, S.D.-based Rude's Home Furnishings, said Las Vegas has turned into "a real good market for a store our size."

He said most of Rude's suppliers now show here, so he'll be shopping for the latest looks from companies such as Ashley, Cresent, Best Home Furnishings, Southern Motion and Serta.

"But we're looking to maybe expand on that a little bit," Rude added, noting the retailer will be "open minded" to additional sources and will be shopping accessories more aggressively. With the growing consumer interest in American-made product, Rude also is eager to see what this market has to offer along that line.

The midpriced Rude's also is considering stepping up in price points, or at least filling out its assortment at the higher end. In fabric sofas, it currently tops out at $999 with product from Marshfield and it will shop for more in that price range.

A self-proclaimed "market junkie," Marty Komisar of Greenfield, Wis.-based BiltRite Furniture said he's "always looking to find something unique, ahead of everyone else."

He said he never knows what it will be, noting that one year it was an Amish line that doesn't show here any more. He might find the next big thing in bedding, where one of BiltRite's sources, Comfort Solutions, has been advertising a "breakthrough mattress concept that has so much game-changing potential it took us six months to name it."

While Komisar doesn't know what Las Vegas has in store yet, he said he's hoping for something "that's a find, a real value, overbuilt and made in the USA.

"What else could be better?"

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