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Cindy Hodnett

Panel: Accessories contribute to store profit

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NAPLES, Fla. - No longer an afterthought in furniture showrooms, accessories have become an important strategy for boosting profits. In a panel discussion at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference, Surya's Satya Tiwari joined Gail Michel of La-Z-Boy and Joanne Neff of Bellwood, Pa.-based Wolf Furniture for "Plugging into Profits with Accessories," offering the message was that accessories are a necessary sales tool.
     "Accessories are an important part of the furniture business," said Tiwari, U.S. president of Surya, a source of rugs, textiles and wall art. "We made a $2 million profit in rug pads, and we put all of that back into our marketing budget."
     According to statistics from Furniture/Today, home accents account for 4% of retail selling space at furniture stores and 5% of retail sales. As a merchandise buyer for 95 La-Z-Boy stores, Michel is very familiar with the accessories market and advised her audience to become knowledgeable as well.
     "Accessories are the jewelry of the home," she said. "They are the thing that draws women into your store."
     Neff added that accessori
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es can provide the ‘pop' that distinguishes a showroom from the competition.
     "In a lot of furniture stores, everything is beige," Neff said. "Accessories create the color - they are where you get the punch."
     "They also represent a lot of add-on dollars," Michel said. "Customers come to stores for furniture, but they want to be entertained. They want to recreate the looks they see on Pinterest."
     Although many retailers discount the profit margin of accessories, Michel said that's a mistake.
     "It might be a $20, $30 or $70 item, but it is also an entrance into that customer's home," she said.
     Tiwari added that a successful accessories program enables retailers to more effectively and efficiently market the entire line of the company's products.
     "Accessories repaint a store in a big way," he said. "With them, you can change the perception of your store on a monthly, even weekly, basis."
     Tiwari said that Surya built a strong business by realizing that "rugs are not meant to be commoditized" and that his company considers rugs to be a fashion item. Neff agreed.
     "Our customers are always seeing new products and styles in our stores," she said. "And if you change an accessory, you can bring a sofa or a bedroom to life."
     Michel said that retailers must remember the demographics of the consumer when staging th
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eir stores and marketing their products.
     All three members of the panel emphasized the importance of having a "champion" in the store that has an interest in the accessories category. And although it can be hard to quantify, accessories can have a strong influence on overall sales, they said.
     "A consumer might come in and say, ‘I liked the rug or a pillow,'" Michel said. "But that $29 pillow might sell an $800 sofa."
     "Top management has to get behind the idea of accessories," Neff added. "This is how you create a ‘wow' at the front of each store. And accessories can add a lot of bling to traditional."
     The panel reiterated that as a design tool, accessories can attract customers to the store and smooth the path to a transaction. The category can also offer an important first impression for female consumers looking for unique ideas for their homes.
     "We are in the fashion business in home furnishings, and accessories are all about fashion and wowing the customers," Michel said. "That piece is just as important to the customer as a sectional or a television."

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