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  • David Perry

Ashley, Gardner-White show new retail formats

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Attendees at Furniture/Today's Bedding Conference got a look at two new retail mattress formats, one on the drawing board and the other one a reality in the Detroit market.
     The emerging format was unveiled by Ben Thorud, an executive with Ashley Furniture HomeStores, who is heading the new ZZZ's by Ashley sleep shop program.
     "It's not a mattress store. It's a mattress experience," Thorud said, asserting that Ashley's vision is to become the No. 1 mattress retailer by selling quality, innovative sleep products, offering a unique store experience and complete customer satisfaction.
     The Bedding Conference audience included more than half of the nation's Top 25 bedding retailers, all of whom Ashley would need to surpass to reach its lofty goal.
     Ashley's national network of HomeStore licensees have the first right of refusal to open ZZZ's by Ashley locations in their markets this year. If licensees don't commit to the concept, Ashley reserves the right to open the market to other ZZZ's by Ashley prospects, the company says.
     Thorud said Ashley has several "rights to win" with its ZZZ's program, including a unique store environment that features a relaxed, welcoming area, inviting product displays and curtains to provide a sense of privacy.
     The messaging backing the display is designed to drive traffic and effectively communicate the new mattress shopping experience, while new technology offered by the store includes tablet and mobile technology, backed by a vibrant website, he said.

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     Other "rights to win" include Ashley's superior brand recognition as a manufacturer and retailer, and an offering of consumer ratings for the products on the floor. And the program will be backed by a state-of-the-art learning management system, Thorud said.
     The other new retail bedding format is in place at two Best Buy stores in the Detroit market. It features a store-in a- store format, with Gardner- White Furniture stores occupying 8,000 to 10,000 square feet in Best Buy stores and offering mattresses and home furnishings.
     Steve Tronstein, CEO of Gardner-White, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., talked about the economic troubles that hit the Detroit market in 2008, and said his goal was simply to be listed in the 2010 phone book, a sign that the company had survived.
     Gardner-White partnered with electronics retailer Best Buy beginning in 2009 to offer consumer electronics, with a focus on televisions, to Gardner-White's customers. The first promotion - a TV with a minimum dollar purchase - was successful despite the fact that it began on the day General Motors filed for bankruptcy. Other electronics and home furnishings offers followed.
     Meanwhile, Best Buy's business was changing. That retailer found itself with excess space as the CD and DVD businesses evaporated. It was looking for a turnkey operation with complementary products.
     Tronstein said mattresses were a natural for the store-in-a-store concept, as the product is easy to keep in stock and delivers high customer satisfaction levels. He said the Gardner-White stores at Best Buy are doing well.
     "You can't believe how many people they see in a day," Tronstein said. "If we talk to enough of them, we will sell them some bedding."
     He also cited the importance of the retail sales associates. "Great salespeople make great sales days," he said.
     Best Buy's Ezi Irizarry added his perspective on the Gardner-White stores inside Best Buy, noting that the beds are on the back wall of the stores and are on adjustable bases. Better beds are selling and traffic in the stores is good, he reported.

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