Las Vegas Market buyers looking beyond price
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, January 26, 2014
LAS VEGAS - Innovation. Color. Something that appeals to the Millennial generation. Step-up goods that are worth the extra money. And bedding, bedding, bedding.
These are the words and phrases furniture retailers are using to describe their mission at the winter Las Vegas Furniture Market. With many stores reporting continued slow but steady improvements in business, price pressure may be letting up a bit this time around. Instead, many retailers will move to mirror their consumers, who now seem more focused on what they really want rather than how much it's going to cost.
The shopping lists for some are long and loaded with bedding sources, a king-size category here, as well as others suppliers and categories that tend to lead the way in product innovation. Some retailers also will be looking to sources here for a different kind of inspiration - fresh ideas in marketing and display that will make them more effective sellers back home.
San Diego-based Jerome's is coming off of a good 2013 and has seen double-digit same-store sales increases through the first two weeks of January, said Andy Andreotti, vice president of merchandising.
He's here with a long and varied list, looking to step up prices in certain categories, fill out with more promotional goods in others and jump into a new category, too.
Jerome's buys much of its upholstery these days from local producers, so Las Vegas has become a go-to market for the category. Among other things Andreotti will be seeking out new fabric colors and styles and ways to expand at the high end of its price spectrum - sofas for $899 and $999, for example, possibly stretching past its current ceiling to $1,099.
The same kind of higher-end emphasis will be going on in the search for sectionals and leather upholstery with an eye out for better covers and more styling, while in the motion category, Andreotti said he has more space to fill in Jerome's starting prices points.
In casual dining, the retailer will split its attention between the high and low ends of its price range, shopping for new looks in promotional, five-piece dinettes for $299 to $399 as well as better-end casual dining to retail for $899 to $999.
Jeromes's is also looking for an airbed with the kind of adjustable dual chamber story that has made Sleep Number beds such hot sellers in the malls. Boyd Specialty Sleep is on Andreotti's radar here along with one or two other airbed sources Jerome's bedding buyer has identified.
The retailer will be shopping new and existing sources across all categories, he said. That includes case goods, upholstery and bedding importer Primo International, which Jerome's used to sell and, after a meeting earlier this month, is ready to check out again, he said.
"Right now, I feel people are not afraid to spend more money to get what they want," Andreotti said, explaining why Jerome's shopping list includes more step-up goods here.
"It's not like it was years ago where everybody just wanted to buy something to pass the time with until they could afford something better.
"I'm not saying things are gangbusters and everyone is blowing money like crazy, but people seem to have gotten to the point where they know what they want and don't mind paying a little more if it's reasonable."
Bill Bazemore, vice president of Nationwide Furniture, part of the Nationwide Marketing Group buying group, had a similar take, noting, "The consumer is willing to spend more to get what they want. Price can be secondary."
Nationwide's members generally are coming off a good year. For the furniture store members, that's due partly to some fine-tuning of their assortment and for others, including electronics and appliance dealers, some of the credit goes to the addition of new categories, especially bedding, he said.
In Las Vegas, Bazemore will be shopping for "really innovative product" from new and existing vendor partners, he said.
"I'm looking for something that grabs me instead of the same old, mundane," he said. "In upholstery, I'm looking stronger at motion. I'm looking for colors. I'm looking for product that is going to grab the Millennials."
And just as importantly, Bazemore said he wants to see innovative product presentation that his retailers can draw from and use in their own markets.
Among the home furnishings sources he said he's eager to check out is Classic Home, the case goods, upholstery, rug and accent source that Bazemore said is "truly addressing what today's consumers are looking for." The company is a new vendor partner for the buying group.
Bazemore will also stop in to see Surya, a Nationwide partner that he said is "a rug company but much more."
"They're cutting edge from the standpoint of marketing and teaching retailers how to utilize product and opportunities available to them," he said.
In addition Bazemore wants to see the latest version of Coaster's new CRC program, which essentially turns a small space - 600 square feet or less - into a "15,000-squre-foot selling opportunity," he said.
The program, exclusive to select retailers, enables stores to add some 1,000 SKUs to their showroom via a computerized touchscreen kiosk that features only items that can be shipped within two weeks.
"Think about the appliance and electronics stores that want to get into furniture and don't have huge square footage," Bazemore said. "What an opportunity."
Aki-Home, a new U.S. home furnishings retailer owned by Japan's Nitori, with two stores and more planned for Southern California, will be here shopping for "more product that goes along with our look," said David Finch, manager of marketing and merchandising.
Finch described that look as "minimalist Japanese modern," but he added the La Palma, Calif.-based retailer also is in the market for transitional styles across categories as it looks to expand beyond its existing Asian sourcing network.
"We're certainly looking to appeal to the Millennial crowd," Finch said. "The younger customers who are buying furniture now are looking for that cleaner, more modern aesthetic."
In greater Boston, Bernie & Phyl's has been experiencing good business when it's not fighting the weather, including the recent below-zero temperatures that hit most of the nation earlier this year.
"We have a snowstorm here and it kills us for three days - the anticipation, the storm and the dig out," said Rob Rubin, president of merchandising and marketing for the Norton, Mass.-based retailer.
"When they get on the news and tell people don't go outside, it's not generally good for business."
Despite this, Bernie & Phyl's sales were up slightly in 2013 from the previous year and are heading in the right direction, he said.
Las Vegas is "a huge bedding market," for the retailer as it is for many, Rubin added.
"It seems all the major lines, particularly this time around, are coming out with a new lineup. The old is going away and every (supplier) is making their secret introduction."
These changes will dictate the retailer's bedding moves for the rest of the year and probably 2015, Rubin said, but he added that since these introductions are held close to the vest, he's not yet sure how they'll play out on Bernie & Phyl's floors.
Among the key bedding sources he's visiting here are Sealy, Tempur-Pedic and Serta, and all of them have big lineup changes in store, he said.
Outside of bedding Las Vegas in not a major market for the retailer, "but it's another reason to work on your business," he said, adding that Bernie & Phyl's will have four buyers here shopping for two days. They will start with existing suppliers, such as Klaussner, Southern Motion and Ashley, make any needed adjustments, and then hit potential new suppliers as time permits.
Seth Weisblatt of the family-owned Sam's Furniture & Appliances in the Fort Worth, Texas market, characterized 2013 as a tough year for the promotional-oriented retailer, noting that at his end of the market, purse strings remain tight and consumers are still making very conscious decisions about how they're spending their dollars.
Nevertheless, Weisblatt is here looking for the same kinds of innovative product, color and style updates other here are seeking. One area in which he's hoping to find sources to fill a void this time is starting-price formal dining rooms, which Sam's sees as a step up from more promotional casual dining, where there already is a lot of competition and a lot of value offered.
"You don't see a lot of $600 and $700 cost dining room sets that are worth looking at," he said. The goods he's seen in that price range to date aren't substantial and don't have enough look for the retail selling price - $1,199 to $1,299 for a table and four chairs. Weisblatt said he's hopeful this market will be different.
"I'm always optimistic when I go to market that we're going to find that perfect dining room or that perfect living room," he said.
"That's what keeps us coming back."
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