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Interiors Furniture looks to future with e-commerce

J. LehmanJ. Lehman
Lancaster, Pa. - Interiors Furniture here has created a new director of e-commerce and technology position and is hiring Justin Lehman to fill the role as the retailer works on building its e-commerce strategy.
     Lehman, son of Interiors President and CEO Todd Lehman, comes from the banking industry and will become a third-generation family member in the business.
     The midpriced to high-end Interiors first dipped its toe into the e-commerce waters in July, when it became one of the first adopters of Hooker Furniture's iStore program, a separate Interiors website capable of handling e-commerce sales of Hooker's four furniture brands.
     Hooker worked on that program with e-commerce specialist Channel Redefined, which later was acquired by retail technology provider MicroD, Interiors' current Web provider. This connection will help Interiors as it broadens its e-commerce platform to include other suppliers, Todd Lehman said.
     While Interiors' iStore hasn't seen much in the way of direct ecommerce business yet, the website has led to consumer inquiries and is driving consumers to Interiors' stores in Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pa., Lehman said.
     Most consumers in the retailer's middle class to wealthy demographic profile are shopping online, but still want to see and feel the furniture in-store before they buy, he said.
     "We know as time goes on there will be a segment of those people who will be comfortable purchasing directly online," Lehman said. "We need to position ourselves to be out in front and create a website with that capability, should the consumer decide to buy that way."
     Lehman said various departments have been involved in supporting Interiors' e-commerce initiative, but he said he saw a need for "one point person, who will approach this from a store development position, and that person would need to have the capability to influence all parts of what ecommerce drives - accounting, marketing, delivery systems, and on the sales side, the unique product that we bring to market and/or service."
     Justin Lehman also will be looking at all functions of the business, making sure the retailer is using properly all the technology it already has available and evaluating new technology that it should embrace, he added.
     Todd Lehman said he considers e-commerce an opportunity "within our existing marketplace," as opposed to something with broader, national potential. He said he has seen reports that suggest a business like Interiors could tap into an additional 10% increase in sales through the channel.
     Interiors is listed in Furniture/Today's Beyond the Top 100 report with estimated 2012 sales between $10 million and $14.9 million. Lehman wouldn't disclose figures but said the sales gain for 2013 would be in the double digits.
"We want to expand our business," he said. "We can look at adding additional stores, and we certainly know what the investment is to do that.
     "Or we could pursue e-commerce incremental growth. I see the future for us is being able to put resources into an e-commerce model that ... is approached like it is a new store."
     Justin Lehman told Furniture/Today that he's excited to be a part of the effort to developing Interiors' e-commerce business. While he's coming from outside the industry and is still learning, he said he sees "an industry where there still are some best practices to be determined and some exciting changes that are going to happen."
     "The needs and expectations of the modern consumer continue to change, and I think there are a lot of opportunities in furniture to make some changes and develop some new systems to meet those needs," he said.

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