Buyers looking for goods at Las Vegas Market
Want to reload in hopes of better business
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, January 24, 2011
LAS VEGAS - Outside of some winter storm slowdowns, retailers coming to market here say sales have been showing encouraging signs since the fourth quarter, and they'll be shopping here with a bit of an early spring in their step.
Hoping 2011 isn't a repeat of last year - which started off strong, but fizzled midyear - buyers will have wide-ranging lists of product to buy.
Keeping inventories in check remains important, but retailers are coming here to reload. Several said that this will be an important market for motion and recliners, despite the perception by some that upholstery is not a key category at the Las Vegas Market.
While deals and promotions are always on buyers' lists, some noted they will continue to step up into better goods, both in upholstery and case goods, as consumers continue gravitating toward quality even as they are making fewer purchases.
Jake Jabs, president and CEO of Englewood, Colo.-based American Furniture Warehouse, will be back in Las Vegas with his buyers after skipping the summer show.
"Ashley is our biggest vendor and they come out with a lot of new stuff in Vegas," he said. "That's probably what I missed the most."
The 11-store AFW has seen traffic and business picking up, with sales early this year up by low double digits despite a few days of zero-degree temperatures that can bring business to a halt.
With the closing of Kacey Fine Furniture in greater Denver last year, AFW gradually has been adding better goods to its lineup and that will continue to be a theme for shopping in Las Vegas, Jabs said. Among other things, the retailer has installed Lane upholstery galleries.
It also has boosted its business with the GuildCraft of California division of Fairmont Designs. "They've got an unbelievable special order program ... and we'll expand that a little bit," he said.
"We're looking for a little higher-end goods, nicer leathers, cleaner occasional tables and dining rooms. We're just moving up a little bit, but we're still going to carry our meat-and-potatoes $299 sofas," Jabs said.
He said the company is looking for more casual contemporary looks - tweedy upholstery fabrics instead of microfiber, for example. And two-tone upholstery "still has a lot of legs," he added.
AFW buyers will check out what's new with sources such as Franklin, Elite, Emerald Home Furnishings and AIF Trading, American Furniture's import division, Jabs said. They'll also stop in to see Interactive Health for massage chairs as well as Powell and Sunny Designs, whose solid oak and mahogany offerings are selling well.
Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture saw a noticeable uptick in December sales for the first time in two years. Oscar Miskelly, a partner in the Top 100 company with brothers Chip and Tommy Miskelly, attributes part of that to the retailer's first-ever 48-month, no-interest promotion.
"But we're encouraged that consumer confidence is up and it has carried over somewhat into 2011," he said.
For Miskelly, like many retailers here, Las Vegas is a critical bedding market. He said that at his store, bedding is "the superstar of our lineup," which makes this market even more important.
Last year, Tempur-Pedic became the retailer's No. 1 bedding vendor, so Miskelly will spend time in that space as well as with Sealy, Simmons and Restonic - all important lines as the company aims to make bedding 30% of its sales mix, up from just over 20% this past year.
"We really just want to strengthen our lines, make sure we're covered at the $399 starting price (for a queen) but also at $799 to $999 - our sweet spot," Miskelly said.
Upholstery has been another star, he said.
"As people are coming back into the marketplace, upholstery has led the way - anything that revolves around the TV," he said. So both stationary and motion upholstery will be combed here, particularly the fast growing power motion category, which Miskelly said could soon represent 50% of the retailer's motion assortment.
Ashley is expected to come out with several new upholstery frames and covers and at slightly higher price points, which Miskelly is looking forward to seeing.
"We've been so depressed in terms of price point," he said. "It has got to the point where it's not profitable. The average unit selling price has gone down dramatically in each of the last three years. But for the first time last quarter, we had an uptick in that. We're hoping to find product to increase average unit selling price."
In sofas, for example, that will mean more in the $699 to $999 price range.
In case goods, he said he's hoping to find cleaner, more contemporary looks and fresh finishes that step away from the familiar dark merlots and "me too" looks and appeal to younger consumers. Smaller scale furniture is important too, he said, noting that divorce rates are rising and consumers are staying single longer and renting smaller apartments.
Gordy Wallenstein, president of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Furniture Outlets USA, said that recent success with step-up goods will drive his buying focus in Las Vegas.
"We still live in a disposable society, but I think that's tempered by people cautiously spending dollars and buying products they're thinking they'll hold onto for a longer period of time," he said, adding this is particularly true of case goods.
Furniture Outlets doesn't have a long list of needs, but it will seek out a few things, including better upholstery - sofas retailing from $699 to $999, for instance.
Ted Leveque, chief operating officer of four-store American Home of Albuquerque, N.M., said the retailer's current offering is in good shape for the first half of the year, so buyers will be thinking about changes for the second half. They'll also look for promotional buys the stores could add sooner.
"We're looking for upholstery values - sofa/loveseats that we can retail for $599, $699 and bedroom groups under $1,000," Leveque said. "We're looking at the major holidays coming up in the second quarter (Memorial Day and Fourth of July) and promotional buys do very well on those holidays."
American Home also has seen a pickup in business thanks in part to consumers wading back into the market for home remodeling projects. Leveque said New Mexico's housing market remains soft, but unemployment is below the national average and average incomes have stayed above the national average, helping to soften the blow.
Like Miskelly, American will have its eye on suppliers offering power motion upholstery, a strong business segment for the retailer.
"We're taking a look at how we can maximize the performance of that category," he said. "As people get older, they're sacrificing some things in favor of comfort."
Michael Allen, vice president of home furnishings for buying group AVB/BrandSource, also will be shopping the motion category carefully in Las Vegas, specifically recliners in the $299 to $599 price range.
"There's an opening right now for possibly another motion recliner supplier" for the group, which includes about 600 furniture and bedding dealers with roughly 1,400 stores, Allen said.
But while business, is improving for members, "Everybody is still cautious about their inventory levels," he said.
"We're looking for sources that do both domestic and imports," he added. "We'll do container buys, but we like to have some who will manufacture the same product domestically or have domestic warehouses, so if it's out of stock, we can get it without waiting for the next container. That's important to us."
Allen will also check out new bedding from Sealy and Tempur-Pedic, and will stop in at the Serta space to discuss finishing touches for new bedding in a private label line call Majestic Sleep. That line will introduced with other new product at the BrandSource show in Orlando, Fla., Feb 21-23.
For Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based City Furniture, Las Vegas is all about Ashley, said President Keith Koenig.
"And the Ashley product line over the past couple of years has really gotten hot," said Koenig, who just opened City's ninth Ashley Furniture HomeStore in Boca Raton, Fla., part of a superstore City/HomeStore complex.
Koenig said he got a sneak peek at what's coming from Ashley and is excited by both the fill-in-pieces for existing collections as well as "a couple of new collection we think will be home runs."
Among other things Ashley is adding youth furniture to its Porter collection, which Koenig described as the hottest thing on his HomeStore floors now.