Labor Day works well
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, September 10, 2012
HIGH POINT - Furniture retailers across the country reported good to great Labor Day weekend results, some saying it was a continuation of improving business trends while others cited it as further proof that consumers love holiday shopping.
No-interest financing promotions were out in full force, as were special holiday discounts and coupons on certain goods or total purchases.
"It was a record breaking weekend for us," said Oscar Miskelly, a partner in Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture.
The retailer, closed on Sundays, said its Saturday and Monday business surpassed the last sales record set in 2007 and was up more than 10% from a year ago. Monday was the single biggest sales day in Miskelly's history.
Its promotion included special pricing, a no-interest financing offer of up to 60 months, and a $150 shopping coupon for anyone lined up to get in on Labor Day Monday - which turned out to be more than 300 people, Miskelly said.
"It's encouraging and it kind of caught us a little by surprise," he said. Business had been choppy most of the year. Stormy weather caused by Hurricane Isaac put a crimp in sales a few days before the holiday, so Miskelly was expecting a little pent-up demand, but not like he saw on Labor Day.
"I was great to see people out shopping in record numbers again," he said. "Our parking lot was full for the first time that I can remember, and we've got a big parking lot."
Lowell, Ark.-based I.O. Metro had a dual-offer Labor Day promotion, featuring 10% off everything online and an in-store, no-interest offer along with 10% off purchases of more than $500.
Saturday and Sunday traffic was about average for the 18-store chain "and then Labor Day was exceptionally strong ... more than twice what we did last year," said CEO Jay Howard
Howard said he isn't sure why business spiked so much on Monday instead of earlier in the weekend, but he assumes most people decided to save their shopping as a change from a typical Monday when they would be working.
He added that the in-store promotion gave I.O. Metro a much stronger lift than the online promotion. He said the retailer is having a good year, with same-store sales just over 10% ahead of 2011.
"We're optimistic," he said. "We are actually taking a heavier inventory position" in anticipation of continued double-digit comps.
"We feel like the housing market is coming back, especially in areas we're in. Larger ticket purchase design jobs are more consistently coming through," he said, and he believes that will continue.
Rooms To Go CEO Jeff Seaman called Labor Day weekend business "decent, not amazing but solid." The Seffner, Fla.-based chain's promotion featured a page of coupons in its insert - such as $600 off an eight-piece bedroom and "buy a king bed for the price of queen bed" - as well as no-interest financing until January 2017.
While free television offers with the purchase of a room group appear to have waned for RTG and many other retailers, Seaman said free financing continues to be a big draw.
"I think people got used to our financing," he said, "I'm not sure it's true of everybody, but it was a big part of the weekend for us."
RTG's decent Labor Day fits a trend of continuing business improvement the chain has experienced since 2009, Seaman said, adding that it's driven in part by weak comparisons but also by a better housing market. He said he hopes the momentum continues through the presidential elections, although "that sometimes chills business."
Bellwood, Pa.-based Wolf Furniture had a record Labor Day weekend, with sales up double digits over last year, said Gene Stoltz, vice president of merchandising.
Wolf promoted "50% off and 50 months no interest" with 20% down and a $2,999 minimum purchase. The finance offer was scaled down for smaller buys, but in general the promotion encouraged bigger tickets, he said.
Wolf's newest store in Leesburg, Va., opened in time for the holiday weekend and got off to a strong start with "awesome traffic," Stoltz said.
He said Wolf ha s seen nice sales increases for the year. But asked about what to expect for the rest of the year and whether Labor Day is any kind of barometer, Stoltz said, "Who knows?" He said the election and the difficulty of making media buys that come with it are big wild cards.
"But there's no reason not to remain positive," he said. "Part of it is there are a lot of people out of business. Mom and pops just can't make it anymore. We've been aggressive with our advertising, too. We haven't backed off at all."
A strong Labor Day, however, may say more about consumers' continuing penchant for narrowing their shopping time to holiday periods than it does about an improving economy.
"I don't know if the consumer created it or we created it, but there's definitely much more business around the holiday," Stoltz added.
John Disa, president of Ashley Furniture's HomeStores division, said the industry continues to see more activity during holidays because so many stores are advertising and all those voices combined "drive curiosity and demand."
The network of more than 430 HomeStores posted "solid results that met our expectations," Disa said, "and continued our healthy revenue trend that we've seen for the last couple of years."
Howard Fineman, CEO of the Ashley Furniture Home-Stores in the Jacksonville, Fla., market, said the holiday weekend "surprisingly exceeded our expectations."
He said his HomeStores benefited from some pent-up demand and did "extremely well" in bedding with Sealy's Optimum line of memory foam mattresses as well as with its Ashley Sleep and TempurPedic bedding.
Sales for the year have been strong, "but we've had to go after the business," Fineman said. "It hasn't come to us."
Sales were up double-digits for The RoomPlace in Lombard, Ill. - even with one less store in its count compared with last year, said Bruce Berman, who bought back his family business this past December.
Berman said the retailer has been profitable every month since the acquisition, but the only consistent sales pattern is the big jump in sales that comes around the holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, when retailers are advertising in force.
"So I'm busy trying to invent some new holidays," he said.