Licensing + good product = sales
Thomas Russell , Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, September 2, 2013
HIGH POINT - When discussing licensed product, retailers cite a familiar refrain that speaks to the longevity of any collection, licensed or otherwise.
Mike Forwood, president of Austin, Texas-based Louis Shanks, perhaps put it best. "No brand name is worth anything without good product," Forwood said.
"Everybody says it has to be good design," added Chuck Portaro, a member of the executive management team at Jamestown, N.C.-based Furnitureland South. "Without that, a celebrity endorsement is almost meaningless."
That said, both stores carry an extensive line of licensed brands they believe represent good product design. And those licensed names, whether they're celebrity or lifestyle lineups such as Lexington Home Brands' Tommy Bahama and Stanley's Coastal Living can offer an added story for the floor.
Furnitureland South has done well with the Panama Jack line by Palmetto Home, as well as celebrity and designer lines such as AICO's Jane Seymour, Baker's Barbara Barry, Larry Laslo by Chaddock, Lillian August by Hickory White, Paula Deen by Universal and Bob Timberlake by Century.
"Licensed collections find their way on our floor much the way any new collection does, Portaro said. "They make for good consumer events, but again, it has to be good product."
Louis Shanks carries a host of successful brands, including Tommy Bahama Home by Lexington Home Brands, Ralph Lauren by E.J. Victor and Bob Timberlake by Century. It also carries smaller designer lines such as Thomas O'Brien by Hickory Chair.
One of the things Forwood likes about both the Ralph Lauren and Tommy Bahama brands is their ability to cover different styles that appeal to different segments of the marketplace.
"You can take Ralph Lauren and make it penthouse chic - upscale Manhattan - or use casual fabrics to make it country estate," he said. "The key is the diversity of the lifestyles you can create and to maintain the identity of the brand regardless of which way you choose to go."
The brand also ties in with various Ralph Lauren accessories, from glassware and lamps to chandeliers and rugs.
"It creates the whole mood and setting in the store and helps add-on sales," Forwood said.
The company has devoted about 6,000 square feet in its Houston store to the indoor and outdoor lines of Lexington's Tommy Bahama Home.
"We have blended indoor and outdoor where they are complementary of each other," Forwood said. "It makes it easy to take the customer from the inside to the outside."
Another plus of Tommy Bahama, he said, is that it too offers a range of styles, including casual contemporary.
"You can take Tommy Bahama as tropical as you want or make it mainstream.... We can take it any way the customer wants to."
Pompano Beach Fla.-based Baer's Furniture also does well with Tommy Bahama.
"Tommy Bahama is our strongest brand," said Jerry Baer, senior vice president of sales. "The idea of the brand and the product really ties in so well together. The relaxed and casual island lifestyle and mixed media with the majority of the product seems to fit with that. Lexington has done a tremendous job on the quality and the finishes."
Phil Haney, president and CEO of Lexington Home Brands, said the company has had the license for about 12 years and does in excess of $100 million a year with it.
"What resonates is that the brand really stands for relaxed, casual living, but in a somewhat upscale manner," Haney said. "It is comfortable furniture that is beautifully done with extreme attention to detail. It is furniture for the way people live today. They want comfortable and casual, but high quality."
With Tommy Bahama's reach in apparel and other accessories, he added, "It is a true consumer brand and has true consumer recognition."
This, he said, allows it to be as successful in inland markets such as Denver and Chicago as it is in coastal markets.
Greensboro, N.C.-based Priba Furniture carries about 25 licensed brands through upper-end manufacturers such as Hickory Chair, Century, Thomasville and Baker, said Vicki Alston, store manager. Among the most prominent are the Ernest Hemingway line by Thomasville, Barbara Barry by Baker and Bob Timberlake by Century.
"Even though these brands have been around 15 or 20 years or more, they still command the attention of the consumer," she said, adding that the store promotes these and other lines online, in local newspaper and TV ads and with in-store signage when available. "We still get requests from consumers about their signature pieces."
Alan Kramer, vice president of Houston-based Star Furniture, said that his store does well with Paula Deen Home, the Hemingway line and Tommy Bahama to name a few. But as with other lines, the product has to be right first, he said.
"When we look at a license, we say, ‘Would we buy this product if it doesn't have the licensed name?' We are so attuned to building the Star Furniture brand. Everything we do is about building our brand up."
Still, he said, licensed product does add some value through point of purchase materials as well as certain lifestyle looks to the floor.
"If it has a good name and the consumer feels comfortable with it, it helps us, but it is a very small part of why we buy product," Kramer said.
"I think just because something has a license on it doesn't mean it will perform well at retail," said Dave Koehler, CEO of Laurel, Del.-based Johnny Janosik. "But it does add some credibility and creates interest."
Among its strongest li censed lines are Paula Deen Home, Coastal Living and Tommy Bahama. Koehler attributed their success partly to their coastal and/or cottageinspired designs that do well with customers with homes along the nearby coast.
Another popular celebrity brand throughout the U.S. is Kathy Ireland Home. Its success has been due to Ireland's desire to offer home furnishings solutions to busy moms across a wide range of product including bedroom, lighting, bedding and home office.
"We are grateful for the opportunity it has given us and will afford us going forward," said Taylor Vaughan, president and CEO of Vaughan Furniture, whose Kathy Ireland line includes bedroom. "Her brand is in touch with today's consumers, and the bedroom furniture certainly complements the other products she offers for the home."
Bob Fiore, president of Altoona, Pa.-based retailer Fiore Furniture, said that while the company has carried licensed lines in the past, it is winding down now.
"Some have been better than others," Fiore said. "Currently it doesn't mean a lot to us."
To make licensed collections work for his store, he said, product, price and name combinations must appeal to the demographic of the target retail customer. But there's no telling how interested consumers will be in licensed groups.
Even a name like Lea's former Nickelodeon youth bedroom collection that seemed primed for licensing success didn't take off as anticipated - which has made retailers like Fiore more resistant to licensed groups.
"Sometimes it's just being at the right place at the right time at the right price," Fiore said. Nickelodeon wasn't Lea's priciest youth bedroom line, he said, but parents might have thought children would outgrow the pieces quicker than the useful life of the furniture.
The Bob Timberlake collections from Lexington Home Brands (which had the license before Century), which Fiore carried for about 10 years, were successful because they supported the initial introduction, enhancing its success.
"They enhanced what we were all doing with Bob Timberlake - not trying to reinvent it every market," Fiore said.
However, he said that in more recent years, some licensed collections faltered as suppliers pushed new groups each market and strayed from what made the initial launch a hot line.
For many retailers, the single biggest factor in sales is price, which can make dedicating lots of floor space to licensed collections difficult, according to Chris Sadeghy, a sales representative at Edmond Furniture Gallery in Edmond, Okla.
"I don't tend to buy the licensed products because they tend to price quite a bit higher," Sadeghy said. The retailer sells Tommy Bahama from Lexington and American Drew's Jessica McClintock lines, but they don't tend to do better than nonlicensed lines.
Sadeghy said licensed lines need better design or materials to help justify a higher price to consumers.
"Given that it's got a name attached to it, I expect it to look better than something that doesn't have a name attached to it," Sadeghy said. "You walk up to it and say: ‘Wow, look at this bed, how come I haven't seen something like this?'"
Once bitten by a bad licensed name, retailers can get cautious - especially in categories like youth where parents don't want to spend a fortune on a child's first bedroom ensemble, Sadeghy said.
"You buy into these youth programs you buy the nice stuff and the price tag associated with it nobody wants to pay. You end up blowing it out," he said. "And you say, you know what, I'm not going to bring in that expensive stuff anymore, let's keep it at the $299, $399 beds."
- Nov 5, 2013