Sales worth celebrating

Tickets, traffic climb on Memorial Day

Jackson, MissHIGH POINT — Big-ticket buying consumers were out in force for the long Memorial Day weekend, giving many furniture retailers a memorable shot in the arm.

Retailers around the country reported good to great holiday weekend sales, keeping with the upward sales trend they’ve been seeing all year, as consumers continued to show signs of confidence.

Shoppers opened their purse strings to large purchases in various categories, according to retailers contacted for this story. Some reported flat traffic, but increased sales for their holiday promotions, while others saw traffic gains — a welcome change after years of seeing fewer, though more qualified, shoppers walking through their doors.

“The crowd was amazing, just unbelievable how many people were in the store,” said Oscar Miskelly, co-owner of Miskelly Furniture in Jackson, Miss. “It was a little bit of a throwback to the ’05, ’06,’07 years, before the Great Recession.”

Miskelly employed a promotion it had great success with this past Labor Day, using hourly giveaways on Memorial Day Monday, including a big-screen Samsung television, an iComfort mattress set and $2,000 and $5,000 shopping sprees.

“The kicker was you had to be present to win,” Miskelly said, and that kept the store crowded all day. Sure, there were people just sticking around to see if their name would be called, but regardless, the crowded store and a packed parking lot helped create a “feeding frenzy” that day that drove the retailer to a 32% sales gain over the previous Memorial Day — which also was a strong day, Miskelly said.

It also kept shoppers in the store and away from competitors, he said.

For the extended holiday weekend, sales were up 15%, he said.

Miskelly’s mattress business was up 17% for the holiday sales period, but couldn’t keep pace with upholstery sales, up 45%; bedroom, up 35%; and dining room, up 52%. The biggest case goods stars this year and over the weekend were reclaimed, rustic “by the pound” looks in solid wood imported from Mexico, Miskelly said.

Miskelly’s spent a similar amount of marketing dollars as last year, but has become more adept at social media marketing, which “is almost free,” and helped the retailer more effectively get its message out, he added.

Long-term financing offers were a popular tool with furniture and bedding specialty retailers across the country, and Miskelly was no exception, offering up to 48 months to pay with no interest through a program with Wells Fargo.

Miami Gardens, Fla.-based El Dorado Furniture also saw a spike in traffic even though its promotion strategy was similar to last year and not out of the ordinary, said Chief Operating Officer Pedro Capo.

El Dorado advertised a Friday-through-Monday holiday sales event, handed consumers special offer coupons as they walked through the door and threw a no-interest financing offer into the mix. Sales and traffic were up over last year.

“I guess consumers were more excited,” Capo said. “They have less things to worry about. The economy seems like it’s improving.”

As for the jump in traffic, “Maybe it’s because gas prices are low and people are getting out more,” he said. “Every little bit helps.”

For Norcross, Ga.-based Underpriced Furniture, traffic was flat over the Memorial Day weekend but sales were up 7.5% compared to last year, said Mike Hall, owner and president. He attributed that to increases in average ticket sales, which has been a trend since the start of this year.

Hall said the company has seen success of late largely due to its vertically stacked displays of bedroom furniture and upholstery, which is increasing the amount of product showcased in its 72,000-square-foot store. But like others contacted for this story, he also attributed the store’s success to increased consumer confidence, improvements in the local housing market and the fact that people have more money to spend on goods such as furniture.

“With fuel prices being down, people have more money in their pocket,” Hall said. “The money they are saving on gas ends up being a payment for furniture.”

“Housing around here is also pretty good right now,” he added. “And we haven’t been able to say that in the last 10 years and haven’t seen it in consumer confidence in the last eight years.”

Hall said the company continued to spend aggressively on TV ads and online vs. print advertising and said its overall spending on the holiday weekend promotion was nearly identical to last year.

E-commerce retailer Joybird Furniture ran the same type of promotion as last year — offering 20% off everything Thursday through Monday and then extending it a day — “and our numbers were through the roof,” said co-founder Josh Stellin.

The company, with just over a year of online business under its belt, had its first multimillion-dollar sales day on Memorial Day, Stellin said, and he estimated total sales during the promotional period were at least 15 times what they were a year ago.

San Diego-based Joybird launched a wholesale division in January and the dozen or so brick-and-mortar retailers now selling its product also reported strong sales, he added.

The company makes and sells custom, mid-century modern upholstery and case goods produced in its Tijuana, Mexico, plant, and said sales in both categories were up. Joybird did spend more money promoting this year, but Stellin said the return on investment was “greatly improved.”

While the online retailer has been a heavy user of Google AdWords and other search advertising, it also used more social media spending on key platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. And with its heavily promoted image of top-notch customer care and no tacked-on charges (free shipping and a one-year return policy, for instance), social media marketing has proven to be a sweet spot for company, allowing it “to get that customer interaction dialed in a lot quicker,” Stellin said.

Most recently, including during the Memorial Day holiday, Joybird’s average ticket is up about 35% over where it was six months ago to more than $2,100, as many of its customers are now buying multiple items at once, Stellin said.

“I think the consumer is in a better place today, and definitely the e-commerce market is really turning around,” he said, saying consumers are much more comfortable buying big-ticket items online from sources they trust than they were just a few years ago.

St. Louis-based Weekends Only Furniture & Mattress was up against a record Memorial Day weekend in 2014 and “didn’t quite hit it” with same-store sales this year, said President Lane Hamm. But it was a good weekend, and he said the retailer is pleased with the trend this year, with same-store sales up mid-single digits.

Friday and Monday were the strongest days, while Saturday was off and may have been affected by beautiful weather, Hamm said, though he added that he hates linking results to the weather.

The company didn’t promote much differently than it did last year, but because of its treasure-hunt, limited-quantities merchandising and marketing strategy, the product specials were all new. This time Weekends Only was offering a deal on discontinued mattresses as it just changed its lineup in the category, and it advertised a great deal on motion upholstery from Ashley.

“We had a really strong week in motion,” Hamm said.

What’s more, the company opened its first Indianapolis store earlier in May, which pushed sales for the weekend ahead of last year even though comps declined. Hamm said the retailer’s reception in Indy has been strong. “It didn’t meet our wildest expectations,” he said, but sales there during the Memorial Day weekend were more than double the grand opening weekend sales the week before, as its full menu of advertising hit the market.

While Weekends Only promoted heavily, it didn’t really play up a Memorial Day holiday theme. Hamm said he’s likely to do more holiday promotion next year as well as for this year’s Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.

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