Interview with Bill Barton, CEO, Bob’s Discount Furniture
Furniture’s CEO shares his thoughts about strategic planning, team
building and plans for growing the 159 store chain “coast-to-coast
Bill Barton, President and CEO of Bob’s Discount Furniture joined the
fast-growing retail operation in 2020 at the height of COVID. “I
showed up at the corporate office and it was just the guy at the front desk
and me,” he recalled. “The next 120 days were spent visiting
stores and all five distribution centers.”
Prior to joining Bob’s Discount Furniture, Barton served as CEO of
California Closets. At first glance, California Closets’ model of
custom manufactured and professionally installed closets seems dissimilar to
the Bob’s Discount Furniture model. Bill Barton disagrees.
“California Closets and Bob’s both fall into the big-ticket
consumer discretionary category. Whether we look at furniture, automobiles
or expensive master closets, consumers have bought into the integrated
multi-channel experience which people refer to as omni. The owner of
Bob’s Discount Furniture, Bain Capital, understood this when they
brought me in. I had a home goods background, big-ticket and omni-channel
experience. There were operational similarities as well.
“That’s why I made the leap. There’s a huge opportunity at
Bob’s to reach so many more lives by providing quality furniture at
everyday low prices to Bob’s customers.
“About a year ago, we engaged with a leading strategic consulting firm
to help guide us through a planning exercise. First, we reaffirmed our
business model: everyday low-price, great merchandise, high availability.
Then, we reaffirmed our values, which are honesty, integrity and
transparency. The goal was not to disrupt Bob’s successful model. It
was to clarify how we think about the customer journey. Specifically, to
make sure Bob’s customers are at the center of everything we do and
that their transactions are transformed into relationships.
“The management team at Bob’s reexamined every stage of the
customer journey including the creation of what we call ‘The Best
Bob’s Ever.’ It’s a ten-year road map that includes 20
different initiatives with the intent of keeping customers for life,”
What Customers Say About Bob’s
As one important guide, the top-10 furniture retailer used net promoter
scores. “I’m a huge aficionado of using net promoter
scores,” Barton continued “as a way to build long-term
relationships with customers. It’s what drives great brands. Fred
Reichheld, the author of ‘The Ultimate Question,’ says the score
is one thing, but the most valuable feedback is what your customers tell you
in the verbatims, which are the exact words used.
“The most powerful teams are built with people who deeply believe
in the ‘Why?’ of an organization.
Value without compromise is something everyone at Bob’s can buy
“What customers say about Bob’s lets us know our strengths and
opportunities. We studied customer feedback at every point along the journey
to identify opportunities to ratchet up their experiences. Product as well
as experience have to flow through that journey. At the end, we expect to
hear customers say, ‘I’m never buying furniture from anywhere
other than Bob’s.’ That was the impetus behind our strategic
“Data analytics is another big part of it. One recent example is our
omni-channel shopping cart. Bob’s customers can put items in their
shopping cart when they visit www.mybobs.com. When they visit a local store,
their carts travel with them. Any sales associate can open up a cart, then
add, change or delete items to complete the customer’s room.
“At that point the customer can either close the transaction or,
should they leave without purchasing, think about it, talk with their
significant other and complete the purchase at home. It’s an
omni-channel solution that travels with the customer through various
channels. It’s been a huge unlock for our sales associates, helping
them recognize a fuller concept of the customer journey. This is just one
example of the type of technology investments we continue to make to create
How can Bob’s keep customers for life should they, at some point, face
upward mobility and seek out higher-end goods not typically found at
Bob’s Discount Furniture?
“We know our niche. However, our data shows that more affluent
consumers often shop at Bob’s. I’m always amazed at how many
BMWs I see in our parking lots. It might be that they’re buying
furniture for children who are setting up a first apartment, or for a
vacation home or rental property. Whatever price point we decide to bring to
the market, the one thing our customers can count on is that it’s
going to be an extreme value. If you check out our website, you can find our
Milan sectional. It can be configured at a five thousand dollar price point
which is pretty high for Bob’s. It’s only been available for a
few weeks and is already a top-ten best seller.”
Barton told us that before he joined the company, the values of honesty,
integrity, and transparency were already deeply rooted in its corporate
culture. “It wasn’t a heavy lift here at Bob’s. However,
the introduction of ‘The Best Bob’s Ever’ strategy helped
our people realize that even if a shopper doesn’t buy today, they are
likely to become a future buyer if the right relationship is created.
“I’ll give you an example,” he continued. “We charge
separately for delivery. Sometimes we have to explain this policy to
customers so that they understand that we don’t hide the cost of
delivery inside the cost of our products. As I mentioned before, honesty,
integrity and transparency are key values here at Bob’s. We
don’t mark up to mark down our everyday low prices. We’ve never
had a sale and will never have one.”
Even as just about every furniture industry observer advised retailers to
hike prices during the pandemic to compensate for surcharges and wage
inflation, Bob’s took the opposite approach.
“Our pricing department,” noted Barton, “was constantly
talking to our vendors about how we could reduce prices to bring even
greater value to our customers. We’ve actually reduced prices this
year on some articles.
“It’s no doubt that size mattered over the past couple of years
and our manufacturing partners have certainly been helpful. They know that
when Bob’s commits to a new item, we buy a lot of it so that they can
manufacture with confidence.”
Developing Winning Teams
Furniture World asked Barton about his approach to developing winning teams
and retaining exceptional talent. He let us know that the first step is to
“To answer that ‘Why?’ question for Bob’s Discount
Furniture,” he explained, “we had to back that train up a few
stops and ask some questions.
Question: What do we believe?
Answer: The answer that came from our people was, we
believe that everyone deserves a home they love.
Question: Based on our belief, what positive role can we
play in their lives?
Answer: Bob’s can help people turn the places where
they live into homes they love by delivering value without compromise.
“As soon as the words ‘value-without-compromise’ were
expressed,” it was a light bulb moment for everyone,” Barton
Getting back to the question of talent acquisition and retention, he noted
that it has not been a problem at Bob’s. “For our corporate
teams, distribution center and delivery employees, as well as associates at
the store level, employment has been stable. We’ve not participated in
the great resignation like many other retailers.
“I’ve been in business a long time in a number of different
industries and one of the things I’ve learned is that the most
powerful teams are built with people who deeply believe in the
‘Why?’ of an organization. Value without compromise is something
everyone at Bob’s can buy into.
“When I visit Bob’s stores, I ask our employees what
they’re hearing from customers. We’ve all experienced elongated
delivery dates in this industry for the past couple of years and it’s
been painful. Even so, our people feel good about the jobs they do and
they’re sticking with us.
“One of the wonderful things about being a fast-growing and profitable
company, opening 14-20 stores each year is that it opens up opportunities
for staff to move into management. Most of our store managers are internal
promotes. We pay competitive wages and benefits, provide tuition assistance,
mentoring programs and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
It’s a great place to be, it’s a great place to work.”
Bob’s Discount Furniture has done a lot of television advertising over
the years, making Bob Kaufman, the company founder, their celebrity
“One of the challenges of having such an iconic founder like Bob
Kaufman, was the transition from featuring Bob the person in our creative to
Little Bob the puppet,” said Barton. “Steve Nesle, with our
marketing creative department did a masterful job creating playful messaging
that continues Bob’s advertising legacy. We recently brought Bob
Kaufman out of retirement for a series of TV commercials featuring
celebrities that included Little Bob, Vanilla Ice (whose real name is Robert
Matthew Van Winkle), Rob Schneider, the painter Bob Ross, and a few other
notable Bobs. The transition to Little Bob has given us the flexibility to
continue to get our messages out in a memorable way.”
In a time of price inflation, increased geopolitical uncertainty and
possible economic slowdown, Furniture World asked Bob’s Discount
Furniture’s CEO to look into his crystal ball as we approach 2023.
“Consumers in times like this,” Barton observed, “move
towards value brands. Walmart recently said that they are seeing customers
move from branded products to house brands to save money. That could be good
news for Bob’s because we don’t sell branded items in our stores
other than our Bob-O-Pedic house mattress brand, which delivers tremendous
quality and value at a fraction of the cost of our competitors.
“In every prior economic downturn, we’ve seen that offering
great values at low prices is an excellent place to be.”
Barton added that customers have various attitudes toward financing.
“The younger generation, for example,” he observed, “have
been attracted to buy now, pay later, and four pay plans. But right now,
we’re doing everything we can to enable consumers to buy what they
need in these times.
“That’s why we recently launched our first ever 60-month
financing program. Before that, the longest financing Bob’s offered
was 30 months.
“Financing will, of course, continue to be important. One ad we ran
recently, offered to ‘Furnish your home for $99 a month.’ That
offer included an adult bedroom set, a dining set, sofa and loveseat. So,
we’re going to continue to do what we can to bring value and make
purchases at Bob’s affordable for people going forward.”
“Our ultimate plan,” Barton concluded, “is for Bob’s
to grow coast-to-coast, border to border. We are currently opening 14 to 20
stores each year with plans to double that pace as part of our longer-term
“We have entered choppy economic times, so we plan to be responsible
operators and invest our capital wisely. Can we get this business to $10
billion? There’s no doubt about that. Could it go higher? Maybe. I do
know that there are lots of consumers out there who love the value
“Going forward, we will continue to focus on omni-channel and
technology while offering low prices on great products available through all
the modern channels in an authentic way, with enthusiasm and