Edward (Eddie) Massood is known as an astute businessman, an expert in operations and logistics. When discussing demographics, he exhibits the talents of a clever strategist. And, when explaining the stunning rebranding of Thomasville of New Jersey, now HOME INSPIRATIONS Thomasville, he reveals his contagious excitement and enthusiasm.
“The transformation begins right at the front door!” he exclaims. “We’ve created a brick front porch, with double wood doors, added lanterns and informal porch furniture. The ambience is just exactly as it would be when you invite a guest into your own home!” It’s a new era to say the least.
The Massood brothers, Eddie and Michael, entered retail as independent dealers at the turn of the millennium. They now operate stores in the New Jersey towns of Paramus, Princeton, Woodbridge and Rockaway. Over time, as the furniture industry and consumer tastes evolved, the Massoods decided it was time to rebrand, starting with their flagship Paramus location. The new prototype, rebranded, redesigned and remerchandised to fulfill the needs of evolving demographics and consumer tastes, is both timely and far-reaching. “We feel this is the beginning of a new chapter. With the third generation of the Massood family now leading the way, we look forward to continuing to serve consumers throughout New Jersey, and to raising the bar in everything we do.
“Our Paramus location was our largest showroom on two floors, approximately 20,000 square feet. Since we planned to right-size that location, it was the perfect store to create a new retail look and merchandising format. Each of the other stores will be unique but similar.”
And what a location! Paramus, New Jersey is one of the largest shopping destinations in the country, generating over $5 billion in annual retail sales, more than any other zip code in the United States. The store serves such a diverse spectrum of neighborhood lifestyles and reach to surrounding populations, that “Inspirations” is a broad and provocative theme.
Said Massood, “Moving forward, HOME INSPIRATIONS Thomasville’s product offering will continue to reflect its namesake, our ‘anchor brand’, broadened by the Heritage Home family of brands, including Drexel, Lane Venture, Henredon, La Barge and Maitland Smith. The new concept will also feature a product assortment of private labels, and they will carry the store’s new tagline: HOME INSPIRATIONS, Be Inspired. We’ve developed really new ways to present furniture, we’re actually creating fun with lifestyle vignettes.
“So far, the response to the fresh presentation and remodel has been outstanding from both customers and our sales associates. Like many other states, New Jersey has both urban and suburban consumers and they live in spaces varying in size from small condos and apartments to grand and spacious homes. We firmly believe that diverse architecture calls for diverse decorating solutions. Of course, age and ethnic populations are also diverse and these factors play their distinct roles in the product mix we’ll present to be truly relevant in today’s marketplace.”
Another brilliant inspiration, the Massoods called on the dynamic creative strategist and industry icon Jena Hall to mastermind their retail re-creation. “This project is going to set our path for the future,” said Eddie. “We needed someone with tried and true creative flair and instinct, merchandising product knowledge and targeted direction along with retail experience. That’s Jena, the right choice! And another benefit, she is also a good friend.”
Jena revealed, “We first spoke about getting together a few years earlier, but the timing was not right. Now mutual respect and a good fit for each other’s strengths provided a great balance for what we both can do and love to do.”
Her first impressions of the task ahead, “Challenging, a major updating of the original customer experience. The real need to thoughtfully develop and present to the consumer a lively new way to shop for furniture. I wanted to make the shopping experience inspirational, a source of ideas, exciting, an element of fun and surprise. The stores have long focused on design services and we’ve merchandised our offerings with emphasis on personal customization under the banners, ‘Have It Your Way’ and ‘Custom, Just For You’.
“This was a total redo in merchandise and approach. It’s not about price. It’s all about lifestyles, fashion, space solving solutions, decorating and choices. It’s about helping the consumer personalize to create a beautiful home. And furniture pieces are selected first for their function, then size and look, not the brand.”
Specific features that contribute to the customer experience include: “Inspirational vignettes that ‘tell a story’, silently, through visual cues as to where each vignette is located such as an urban setting or a suburban McMansion, Small Spaces or Great Places. These settings were created to help the consumer visualize themselves in each room. The goal was to make definite impressions, knowing that not everyone would like every room. There’s nothing wishy-washy about the settings. Each room defines a different type of personality and the goal was to create a lasting impression they could relate to and want to live in.”
Fun, whimsy, pervade HOME INSPIRATIONS. “We wanted to put a smile on their faces, have a good time and take the stress out of the experience. We’re flirting with the consumer! We’re showing a Great Bedroom every woman can relate to even if the style is not the one she would normally pick. What woman would not want a chaise in the bedroom, a bar and two sofas in a sitting corner to read, knit or simply sip some hot tea or very chilled martinis! Her dream Great Little Closet features the most fabulous custom closet that isn’t even custom, just fitted with all neatly hung, color coordinated clothing in a black, white and red closet.
“As you enter HOME INSPIRATIONS there is a section to the left, Small Spaces, designed to appeal to the apartment dweller, not IKEA type furniture, though, but sophisticated, upscale, chic, fashionable and quality. These are smaller-scaled multi-functional pieces that solve space problems. Picture a New Jersey condo, overlooking Manhattan. We’re thinking both sides of the Hudson!
“We added walls, graphic elements, signage, powerful color mixes, some draperies to soften and divide some spaces so that the customer has a place to rest rather than miles of furniture.”
Directed to the consumer not yet inside Aladdin’s Cave, Jena used store windows to cast the initial spell. She used, “Sheer draperies to achieve several things, to filter the sunlight and give a residential look to the room settings inside. To create a little mystery from the street that something very special is going on inside... but plenty of tempting furniture can still be seen projecting an inviting look”.
A short walk-through Great Places with Jena presents ideas for expansive spaces with “style and a touch of panache for great rooms and larger master suites, walk-in closets typical of the upscale and spacious homes in our suburban areas. Engaging themes like ‘Her Great Dream Bedroom’, and ‘His Great Little Den’ with fun, memorable marketing strategies and playful signage are designed to draw consumers in. The ‘Chair-ishables’ display features high-fashion upholstered dining chairs stacked near the dining presentation so customers can visualize and create an individualized look in the dining room.” There’s a striking mix of accent pieces, top-spin to the presentations. A mix and match approach.
Eddie added, “Revamped point-of-purchase materials and advertising including more electronic and social media promote the new lifestyle presentations. They were designed to engage customers in new ways. We have also added more technology to our sales floors with iPads for all sales associates, ensuring they never have to leave the floor to access information about specific products or special orders.”
Jena spoke about changes in advertising. “It was important to maintain the Thomasville affiliation and the halo effect of the brand that is still highly desired by the consumers. But we also needed to signal a change that the store is more than just Thomasville. We added a subtle new name that describes exactly what the store is now, and what the new brand name implies, ‘HOME INSPIRATIONS, Thomasville.’”
Spot-on communication, of course, is crucial, and the pivotal decision about a new logo was at the forefront of advertising deliberations. Jena said, “It was a collaborative effort. There was input from key people at the store, and two different types of agencies, each with a specific strength. The name was developed by the Daily Group, Marketing Communications. We knew we wanted a memorable mark, an iconic image that could eventually stand on its own if seen frequently enough.
“The logo is comprised of an H and an I for Home Inspirations, but it also forms a chair, and a fun, whimsical person. We wanted a young, approachable graphic style and that, along with our social media, television commercials, direct mail and e-blasts are all being produced by Gefen Marketing.”
Eddie and his brother and partner Michael are a great mix, Michael controls the financials. He is a CPA with a strong background in commercial real estate and retail. Michael shares with his brother the continuing inspiration of their father and top mentor, also named Mike. Said Eddie, “Coming from the transportation end of the business, I had a unique opportunity to learn about every aspect of furniture retail from my two biggest customers, Thomasville Furniture and Huffman Koos, This opportunity to learn from the best has been a positive influence on our success at retail.”
A graduate of Seton Hall University, Eddie’s career in the furniture industry has taken him through his years with MGM Transport, Thomasville Home Furnishings of New Jersey and Massood Logistics.
His philosophy and economic foresight now inspire him to, “Believe the state of our industry will be strong, we will grow and we will prosper. My advice to Furniture World readers would be to always provide consumers with the best buying experience, one that exceeds their expectations. Also, to realize that you can’t be all things to all people, just always work be the best given your current mix of offerings and service.”
Jena comes from Fort Worth, Texas. She said, “I grew up in my family’s retail business and went to my first market with my dad at age 10; I was always working in the store holidays and summers. My red-haired grandmother, 4’11” tall, was a great influence on me. She imparted great knowledge and love for the decorative arts. She had a passion for art and design. Without a passion for what you do, you’re doomed! I am blessed with a little talent, a lot of passion and a lot of drive. She was my first mentor – or should I say womantor?
“Actually, I’ve had three fabulous mentors in my career who have been gracious, supportive, patient and who have helped me reach heights I would have never achieved without them. One of them was my brother, a self-made marvel of a business genius who taught me two great lessons: make sure every deal is a win-win for both sides, and that relationships are far more important than the deal. The deals will come and go but relationships and contacts are your true assets. And he taught me everything I know about merchandising, a major asset when combined with some creativity.”
Over the years, Jena has been honored with five Pinnacle Awards, the Withit Founder Award, was inducted as an American Furniture Hall of Fame Fellow in 2012, and the City of Hope’s National Spirit of Life.
Both Jena and Eddie are much involved in City of Hope activities “seeking the eradication of bigotry and a cure for cancer”. And both support the ADL along with other important areas of outreach.
Jena said, “The Massoods have always supported local charities and when homes are destroyed by floods or fire, they are always there. But in a quiet way, without fanfare.”
These two powerhouse people brought HOME INSPIRATIONS Thomasville to the moment of the spectacular grand re-opening on the evening of January 29, 2015. It followed on the heels of a highly successful soft launch and test of the new retail concept during which several consumers bought entire room settings full of high-ticket furniture! On the 29th, the Massoods and Jena welcomed vendors, VIPs and preferred customers to the celebration. And what they saw and heard from their guests was truly gratifying. Said Eddie, “Their reactions were very positive. And consumer traffic has increased with customers spending more time interacting with our consultants, all very positive signs.”
And Jena, “It was fun to see how many smiles were on their faces. I think they enjoyed the humor and the approach. They loved the iconic vignettes like the fooz ball table in the great room, and the space we called ‘her great little walk-in dressing room’ which has a silk loveseat, French wing chairs, pearl chandeliers and lots of high heel shoes! I think everyone was surprised and had a good time discovering the various little gems. Like the trompe l’oeil murals of a ‘Bed of Roses’ and the ‘House of Cards’, 12 feet high and 14 feet wide, behind a bed.”
And behind HOME INSPIRATIONS’ spectacular scenes, the necessary nitty-gritty has not been neglected! It was essential to retain and attract new design consultants to complement the new approach from the greeting to delivery, the whole process. Some workshop sessions were personally conducted by Eddie and Jena. “Today our customer expects more from a premium brand,” said Massood. “ We know most consumers do their research online. If we are fortunate to have them visit our showroom, it’s up to us to exceed their expectations, provide inspiration and experienced design consultants. It requires continual training and giving our consultants the necessary tools, it’s a must! And we’ve developed a formal policy manual.”
“Administrative staff had their own training sessions,” Jena told us. “When you add new suppliers and different, unfamiliar merchandise, it’s important that the back-end understands the subtle but important differences in products.”
About 40 per cent of HOME INSPIRATIONS’ sales people are designers. “Often sales staff and designers team up on house calls.”
Delivery procedures and staffing have been enhanced, although they were already “white glove and top notch”, and there are no changes to the back-end and warehousing. “We already are state of the art in those areas.”
The website,” said Massood, “ with its unlimited space will be a virtual showroom. An e-commerce platform will be operational within the next 12 months.”
There’ll be more excitement this spring and summer when HOME INSPIRATIONS brings its rebranded, remerchandised and totally re-energized image to Woodbridge, Princeton and Rockaway. Jena said, “On the surface all the stores will ‘feel’ similar, but there will be changes in the specific merchandise styles based on the demographics of the specific areas. And all the whimsy and fun will travel!”
Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.