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Retail Success: Furniture Fair

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.4 July/August


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Retail Profile: Domaci

 


Starting with a single 7,000 square foot store in 1963, Kentucky-based Furniture Fair has 11 locations, 300 plus employees, and growing!

 

Furniture Fair is, and always has been, a family affair. Fifty-six years ago, founder Robert “Bob” Daniels with his wife, Kate, followed their entrepreneurial dream and opened a 7,000 square foot store in home town Erlanger, Kentucky. They were also raising their children, Rick, Steve, Bill and Jenny (now Jenny Wynne), all of whom started working at the store in their teens. The four of them are members of Furniture Fair’s executive team, talented Jenny also guiding design. And following closely in this energetic family’s footsteps are Rick, Steve and Bill’s six sons, all endowed with the quintessential Daniels’ philosophy and drive.

All told there are more than 300 full-time members in Furniture Fair’s lively extended family. Many loyal staff members are long-time employees, part of the action for more than 25 years. Including Juda Yauger, the company’s first bookkeeper. Juda’s daughter and granddaughter have maintained her tradition, part of multiple generations working together in harmony.

Said Bill, “Furniture Fair follows the housing market and tries to locate stores in prime areas to provide convenient locations to serve our customers. We will continue this strategy as we expand our footprint further into Kentucky and Ohio. New stores include design center departments for customization and separate sleep center entrances.”

Said Bill, “Juda has been with Furniture Fair since day one when she helped my father open the first store in Erlanger. Juda and her family always give 100 percent effort to Furniture Fair and its employees. They truly are a wonderful part of our family.

“Jenny Wynne, our lead designer is one of the most experienced interior designers in the Tri-State area (OH, KY, IN). Jenny and her daughter Kelly are great at building relationships with Furniture Fair customers, producing lots of sales.

“We are proud of our longtime employees and feel fortunate to have a family-oriented culture instilled in all of our departments.”

The Daniels family lives by their HIP Rule which stands for “Honesty- Integrity-Professionalism”. And they encourage staff to follow their example. “That’s what our dad taught us and that’s how we guide our employees. If you live by the HIP Rule, you can work hard at the business AND sleep at night.”

But at the heart of every success story there’s that elusive hint of alchemy that helps shape inspiration into reality. In addition to an essential blend of hard work and dedication, the spark that made Furniture Fair a success was the gift of insight, the ability to make “the right move for the right reasons at the right time”. The very real challenge of working together necessitates taking extra steps to establish clearly defi ned roles and address individual concerns to create a positive atmosphere for everyone within the Furniture Fair family.

Store Expansion

Furniture Fair's broad, comprehensive training programs cover all aspects of interacting with the public, from answering the telephone correctly to professional sales techniques."

From Bob’s single fledgling store in Erlanger, Kentucky, the family has expanded its vision over the years to their recently opened eleventh Furniture Fair in the Louisville area, and a location at the town of Beavercreek, near Dayton, Ohio. The showroom features a “state-of-the-art design center, and an exclusive bed diagnostic system to match customers to their ideal mattress”.

Bill told us, “Erlanger was (and is) a very nice community and Northern Kentucky was really growing in the early 1960s. It was (and still is) a family oriented town with high standards led by the local churches and schools. Our father looked at several stores throughout the Tri-State, but he felt that Erlanger had the best opportunity to grow. And we think he made the right choice.

“His vision of one day opening his own store started when he became a salesman for Leugers Furniture Company. After a few years he moved on to work for a man named Ben Strauss who owned Strauss Furniture in Hamilton, Ohio. He helped Ben open up several locations throughout southern Ohio. After about fi ve or six years, in 1963 he decided to open up his own furniture store.

“His aim was to promote good furniture at fair prices, hence the name ‘Furniture Fair’!


Furniture Fair follows the housing market and tries to locate stores
in prime areas to provide convenient locations to serve our customers.

"Back in 1963, at the original grand opening, we advertised $1 lamps and quilted innerspring mattresses for $19 to get traffic in the door, and it worked! We also offered items such as free vinyl throw rugs to the first 500 women who came through the door. And free handy yard sticks.

"Dad always insisted that we make sure we take care of the customer. His main core value was honesty, and he believed it was always the best approach. He always said, ‘Your word is your bond!’ It is definitely something my brothers and I have lived by. We’re a throwback to an old way of doing business.”

Furniture Fair's first expansion occurred in Fairfield in 1972. That store relocated in 1985. Today, the original home base is the site of its corporate headquarters, an expansive 200,000 square foot warehouse and central distribution facility. Other locations followed fast, the Northgate store opening in 1976. Furniture Fair now has an important presence in Dayton, Dent, Beavercreek, Cold Spring, Eastgate, Loveland, Fairfield, Florence, Northgate and Oxford.


We started selling online a couple of years ago,
but we have seen significant increases within the past year with the roll out of a new e-commerce website that includes chat, and seamless integration with our internal systems.

First Generation Wisdom

Furniture Fair's president, Bill Daniels, worked at the store throughout his teen years. Then, following his father’s retirement, and after attending Marietta College, Bill rejoined Furniture Fair. Bill recalls the “good news” he received from his father. “I’ve got good news for you, son," Bob told him. "You’ve only got to work half a day, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. That’s called looking at your glass as half full."

"So," recalled Bill, "we always felt that when we worked a 12 hour day we still had half a day left. Work is only work if you don’t enjoy yourself."

Yet another Bob quote given to family members and employees was, “I have confidence in your ability.

Bill explained, "His mentality, was that if someone worked hard enough, they could always find a way to get something done.”

A final quote from Bob came from his eldest son, Rick, who cited Bill's integrity. “Paying the bills comes first. And make sure you set an example for other people and treat them with respect."



The Great Recession

Furniture Fair survived what everyone now calls the Great Recession, and “without much loss,” said Bill. “Our goal was to keep as many people employed as possible. First we cut overtime hours. Two years later, as the Recession persisted, we made voluntary cuts. Steve met with everyone in the warehouse and asked if anyone could take a voluntary layoff. That’s something family does for family.”

Furniture Fair focused on steady growth as the economy recovered. And, insightfully, they hired a software engineer to develop a proprietary iPad-based customer follow-up system. This prompts sales teams to record shoppers’ interests, collect contact information and keep in touch throughout every stage of the buying process. Salespeople can alert new and prospective customers to private sales, keep current customers updated on their purchases, shipping status and build rapport. “Our customers' homes are never complete," said Bill. "There will always be something they need. When we are able to fi nd common ground in the initial buying process, we build future sales.”


Furniture Fair's home page encourages visitors to take a design style quiz and lists product categories with underlying links to e-commerce options. Also touted are financing options, plus made in America from Smith Brothers.

Website & e-Commerce

Marketing Director Ed Hartman who stands 5’2” tall, and the former NFL offensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz at 6’8”, have served as effective and popular community links.

Furniture Fair's website was created in partnership with Shopify, the number four e-commerce platform in the world. "Our Director of Internet Services manages the website and its content. Our Director of Software Engineering is responsible for the development of our omni-channel software systems.

“The advertising content, ad imagery and promotions for our website are built by our marketing team. They are also responsible for digital marketing efforts that assist in driving traffi c to Furniture Fair's website.

“We started selling online a couple of years ago, but we have seen signifi cant increases within the past year with the rollout of a new e-commerce website that includes chat and seamless integration with our internal systems. We currently have an online sales associate who primarily answers chat questions and follows up on Perq leads.

“Chat offers our customers the chance to work with a seasoned sales professional online without needing to drive to a showroom. With more customers experiencing the convenience of shopping online, this department has already seen signifi cant growth and will continue to do so.”

Marketing

There’s no doubt that smart marketing has been paramount in Furniture Fair's successful and visible integration into the communities it serves. “The media mix has been across the board starting with large newspapers like the Cincinnati Enquirer, local small papers, billboards, radio, TV, direct mail, store signage and now digital and social media. Our marketing department has done a good job of building relationships with our local media partners.

“And TV has always been a great way to advertise with our two great spokespeople.” Since 1992, Marketing Director Ed Hartman who stands 5’2” tall, and the former NFL offensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz at 6’8”, have served as effective and popular community links. Ed and Anthony started out with comical TV spots featuring big selection and low prices. The theme played well off their height differences and, from the get go, the two of them had great chemistry.

“Our spots really stood out on TV and cut through all the clutter, now twenty-seven years and counting!

“Anthony visits Furniture Fair to sign autographs and help distribute Community Price Watch badges and sunglasses. Ed Hartman has been described as the face of Furniture Fair. The commercials are said to have made the two men the longest running commercial duo in the Tri-State area.”

Munoz heads the Anthony Munoz Foundation. Formed in 2002, ”It is a non-profit organization with a mission to engage the Tri-State region to impact its youth mentally, physically and spiritually. Anthony has helped thousands of high school seniors get scholarships to complete their dreams of attending college.

“Ed works with local and national charities as well, doing outreach with schools and churches. Furniture Fair also has a core values team that gathers information from our staff members to find causes they are passionate about supporting. For instance, one of our managers ran the Flying Pig Marathon which raises funds for charities. So, a group of us got together to go down to the race and support him.”

Ten Foot Rule

When hiring, “We look for personality and adaptability as well as a work ethic similar to our own. Our broad, comprehensive training programs cover all aspects of interacting with the public, from answering the telephone correctly to professional sales techniques. The programs last two and a half weeks. We don’t do the hard sell. We give customers the opportunity to look.

“And we try to choose candidates who already have the friendly nature our customers expect. What we call ‘The 10 Foot Rule’. When a customer or employee comes within 10 feet, you smile and say, ‘Hello.’”

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Delivery

Detailed tracking instructions on Furniture Fair’s website describe a variety of convenient delivery times and methods. Within 24 hours of a delivery date, customers can access scheduled delivery times within a two-hour window. And, if they just happen to be late, customers are issued a gift card to offset the amount of the delivery fee.

The website assures customers that before the purchase leaves the store’s distribution center it will be “carefully inspected and prepared for delivery. All necessary parts for installation and configuration are carefully assembled." Customers are also sent a courtesy e-mail notification regarding the scheduled delivery time. Furniture Fair assures customers that delivery professionals will carefully place their merchandise into the desired location and that removal of all packing material will take place to ensure satisfaction.

Events

“We definitely think it’s helpful to stage design workshops for our customers. In fact, we have one coming up this fall at our Louisville location. It will be paired with a wine tasting event.

“Other successful PR happenings, such as our Shred Event, are done twice a year, and both occurrences are big hits with the community.

We partner with Shred-It trucks to come to a few of our locations and invite the public to purge their old documents. Proceeds are donated to the Cincinnati Crime Stoppers."

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An Interesting Project

Bob Daniels spent some time telling Furniture World about a grocery store Furniture Fair recently converted into a home furnishings showroom with the help of designer Martin Roberts. Bill said that he met Martin through FMG. "He had been a guest speaker at a few of our symposiums, as well as designing stores for some of the other members. We spoke to him several times and decided to sit down with him before we committed to property in the Louisville area.

“Martin looked at a couple of the locations we were considering and gave us input regarding how the space could flow and where we could make an impact. His ‘magic wand’ is his ability to create beautiful spaces that deliver excellent shopping experiences and ROl for his clients. Martin and his team provided the starting place for the store by bringing the initial ideas to the table on everything from space planning, lighting and exterior remodeling. At every step we met and discussed what worked, what didn’t, and then debated any and all changes.

“For example, Furniture Fair has been using stacked rock and lifestyle images on our stores for several years. Martin and his team embraced the ideas and helped us execute it on the Louisville store front, adding metal awnings and planters to help frame the entrance."

The project involved the transformation of an HH Gregg grocery store. Three dated looking spaces of 15,000, 20,000 and 25,000 square feet were combined to make 60,000 square feet of retail area for Furniture Fair at a fraction of the cost of new construction. Furniture World asked Martin to provide more details of the renovation.

"Since people in the area had been coming to this grocery store for many years, we didn't want them to walk in and ask where the 'dairy isle' went. The store was going to have a new use, and this had to be communicated to potential customers beginning at the traffic light where they would enter the parking lot.

Many fine furniture stores have come and gone since 1963,but we’re still here because of our people and how they care for the customer.

"Looking at the before and after photos you can see that we covered spaces above the entrance with a stretched fabric graphic featuring happy smiling people using furniture. The idea is that from a great distance you can see the name Furniture Fair, as well as the graphics of people using furniture. Then, when people get closer to the store they see posters instead of windows. Most retailers dislike windows because sunlight fades furniture. Windows also take up valuable wall space and create glare. The glass at the entrance was kept to keep costs down, but a little awning was added over the top of the entrance to help communicate that this is a retail store.

"We decided against changing the terra cotta tile on the original roof to a high ridge seamed metal roof, also to reduce costs, but frankly, most customers wouldn't notice this anyway, so, to be sure, we focused their attention downward with lighting underneath the walkway onto the posters and the graphics.

“The store has a butterfly shaped interior, with pathways customers can easily understand and follow. That necessitated a highly strategic master plan to invite customers into the store and painlessly direct them to the areas of their greatest interest. Roundabouts were used to create a slowing influence and continuity. The interior graphics reflect those seen from outside the space.


The design center
was placed in the middle of the store, not at the back where everybody tends to forget it's there.

“Remember that this was a grocery store, a big open space with not a lot of partitions. All of the air conditioning and ducting was already there. The ceiling was sprayed white to just freshen the whole space. The concrete floor, once the vinyl tile was lifted, was in good shape and was stained and improved. Then the furniture department areas were delineated with carpeting, luxury vinyl tile or imitation wood. And so it was a very inexpensive conversion.

"Our interviews show that shoppers think that they can buy a mattress in 20 minutes. People don't want to struggle all the way through a furniture store to find the mattress department, so this store has a separate mattress store entrance. Mattresses in a store like this can represent 25 to 30 percent of sales. That's a huge percentage.

"Once the square footage has been allocated for upholstery including motion, and mattresses, that’s about 75 percent of the total square footage.

"The design center was placed in the middle of the store, not at the back where everybody tends to forget it's there. It's something that shoppers see all the time, and are conscious of.

When hiring, we look for personality and adaptabilityas well as a work ethic similar to our own.

“Throughout the store we tried to create a selling machine, using the walls, lights, floors, the colors, the graphics... everything to communicate to potential customers some aspect of the product."

A Conservative Approach

Bill credits “keeping the bills paid and keeping them to a minimum” as a major factor in Furniture Fair’s growth trajectory. “Our father was very conservative. Rick and Steve take the same approach. We have very little debt. Major decisions have to be the right move for the right reasons at the right time.”

The loyalty his father held with his first customers is still a guiding force today, Rick Daniels says. “Stability, consistency and knowledge are the keys to longevity. Many fine furniture stores have come and gone since 1963, but we’re still here because of our people and how they care for the customer.

“The best ad in the world is a happy customer!”

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Janet Holt-Johnstone is retail editor at Furniture World Magazine.
Read other articles by Janet Holt-Johnstone