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Retail Success: Jennifer Furniture

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.6 November/December


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Retail Profile: Kensington

 


Jennifer Furniture has risen like a Phoenix following a chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2010 and its acquisition by Morris Holdings.

 

Jennifer Furniture currently operates at 19 locations in the New York/New Jersey Metro area and has ambitious plans to open eight additional stores in 2020. Furniture World spoke with Jennifer Furniture’s president, John Garg, who joined the company in 2013 as a store manager and was elevated to president in 2016. Since then, he's orchestrated the dramatic consolidation of over 70 small footprint stores, rebranded the company, and restored it to profitability.

John Garg: Origins

“I started my business career in India at Panasonic, selling nickel cadmium batteries, while pursuing an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Within about six months," Garg told Furniture Word, "I was promoted to branch manager, then to marketing manager.

“Panasonic sent me to the United Kingdom to finish my graduate education at the London School of Business while managing Panasonic’s division for the UK, Dubai and parts of France. I met my beautiful wife who lived in New York through a dating website and moved to New York where we were married.

“After sorting out some visa issues,” John recalled, “I applied for positions at Bose, CompUSA and Levitz Furniture. Levitz offered the best salary, so despite my total lack of experience in the furniture industry, I was hired to manage their Garden City store. Once there, I saw that most of the Levitz salespeople only worked four days a week while I was working six days. So, I asked to forgo my management responsibilities and become a retail salesperson to be able to spend more time with my young family.

“We are planning on opening eight new locations in 2020. We will continue to expand our e-commerce and Jennifer Wholesale divisions in 2020 as well.”

“When Levitz Furniture went bankrupt, I was their highest earing salesperson at 3.8 million dollars in sales. It was a good life while it lasted, but nothing is permanent.

“Soon after that I found a job managing an under-performing Jennifer Convertibles store, turned it around in about six months, then moved to Jennifer’s number-one location in Farmingdale, New York. There I helped to increase sales from two to six million in sales in less than a year.”

Bumpy Ride

“To be honest, Jennifer Convertibles was a troubled company in 2016 after Morris Holdings invested in the company and I became president. We had no idea where we’re going. We sold just one product category, convertibles. Our merchandising was a mess and we didn’t offer financing or have an ecommerce website. It was a bumpy ride.

“The biggest challenge was cash. Morris Zou at Morris Holdings basically told me, ‘John, we are handing over Jennifer Convertibles to you, there isn’t any money to work with.’ So, I thought, ‘okay, no problem! Let's see exactly what I can bring to the table.’

“First, I fired all of the highly-skilled, highly paid managers at the home office, shut down 15 store locations and opened eight larger footprint stores, which took a while. We also closed down the West Coast operation, seven stores that were doing insignificant volume.”


The Sixth Avenue (NYC) store is at a hip and trendy location, an up and coming area of New York City. Opened July, 2017.

Rebranding the Company

At Jennifer Furniture, we change promotions almost every day and hit our audience hard with different kinds of sales and financing options.

“Jennifer Convertibles was rebranded as Jennifer Furniture to reflect expanded product categories, a complete home furnishings shopping experience.

"An ecommerce website was launched with immediate results, quickly growing from one to six million dollars in sales.

“To capitalize on our history of selling convertibles, we launched a second ecommerce website called sofabed.com that’s been very successful.”

Advertising Changes

“We also cut our advertising expenses. Jennifer Convertibles had used expensive outside advertising agencies. We in-housed everything, saved the commission and launched unique TV commercials. This was important because people knew us as a sofabed company. The new ads take a lifestyle approach, showing happy people shopping multiple product categories. We also produced music videos created especially for YouTube and Facebook that have helped us to connect with customers. Social media plays an important role, telling them who we are, what we are trying to do, and what we sell. Promotions are changed often, and we advertise consistently.

“We’ve chosen to use Facebook marketplace, Pinterest and Instagram, which have proven to be important tools to bring people in. We use Bing, Google Shopping and invest in keywords to create website visibility.

“A great website is the face of any successful retail operation. The many furniture retailers who just put up a website and don’t pay attention to metalinks, keywords, reviews and continually changing content, are not living up to their potential. A lot of mom and pop stores are closing these days because they can’t keep up, have trouble being trendy, aren’t focused, and don’t know or show exactly what their customers are looking for on their websites.

“At Jennifer Furniture, we change promotions almost every day and hit our audience hard with different kinds of sales and financing options.

“Right now, our website features lots of sale merchandise because the holiday time period is all about creating action. Shoppers want instant gratification, the right product, right price, and right time frame. If we don’t get them now, we won’t grab them at all. Once we move past the holidays we will resume a more lifestyle approach.”


Working with designers
has become more important. They bring in higher average sales.
Instead of five or six thousand dollars, it’s $20,000 or more. That helps.



Brooklyn location, opened in June, 2015.

Sell to Everyone!

“Our philosophy is to sell furniture to everyone with a good, better, best selection. Whatever special requirement a customer has, be it a specific color, sectional configuration, arm style, slip-cover, leather or fabric, we can deliver it. Jennifer Furniture sells to the Bob’s Discount Furniture customer as well as the Ashley and Raymour and Flanigan customer. We also do a good job with special order and Made in America merchandise, especially with Klaussner and Craftmaster to make every customer happy in terms of the price point, function, style and color.

“Jennifer Furniture launched its own brand of sleeper called Everyday Sleeper that retails from $600 to about $3,000. Our mattress business is year-to-date up 5,000 percent, yes, 5,000 percent! We joined hands with Kingsdown and it’s working out extremely well.

A Chess Game

“Being a furniture retailer is like playing a game of chess. It’s not for everybody. We are in the fight every day and face unlimited challenges.

“Back when we had cash flow issues, Jennifer Furniture launched an elite wholesale sales business (Jenniferdirect.com) offering Jennifer Furniture products to other businesses. Any company that can meet our minimum and order in some depth, for example a mom and pop furniture retailer, hotel or design firm, can take advantage of Jennifer’s buying power at cost plus a small mark-up.

“It's a new philosophy that adds to our baseline. It’s been especially popular with smaller dealers in the New York/New Jersey metro area.”

Operations

Jennifer’s customers can track their orders online, scheduled from 8AM to 9PM. Walk-up charges, re-delivery fees, and repair/exchange policies are all spelled out on the company website. No returns or exchanges are permitted.

John explained, “Our ecommerce returns compared to other companies like Wayfair are negligible. The two biggest issues Jennifer Furniture has with delivery are damage on delivery and customers who aren’t home. In our trading area, traffic is increasing every year. It’s been a challenge.”


Jennifer Furniture’s President, John Garg joined the company in 2013 as a store manager and was elevated to president in 2016.

Location, Location

“Another key to Jennifer Furniture’s growth has been choosing the right locations. We tend to locate next to competitive retailers and high-profile stores in retail corridors like the one we opened in 2019 on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Once a customer walks into our store, of course, it’s all about how lively the store is, well lit, the signage, how friendly and attractive it appears. Having the right mix of products and salespeople who can demonstrate them is also important.”

Financing

“On the back end, financing options and warranty plans are key. We work with Synchrony and Bread financing for e-commerce sales which has worked out extremely well for us.

“For customers who don’t get approval, we offer a leasing option. Jennifer Furniture works hard to make sure that there is always a way for our customers to buy.

“Financing terms are out of control in our industry, giving five years, 10 years. I push my stores to offer a maximum six-month term. Of course, we try not to let anybody walk, but don’t offer more than 36 months interest-free. If a customer wants longer term financing, we might as well just discount the price up front. It all works well if it’s applied correctly and we advise customers accordingly. They tend to be much more concerned about their monthly payments than the interest rate.”

Design Services

As part of Jennifer Furniture’s push to being able to sell to just about every consumer in their trading area, they’ve successfully partnered with outside designers.

“It’s part of the elite wholesale sales business I mentioned previously that includes free delivery,” said Garg. “We do our best to take care of our design partners.

“As brick and mortar stores are seeing less store traffic, working with designers has become more important. They bring in higher average sales. Instead of five or six thousand dollars, it’s $20,000 or more. That helps.

“We are actively advertising to find new designer-partners to boost our higher-end and custom furniture sales.”


The design of Jennifer Furniture showrooms is tailored to be appropriate for each local demographic. Valley Stream (left) was opened April 2018, and Coram (lower right), in 2010.

Accessories

“We are certainly doing well with accessories, though I see them as a kind of a commodity. We will soon introduce a new “scan ‘n go” concept area where customers can choose accessories on a computer screen before leaving the store. This recognizes the fact that the majority of salespeople don’t like to spend time with accessories. Instead of fighting this, we let customers buy their furniture first and then they can do the rest online, which is what many consumers like to do anyway. I believe we will see more of this in our industry in the near future.”

Back when we had cash flow issues, we launched an elite wholesale sales business (Jenniferdirect.com) offering Jennifer Furniture products to other businesses.

Hiring

“Hiring good people is a big, big, big problem. I’m an industry veteran and I love sales! But people in the workplace don’t recognize the potential for making good money in our business. They believe furniture sales is just not a good career. As an industry, we need to educate millennials. Let them know that home furnishings is a 300-plus billion-dollar industry, an amazing industry full of opportunities for smart, motivated people. The good news about being a sales professional is that basically you can write your own check. You are running your own entrepreneurial business. Your employer is just giving you a platform. I want to tell those youngsters, ‘Buddy, THIS IS the industry! If you have the fire, if you want to be in sales, you can be very successful.’ It’s a shame that we are doing such a poor job of making this case since with every passing year it becomes harder, sometimes impossible to find the right people.

“At the risk of repeating myself, retail is hard — having a sales career takes an investment in time and attention. It’s not hard to find people to show up for work, but there’s a lot of turnover. That’s the situation at retail, industry-wide.

“To combat that here at Jennifer Furniture we explain what’s possible. We have a great training program. We also pay salespeople walk-in money, a guaranteed salary while they build their sales skills and commissions.”

The Future

“Furniture World asked about the Future of the furniture industry in general and for Jennifer Furniture specifically. “The biggest challenge at retail,” Garg noted, “is to keep customers happy. Finding the right customers who are looking to buy is not an easy job. Neither is interacting with them in the best possible ways. So, our focus at Jennifer Furniture is to use our data and engage every day, focus on communicating, work to create loyalty and invest in ecommerce.

“Regarding the near future,” concluded Garg, “We will be opening a new showroom in Kings Plaza, Brooklyn, within the next four weeks. We will also be opening in Union, NJ next week. We are planning on opening eight new locations in 2020. We will continue to expand our e-commerce and Jennifer Wholesale divisions in 2020 as well."

Finally, Furniture World, asked John if there was anything else he wanted to add.

“To be honest with you,” he concluded, “I want to thank the furniture industry for all the opportunities, and for giving me such a wonderful 20 years. I love it.”

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.
Read other articles by Russell Bienenstock