Home Furnishings Association members spent weeks waiting for their state governors to give the order to reopen. When those orders were given, they were ready. Apparently, so were consumers.
Last month, on the first day back after nearly two weeks of shuttered doors, Coconis Furniture & Mattress First opened for 12 appointment-only customers in Zanesville, Ohio. The skeleton sales staff was busy enjoying an 80 percent close rate. The next day was even better—92 percent.
“We were blown away by the response,” Bo Coconis says. “It was steady business because we spread out the appointments and everything went so smoothly. We couldn't be happier with the results.”
Across the state in North Lima, HFA member Sheely’s also reopened to customers by appointment only with similar success. Manager Jeff Curry says the close rate over the first weekend was “about 96 to 98 percent—just phenomenal.”
Furniture is Essential
The success both stores enjoyed proves that furniture retail truly is an essential business, as HFA members have argued throughout the nationwide shutdown. But even more important, those first-week sales showed there’s a pent-up demand for furniture by consumers who spent the past two months at home.
It’s less about having
the best-this or the
easiest-that and more about what you are doing to look after
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Industry analyst Jerry Epperson says furniture retailers can expect similar stories in pockets of the country heading into the summer as consumers slowly venture out.
After weeks at home on the same sofa or having their dining room table double as an office desk, many shoppers are rethinking the furnishings in their lives.
"They're seeing that maybe furniture really is essential, and their buying habits are reflecting that," says Epperson. "Nobody expects this to last, but retailers need to be ready for this kind of demand for a few weeks, maybe months."
Coconis agrees, “Nobody’s predicting this is going to last because, well, it just can’t, but we’re going to take advantage of this spike for as long as we can and help our customers out.”
Both Coconis and Sheely’s, like many other furniture retailers across the country, are offering curbside delivery, one of many changes as they try to meet their customers' heightened safety concerns. It starts in the morning when employees are screened with forehead temperature readings. It continues with an attendant at the front door limiting the number of people in the store. And throughout the day, both stores are busy with a very public cleaning of surfaces, bathrooms and furniture.
Curry says the cleaning is not just for show at Sheely’s. “We don’t just want to look like we’re safe to the public. We want to be safe. We need to be safe, but at the same time it’s important to show them we are practicing what we preach.”
That same mindfulness of a clean store is what customers see when they first enter Coconis Furniture, where signage asks customers to wear a mask and practice social distancing throughout the store. There’s even a sanitizing station at the front for customers to use coming and going. “People are just now getting back into the world,” says Coconis. “We want to make them feel as comfortable and safe as we possibly can.”
Be Serious, Not Gimmicky
That feeling of security is going to go a long way with customers looking for a safe environment to shop. Marketing consultant John Graham says retailers need to come out of this pandemic with new messaging that’s not gimmicky. “It’s less about having the best-this or the easiest-that and more about what you are doing to look after the needs of your customers. That’s the only way you’re going to get them into your store. They need to know you’re looking out for them and not just trying to make a sale.”
Epperson says consumers are going to be in a buying mode this summer. “At least the ones who can afford to be,” he says. “But they want that security. They don’t expect to go back into your store the way they used to. We might not see that type of thinking from consumers for a long time—maybe years. But they do need to feel safe.”
Coconis knows sales will eventually drop, so he and his staff are doing everything to accommodate customers today. The adage of making hay while the sun shines is appropriate. “As long as they’re coming in and being safe and practical, we’re going to do our best to help them out,” he says. “That’s really no different than it was before we closed.”
A feature about Home Furnishings Association's retail members, legislation affecting the furniture industry and other retail news from HFA.