The numbers are sobering. With double-digit unemployment, home furnishings sales were down in May for the third straight month compared with the same month last year—a trend that’s almost sure to continue into the summer.
But there’s hope. In a recent Home Furnishings Association live COVID-19 webinar, industry analyst Jerry Epperson said Americans will slowly start to venture out and return to the habits they once possessed. Those habits include shopping for furniture.
Epperson told retailers the economy would start to warm up in September if school systems and universities are able to reopen. “I think we’re going to see the major turn (in the economy) come in September, if that happens,” said Epperson. “When we open the schools, that’s when we’ll all start to feel better, and with that comes the opening of retail across the country to fewer restrictions.”
In the same breath, Epperson acknowledged that September seems a long way off, but he added that retailers should be working now to prepare. "That starts with your staff," he told retailers. With so much government assistance available, there’s not a better time for store owners to rethink their staffing levels.
“You need to look at your company, people, operating techniques, and vendors. It's an opportunity to upgrade who you are and what you’re doing. If you’re going to lay off team members, this isn't a bad time because they have a lot of opportunities to get government support.”
Look at your company, people, operating
techniques and vendors. It's an opportunity to upgrade who you are and what you’re doing."
Epperson said furniture retailers need to prepare now. “The really smart retailers who were able to stay open are going to buy inventory knowing that there will be shortages as we come out of this,” he said. “That’s going to give them an edge, and you need to catch up.”
Epperson said Asian manufacturing plants were just starting to get back up when American retailers began canceling orders this spring. He said supply chains will be in fits of starting and stopping over the next several months. “There’s going to be an important period of time (when) this or that product will not be available,” he explained. “You should be on the phone with your preferred vendors now finding out what’s available, what you need and getting the ball rolling, showing them that you support them and want to work with them.”
Epperson expects national furniture sales to get back to even sometime in the fall and slowly start climbing after that. But the overall economy will take at least three years to fully recover, he said. He predicts as much as 30 percent of the retail base will be shed when all is said and done. “It doesn’t have to be your store,” he said. “Not if you’re thinking lean and working now to get ready.”
For more of Epperson’s insights, check out his HFA Webinar on HFA’s Covid-19 Recovery Resources page.
For more information on HFA
membership and services for home furnishings retailers visit https://myhfa.org or call 800.422.3778
A feature about Home Furnishings Association's retail members, legislation affecting the furniture industry and other retail news from HFA.