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Store owners talk colors, customers and consumer confidence

A recent report from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters claims that consumer confidence is now at its highest level since July 2007.

It’s news that brings joy to the ears of retailers. However, while stores like Target and The Gap, Inc. may be pulling in more customers and sending them home with more products, there is a big difference between selling furniture and selling towels and jeans. Is this rise in confidence showing up in the bottom lines of home furnishings retailers?

“We are experiencing more consumers who tell us they are moving or building, and that is a very good sign.”
- Sarah Paxton, Vice President of Sales and Finance, LaDifference

For Edward Massood, president of Home Furnishings of New Jersey, operator of four Thomasville stores, the outlook is positive, but cautious. “We’re encouraged, but our direct benefit comes from new home sales,” he said. “We’re seeing an uptick in the confidence level, but it hasn’t yet resonated across all our floors.”

A little farther down south in Richmond, Virginia, Sarah Paxton, vice president of sales and finance for LaDifference, is seeing a real difference. “It is definitely improving. We are experiencing more consumers who tell us they are moving or building, and that is a very good sign.”

Out in the Pacific Northwest, Bob Schoenfeld, president of Schoenfeld Interiors of Washington state, runs two stores, one in Seattle and another in Bellevue. The latter city, only five minutes from Microsoft headquarters, has the highest property values in the state. “We’re seeing pretty robust consumer confidence,” said Schoenfeld. “It’s showing up in traffic and in sales.” Schoenfeld mentions that home building in the area is picking up as well.

“We’re in the process of changing our merchandising strategy and product assortment to attract a younger demographic.”
- Edward Massood, President, Home Furnishings of New Jersey

Looking at the demographic characteristics of those customers, our retailers report that while Millennials (people born since 1980), may be generating buzz on the speaker circuit, the people coming through their doors are Gen X-ers (born 1965-1980) and younger Boomers (1946-1964). “The bulk of our clients are 45 to 60,” said Schoenfeld. “We don’t get a lot of Millennials. People that buy from us are more established, and on to their second home.”

There’s a similar report from the East Coast. “Our clientele at present are Baby Boomers and X-ers,” said Massood, “although we’re in the process of changing our merchandising strategy and product assortment to attract a younger demographic.”

While Paxton notes the same generational mix in her store, she is seeing a few younger shoppers. “We get a smattering of Gen Y,” she said, adding that she is working to increase that demographic by making “starting price points in ‘our look’ available for immediate delivery.”

“People have gotten tired of looking at an espresso finish …”
- Bob Schoenfeld, President, Schoenfeld Interiors

What do those newly confident Boomers and X-ers see when they walk into our retailers’ stores? In terms of color, they’re being greeted with blues and grays just about everywhere they go. “They are replacing lighter colors,” said Massood. “Also turquoise and spring green,” said Paxton, who serves a contemporary customer. “Interesting wood grains are emerging, and blond woods such as white oak and maple are coming back!”

Schoenfeld, who also serves a contemporary clientele, echoes the wood switch. “People have gotten tired of looking at an espresso finish for the last six years.” Massood’s stores however, exhibit a slightly different direction. Although he’s still seeing a sand-blasted look in woods, it’s waning as warmer tones are coming to the fore.

“By far, High Point gives us the direction for stories, inspiration and merchandising.”
- Edward Massood, President, Home Furnishings of New Jersey

The looks emerging at retail across the country share a common origin. “Most trends in my store come from High Point,” said Schoenfeld. “I do all my major buying there.” Paxton also notes the influence of colors and trends from Market. Plus, she emphasizes the importance of physically attending the show. “We build relationships by talking in person. We learn, in person, what our best vendors are introducing or discontinuing.”

As he considers the new opportunities created by consumers’ increasing desire to buy, Massood hits on a key outcome of the High Point experience. It’s not just about finding new products. It’s about learning how to inspire your customers, and no trade show does this better than High Point, where exhibitors invest more in creating a stunning showroom experience than at any other market. “By far, High Point gives us the direction for stories, inspiration and merchandising,” he said. “We come back big-eyed from seeing how presentations are created to wow a retailer, and we take it back to wow our customers. If we can create an environment that we get excited about, we get our sales staff excited about it, and the excitement grows as our customers get excited about the possibilities for their homes.”