Tips & Insights

How the Tiger Hunts High Point

Pro tips on how to work Market from American Furniture Warehouse President
Jake Jabs

“You need to be in good shape to work Market because to do it right, you’re going to log more than 10,000 steps each day,” said Jake Jabs, the 86-year old CEO and President of American Furniture Warehouse. One of our industry’s most successful, recognized, and honored leaders, Jabs recently received the Home Furnishings Association’s 2017 Trailblazer Award. In town for his 98th Market, he took a few moments out of his hunt for the upholstered goods that will stock his 14 Colorado and Arizona stores to share his proven strategy for leveraging his time in High Point.

“I don’t think you could find anyone better to observe and learn about this industry than Jake Jabs, particularly in the way he works Market. He does not approach retailing as others teach it in a book. He does it his way, which resulted in $640 million in sales in 2016, according to Furniture Today,” said Jerry Epperson, Partner with Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd, Investment Bankers and Advisors.

“Buy it right. Sell it right. That’s how you make it in this business. That’s why you go to Market.”
– Jake Jabs, President, American Furniture Warehouse

Jabs started by telling us why he is here for every Market, “Everything is here, and if you miss it, you will be out of the loop on the latest trends and styles. I’ve never missed one.”

He and his team of seven experienced buyers carefully plan each day to allow enough time to visit their current vendors and seek out promising new resources. His key planning tool is a 20-page single-spaced handwritten list of 40 showrooms he plans to see, organized by location, with notes about past purchases, product, and contact information. “There are a lot of key details in that vendor list that I update every Market. It helps to have a good memory.”

Jabs’ day at Market starts at 7am and ends with a dinner meeting at 7pm. He stays at the Atrium Inn on Main Street and takes his meals in his vendors’ showrooms to keep on schedule. “I make my first showroom visits to shop,” he said. “During my second visits we get down to best buy pricing.”

At 9am on Sunday, you’ll find him at Jerry Epperson’s “State of the Industry” forecast in the Retail Resource Center. “This is invaluable intel that you just can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “I take pages of notes and share them with our managers as soon as I get back to Colorado. Jerry has been a trusted advisor for decades.”

“Jake has always taken a leading role in sourcing the best value for his customers at every Market.”
– Jerry Epperson, Partner, Mann, Armistead & Epperson

Jabs’ and Epperson’s business relationship began in the 1980’s. “I have been running into Jake Jabs at furniture markets and association meetings for almost 40 years,” said Epperson. “He wants his customers to get what is best for them, and to source as directly from the factory as he can without middle-men. He is famous for going into the deep woods and jungles of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and elsewhere to find the actual manufacturing source, not just a marketing entity.”

In the more hospitable environs of High Point, Jabs always includes visits to new manufacturers, and encourages his buyers to seek products that will resonate with the tastes and preferences of their Western US market. He also pays close attention to the latest trends, many of which are already apparent from the buying preferences of his customers.

“There’s a huge surge of younger people moving to Denver and they are shopping for furniture for condos and apartments.”
– Jake Jabs

“It’s clear from what we see at this Market that styles are changing and becoming more modern and contemporary,” said Jabs. “This reflects the demand we’re experiencing in our stores. Young consumers who live in the city want sleek, functional pieces. Many of our top sellers have smaller footprints and versatility, like dinettes with tables that change height for different uses.”

True to schedule, Jabs completed his buying rounds on Sunday afternoon and flew home to Colorado with commitments for 40 to 50 groups from 20 vendors, plus fresh ideas to introduce to his team. “Jake Jabs is successful for so many reasons, but I think the most compelling is his inherent desire to serve his communities with honest values, and without unnecessary tricks or false sales. He is ahead of others with his internet site and nationwide delivery, and he is unselfish in his willingness to serve his community charities, home furnishings events, and the academic institutions he supports like Montana State. Whether you follow him around at Market and adopt his strategies for buying, read his books, or make a site visit to his stores, you will be learning from the best in the industry,” said Epperson.

Browsing the “35 Key Thoughts” section of An American Tiger, you’ll find great advice for successful living - and making the most of your time in High Point. “Develop confidence in yourself. Organize your time, make a list and move priorities to the top” (No. 13). And, with all the walking you’re sure to do, “Keep physically fit; it helps your mental attitude” (No. 14). “I recommend taking the same approach every Market, whether it’s your first or 98th” said Jabs as he ended our conversation. “Prepare and plan in advance, but be ready to execute your buying strategy with an open mind to new opportunities.”