3 observations from 3 local retail stores | Sheila Long O’Mara

I scored a rare home-alone weekend recently, and ahead of college football game day, I ventured out to some furniture stores here. No mission in mind, just to scout out what retailers here were flooring and what consumer traffic looked like on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning.

The caveat here is that I live in a college town, and there was an in-conference, home football game coinciding with parents’ weekend. Just as in other college towns, football is a big deal here, and things get kicked off the evening before. Anyway, it’s best to avoid downtown too close to gametime.

I ventured to three very different retail formats, all locally owned. I wasn’t shunning the regional powerhouses here, but given my limited amount of time, I opted to check out the locals. All are single-store operations offering a very distinct, local look and feel for the market they serve.

One was a high-end store focused on its interior design services and its boutique retail setting located across the river. Another, a long-time store on the home furnishings scene located downtown here that offers more moderate price points. The third is a traditional furniture store located in a trendy part of town that also offers design services and keeps the registers pinging with its robust custom-order business, which I’m told is now back to a more normal flow from the days when the pandemic sent everyone home shopping.

Of note, only one of the stores boasted a mattress floor.

A few of observations from my adventures into stores in my market:

1 Know your market and your customer. Each of these retail stores had a distinct vibe and approach to product selection, customer service, store design and custom-order availability. No pushy salespeople and no one trailing me through the store. However, they were around to greet me and popped up when I had questions.

2 Where’s the color? I miss color. The industry has always said neutrals sell upholstery. I get it, and the custom-order capabilities allow consumers to introduce the right color for them into their homes; however, sometimes we need a little inspiration beyond a fabric swatch. Even the case pieces are awash in driftwood-like and gray-hued finishes.

3 Mattresses were shorted. While mattresses tend to be one of the highest turning and most profitable categories for home furnishings retailers, the category was nearly absent. As I said, one of the stores had mattresses available from several brands, including Kingsdown, Beautyrest and models from the Tempur Sealy International family.

That could be for a number of reasons, including the fact that my market has a number of sleep specialty stores around, and these furniture stores aren’t eager to compete with those. I did get a little icked out by the mattress presentation that needed some sprucing up to make it more inviting to customers.

I understand that market-specific trends often drive what retailers opt to showcase in their stores. That said, I have a couple of fun trips on the horizon that could drop me into home furnishings and mattress stores outside of my area. I’m looking forward to comparing how this market differs from other ones.

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