Now that Labor Day is officially over, we can all collectively look forward to getting back to work. We have Premarket within a week and market next month. I wonder where the summer went, and then my mind wandered even further. I’m sure if I would have used A.I., the artificial intelligence engine would have me committed for being “old school.” Traveling to see retailers in person vs. Zoom calls does not compute in today’s connected world. But neither does opera!
“Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy” is the first line of a song written by George Gershwin in 1935 for the opera titled Porgy and Bess. Over the years there have been various renditions across many music styles from the likes of the duo Louis Armstrong and Elle Fitzgerald (1957), jazz musician Miles Davis (1958), Queen of Rock Janis Joplin (1969) and country legend Willie Nelson (2016). The song inspires a feeling of taking it easy in the season across all music genres.
Unfortunately, the furniture business feels anything but “easy” this year. As most of you know, business has been very challenging recently for many in the home furnishings sector. We kicked off the summer with Klaussner suddenly closing the doors after Lane closed late last year. Then this past week, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams abruptly shut down, leaving a void in the luxury segment of the business. My takeaway from these abrupt shutdowns is I would not want to be dependent on companies that are owned by private equity guys. They don’t have a very good track record.
But, disappointing results are also being reported by non-PE retailers such as Best Buy, Big Lots and Target, while Dollar Tree and Walmart are seeing sales upticks. Many people are trading down in purchase categories. Credit card usage is getting maxed out, interest rates are continuing to climb, and as if that was not enough, student loan payments are scheduled to begin again in September after a three-year break.
Very few dealers I have talked with or factory personnel feel good about business. Many are not sure what to plan for with these economic headwinds.
For reps, there are only two responses to these trends. You can treat these times as a break because “nobody’s doing any business.” I talked with a sales rep that saw no reason to get in his car and drive around for a week because no one wanted to see him. He didn’t want to pay for the gas it would cost to write small orders if any at all.
The second thing you can do is show up, train, do floor recognizance of how your products are placed or how your competitors are positioned, talk to sales associates and buyers (if they let you) to see what needs are. Sure that doesn’t write any orders today, but you will be better-positioned at the October market knowing what needs are out there.
Yesterday I got on a plane and flew for five hours to see a customer. I was on the ground in that city for an hour meeting. I turned around and flew seven hours back (with layover). My wife asked me if it was worth it. After travelling almost 2,000 miles in one day, my answer was a very tired, yes! That retailer is a good customer, the team gave me an appointment, and I presented a product that I felt strongly would fill a niche in its assortment that was not being met. I’m trading time and expense today for future opportunities in getting buyers into market next month.
No guarantees on anything, but the factory and the customer know I am doing all I can to help their business. At the end of the day, that is the only thing I can do. The retail consumer will come back into the market at some point. I feel it’s my job as a factory representative to give my retailers the best shot at having a good assortment on the floor when the consumer returns. I can’t do that via a Zoom call.
But then again, traveling more than 10,000 miles this summer to take care of old business and prospect for new does not fulfill “Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy” mantra. Probably I identify better with Sawyer Brown’s song “Six Days on the Road and I’m Goin’ to Make it Home Tonight” after Bachman Turner Overdrive’s classic “Takin’ Care of Business.”
What song do you feel captures your summer work?