Stuck-at-home consumers tired of staring at their furniture are catching a break.
Furniture retailers are discounting a bit more aggressively and rethinking their business models.
That’s causing some notable changes from Twin Cities stores, including a shift to more modestly priced items and the opening of more clearance outlets. Deeper discounts and free delivery offers are also more common.
Sales of furniture and home furnishings nationally improved in May compared with March and April, according to census figures, but they’re still down about 20% compared with last year.
“The unprecedented nature and impact of COVID led us to consider new strategies to drive business when we temporarily closed our stores and delivery centers,” said Room & Board spokeswoman Dianna Bauer.
Golden Valley-based Room & Board is unique for never having temporary sales, only ones for clearance. That hasn’t changed, but the furniture retailer recently made all deliveries free, local and national, until Sept. 7, even for purchases at its outlet store.
After Labor Day, it will lower its pre-COVID delivery fees — which were $99 for local deliveries and $139 for national — to a flat $79. In April, the company also offered no-interest financing for the first time in its history.
HOM has occasionally gone one better by offering no-interest financing for six years with a purchase amount of about $4,000 or more. Sometimes the offer can be used only on select mattresses, and other times it’s good on furniture, too. As with all no-interest offers, buyers must be qualified with good credit.
Slumberland is offering free delivery to the doorstep with no minimum purchase required. HOM Furniture also has free delivery to a garage with an in-store or online purchase.
“We added a professional sales team on the phones for online orders,” said Rod Johansen, owner of Coon Rapids-based HOM Furniture. “We’re doing four times the online business we used to. It’s been very successful.”
Many furniture retailers are now adding special offers on their sites, such as an additional 10% discount. A recent study by Provoke Insights market research found that two-fifths of U.S. consumers plan to shop less in store and more online than before the pandemic. Yet only about 25% of Midwest shoppers have ever bought furniture online.
National retailers such as West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn have attracted shoppers with storewide sales. For a Fourth of July promotion Crate & Barrel offered up to 30% off storewide. West Elm offered up to 40% off sitewide and Pottery Barn recently offered 10 or 15% off anything more than $100.
Even high-end retailer Design Within Reach in the Galleria recently sent its customers a postcard with 20% off any purchase of $1,000 or more. Most of DWR’s storewide sales have excluded its more exclusive lines, so this is rare, said one employee.
Small independent furniture retailers can’t usually afford storewide discounts but are still finding ways to attract consumers.
Rosie Rosenthal of Rosenthal Interiors in downtown Minneapolis is making several changes to her family’s 120-year-old business. The company has decided to close its “unattractive lower level” clearance room and possibly its second floor to concentrate on fewer goods of higher quality on the main floor, Rosenthal said.
With less space and a need to clear out excess merchandise, it opened a pop-up outlet in the Sleep Sherpa warehouse at 7313 S. Washington Av. in Edina. It’s open weekends only. “After two weeks we already discovered we need more than twice the space we thought we would,” Rosenthal said.
Traditions Classic Home Furnishings in St. Louis Park is doing a pivot of its own. “We’re re-engineering our business,” said Mike Schumann, co-owner of Traditions.
The 33-year-old business is taking over the now-closed Lulu & Luigi pet store next door and converting it to a lower-priced option called the Studio by Traditions that includes new and consigned furniture and accessories.
“For years we’ve had customers asking what to do with pieces they no longer want,” said Schumann. The adjacent existing store will continue with its higher-end lines.
Wabi Sabi furniture owner Kay Frandsen opened one of the Twin Cities’ few furniture consignment shops in 2010. Since reopening her higher-end Wayzata shop, her furniture business is one of the few that’s doing better in June and July this year than last year.
“My June sales more than doubled compared to last year and I’m up more than 20% so far in July,” she said. “More people want to get rid of furniture, but more people are buying too. They’re all looking for a deal.”
Frandsen said the worst part since reopening is finding enough staff to handle the customers. “I lost three-quarters of my staff because they didn’t want to come back to work after COVID,” she said. “I’ve hired one but still need four more employees.”
Despite what remains a challenging market for most, HOM’s owner Johansen remains optimistic. “Some analysts are predicting a nice run for furniture in the next one to three years,” he said. “People will invest more in their homes as they take fewer trips and eat out less often.”