Survey: Furniture Dealers Counter Downturn with Home Delivery, Financing Promotions

By Alan Wolf, YSN

There’s no question that the nation’s furniture and mattress dealers have felt the effects of the health crisis more than most independent retailers.

Between closed showrooms, a choked off supply chain and the reluctance of some shoppers to purchase home furnishings sight unseen online, it’s not surprising that revenue for this channel has been taking it on the chin.

But according to a new AVB member survey, conducted in mid-May, furniture dealers are fighting back with extended finance promotions, same- or next-day home delivery and, for those with open storefronts, hours by appointment only.

The challenge, however, is nonetheless daunting. Nearly half of the respondents (45 percent) said sales during the trailing two months were down more than 20 percent compared to last year, while another 18 percent reported a decrease of 20 percent or less.

In contrast, 14 percent of furniture dealers said business was up as much as 20 percent over the past two months, and 11 percent reported increases of more than 20 percent. As one respondent commented, “Business has been fantastic since February 20.”

Contributing to the general downturn were government-mandated showroom closures, as furniture stores were largely classified as “non-essential” during the initial wave of the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly a quarter of respondents (22.5 percent) said their showrooms were closed more than a month; 15.5 percent were closed less than 30 days; and nearly 10 percent were still closed when the surveys went out.

Conversely, more than half (52 percent) of BrandSource furniture dealers said their stores never closed, due ostensibly to the inclusion of appliances in their merchandise mix, which qualified them as essential businesses in most but not all states. Nearly 65 percent of the furniture respondents carry appliances, and 41 percent also sell consumer electronics.

Compounding the problem were weak online sales. Whether due to consumer shopping habits or a lacking web presence, the majority of respondents (30 percent) reported absolutely no e-commerce sales during the trailing 30 days. Almost as many (27 percent) said less than 5 percent of their total sales over the past month were transacted online.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to business has been product availability. Nearly a quarter (22.5 percent) of dealers polled said half or more of the pieces they sought from manufacturers were unavailable, and more than a third (35 percent) said between 20 percent and 50 percent of needed inventory was simply not to be had.

To help counter the multitude of challenges furniture dealers face, a whopping 82 percent offer in-home delivery, using social distancing and other virus mitigation protocols, and fully 97 percent advocated extended financing promotions. Other recommended sales strategies include store messaging (88 percent); a Memorial Day event (77 percent); and reduced pricing (66 percent).

Regardless of sales promotions, most respondents (45 percent) said their average ticket has remained largely unchanged, while 24 percent reported a higher ticket and 20 percent said it is lower.

For those with open showrooms, limiting store hours or allowing access to appointment only appeared to be effective tactics. As one respondent commented, “Since we just opened by appointment only on May 12, we have been extremely busy and are only advertising via BrandSource digital.”

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Other dealers played to their strengths by touting their inventory positions; emphasized same- or next-day delivery; or reminded customers of their status as local and/or family-owned businesses.

Last but certainly not least, respondents listed the safety measures they are taking to limit exposure to coronavirus. Topping the list is spray disinfectant, cited by 81 percent of dealers, followed by masks (79 percent); gloves (65 percent) and acrylic barriers (32 percent). Members also said they “sanitize regularly,” employ antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer, and use protective covers on their floor models.

As one furniture respondent concluded, “We’re just trying to stay alive in these troubling times.”

BrandSource is a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc.