Convention 2020: Ashley’s Rick Coppola Shares Your Inventory Pain

Coppola, left, offered a slew of retail advice to BrandSource’s Seth Weisblatt and the members.

By Seth Weisblatt, AVB/BrandSource

Getting back to “precedented” times was the hope and theme of BrandSource’s exclusive 2020 Convention interview with Rick Coppola, President of North American Sales for Ashley Furniture Industries on Monday. While a welcomed goal, this path may prove to be a long and winding road for Ashley and the greater industry.

Indeed, Ashley is presently experiencing tremendous backlogs, and during our hour-long chat Coppola acknowledged the frustration most furniture retailers are experiencing. The unprecedented surge in demand seems to be coming primarily from the independent retailer channel, he noted, and while that’s a testament to the talents of the BrandSource membership, it has also created a challenge for Ashley to deliver “at least their share of any product that is available,” he said.

Despite allotment issues, Ashley is importing a record number of products. “We currently have 18,000 containers on the water today, putting us in the top-five importers in the U.S.,” Coppola said. To help alleviate inventory constraints for dealers, the company is reviewing options to deliver container loads directly to retail customers that can accept shipments of that size. But the biggest challenge presently facing Ashley is simply receiving the container and cross-docking, in order to distribute the desperately needed goods, he observed.

Coppola added that Ashley is also hiring hundreds of employees each week to increase capacity and ensure that its production lines are staffed-up and operational.

His best advice for ensuring a flow of goods: “Identify the highest-priority orders that go to the top of the list. If you are able to buy containers, we will be happy to work with you and sell you containers directly. And communicate with your customers so any expectations are clear. Also communicate with your marketing specialists.”

On the latter point, Coppola stressed the importance of a digital strategy for retailers that allows a consumer to browse a product completely, while providing as much purchase information as possible, including pricing, whether it’s displayed on the sales floor, and expected delivery dates.

Coppola also offered a list of retailer “musts” that dealers should be focusing on right now. His top six include:

  • You must have a fantastic-looking website. 
  • You must advertise digitally; it’s where the customers are looking! Newspapers and TV spots during the late-night news are not working at all. It’s time to start advertising via social platforms. Just do it!
  • Shoppers visiting your store must experience “customer centricity out the wazoo!”  Make it fun for the customer to buy. Hire people with the best attitude and provide product knowledge and sales skill through training. 
  • Partner with your marketing specialist because the Ashley sales team is more than sales reps — they are constantly trained on marketing tools to help you and your business succeed.
  • You must focus on your average ticket. You need to increase your ticket size without being pushy by understanding your customer; they are tired of shopping around and want to do business in-store with retailers that will best care for their needs.
  • You must know who your competition is.

Coppola’s final words of advice: “Have a great merchandise lineup, have great salespeople, and just constantly focus on your customers’ needs,” he said.

Coppola’s insights clearly connected with the members. As Brian Shealy of Economy Furniture commented, “I had a chance to listen and I was very impressed — he was insightful. I took comfort in the fact that he was very down-to-earth, very truthful and honest.”

“It was clear they are doing all they can at this time, doing the best they can, just like we are,” Shealy continued. “I was very impressed and appreciate the time he took to answer questions even though he was traveling. You don’t see that every day and I thought it was refreshing.”

Click here for a replay of Rick’s interview with Seth Weisblatt.

Seth Weisblatt is Director of Merchandising /Home Furnishings for BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc. He previously served as Executive Vice President at Sam’s Appliance & Furniture and Vice President of Digital Marketing at Ashley Furniture Industries.