FTS’s new Las Vegas Market showroom connotes its commitment to the independent furniture dealer.

FTS is out to tame the home furnishings frontier

By Alan Wolf, YSN

By its very nature, the roughly $124 billion U.S. furniture industry is a fractured marketplace filled with tens of thousands of retailers, manufacturers, importers, factories, brands, categories … and, of course, products.

Add in the diversity of custom colors, accents and finishes for a single piece, and you can begin to understand the overwhelming task that independent furniture dealers face in cataloging their assortments and building a marketplace presence.

Enter AVB and its BrandSource-powered furniture solution, FTS (Furniture Technology Source). Over the past decade, the buying group has built a formidable arsenal of e-commerce, digital marketing and retail operational tools, designed initially for appliance dealers. Now, under the direction of AVB’s Executive Leadership Team, those assets are being deployed within the furniture business by FTS, which is becoming a force to be reckoned with in home furnishings.

Leading the charge is AVB’s General Manager/Home Furnishings Michael Posa, who sees FTS’s mission as “providing a turnkey platform of retail solutions that are laser-focused on the independent furniture dealer.” That means bringing to bear all the skills, talents and resources of the $24 billion buying group, which has established a long track record of market share growth in home goods, through good times and bad.

For FTS, those assets are divided into three core areas, or pillars: retail solutions, marketing and technology. The first, retail solutions, can be considered table stakes for an effective buying organization, and include such fundamental services as competitive vendor merchandising programs, credit card processing, and consumer and wholesale finance.

What distinguishes BrandSource’s offering, however, goes back to the conception of the group more than half a century ago. AVB was founded as a member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative, and just like the old American Express commercials claimed, membership has its privileges. A prime example is AVB’s in-house floor planning unit, BrandSource Financial. Participating dealers pay no interest on inventory financing and receive annual cash distributions that typically average thousands of dollars per member.

But BrandSource takes its commitment further with comprehensive programs for members’ service operations (ServiceSource) and HR functions (HRSource). As with FTS, these specialty services are supported with tactical guides, industry partnerships and dedicated town halls and newsletters to keep members ahead of the curve. And speaking of newsletters, BrandSource also keeps its members in the know with YourSource News and its quarterly sister magazine.

BrandSource further distances itself from the pack through marketing, as provided by AVB Marketing (AVBM), the group’s world-class, member-owned ad agency. A leader in advertising, e-commerce and digital marketing, AVBM has developed a hyper-effective, omnichannel array of advertising programs and social media messaging that can be customized for furniture dealers to cut through the marketplace clutter.

Moreover, as a Google Premier Partner — an exclusive designation for a select number of digital agencies worldwide — AVB Marketing receives Google’s best resources and insights, and its members-only clients are first in line for the company’s beta programs and innovations. Among the many collaborations between the partners was “Home Furnishings Insights,” a complimentary three-part webinar series presented by Google and AVBM on furniture shoppers’ shifting buying habits, the power of video content and how to create a fourth-quarter playbook.

Perhaps the greatest point of differentiation within home furnishings, however, is the proprietary technology that AVBM brings to the table. It begins with the group’s state-of-the-art e-commerce platform, which achieved record transactions, order counts and online conversions for BrandSource’s furniture members over the past two years and is positioned to continue outperforming their big-box and independent rivals.

Tailored to the unique needs of furniture dealers, the websites are faster, more Google-friendly and easier to shop than the competition, and are continuously updated by AVBM’s in-house developers and marketers, who input hundreds of thousands of SKUs, specs, images and reviews to populate web pages and drive traffic.

Other popular website features include:

  • Sorting products by popularity
  • Flagging in-stock or on-sale items
  • Creating custom product packages
  • Payment gateways with “apply-and-buy” financing
  • On-the-fly price updates to meet or beat competitors’ offers
  • Presenting high-margin accessories at checkout

What’s more, AVBM offers a full suite of technology products, or MTEQ, that can seamlessly integrate members’ every merchandising element. According to AVBM product manager Rich Lindblom, these include:

  • LINQ, which feeds a dealer’s entire product catalog to his or her website and pushes out the latest pricing for every SKU
  • SYNC, a proprietary, cloud-based point-of-sale system developed specifically for BrandSource members to track sales, service, inventory and parts all in one place
  • HUB, a customer relationship management tool (CRM) that provides text messaging or email communication between dealer and customer for quotes, purchases and payments

BrandSource furniture dealers can enhance their in-store shopping experience as well with the use of AVB KIOSQs and digital price tags. The KIOSQs, Lindblom said, are freestanding touchscreen displays, configured specifically for home furnishings, that customers can use to browse hundreds of brands and catalogs, filter choices, build packages and create shopping carts, while the SES-imagotag price tags provide product information and up-to-the-minute pricing that’s pushed through by LINQ.

All told, said FTS’s Posa, “Our goal is to provide furniture dealers with solutions — and to simplify the process of promoting their business — through the digital platforms and technology we offer.”

Dealers, vendors, decorators and other members of the trade can experience FTS’s merchandising and marketing might firsthand this weekend at the launch of the interactive Experience Center, the group’s first permanent showroom at the Las Vegas Market. For more information and to RSVP, please click here.

YSN publisher AVB BrandSource is the nation’s largest merchandising and marketing co-op for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.

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