Happy holidays? Retailers hope for big Black Friday and beyond


HIGH POINT — While in some circles the holiday sales season kicked off when the calendar turned to November, the weekend after Thanksgiving is when it really begins picking up steam.

Home furnishings retailers are hopeful that this year’s holiday season — including Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — puts a nice bow on what has been an uneven year.

Signs indicate that they might be in for good tidings. According to a survey of 2,000 American shoppers from UserTesting, which specializes in video-based human insight, 63% of Black Friday shoppers say in-store shopping is a tradition, 43% of Black Friday shoppers miss the chaos of in-store Black Friday shopping, and 42% say in-store shopping is more important now than pre-pandemic.

The National Retail Federation forecast that holiday retail sales during November and December will grow between 6% and 8% above 2021 to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, noted that when consumers hit stores (or websites) they’re on the hunt for bargains.

“We know consumers are looking for deals and discounts in the face of higher energy prices and housing prices,” Shay said during a recent presentation. “We know they’re looking for those opportunities and we think that will continue into the holiday season.”

More traditional shopping cycles

Many of the home furnishings industry’s Black Friday sales kicked off well ahead of the actual holiday. Take Syracuse, N.Y.-based Dunk & Bright, which kicked off its holiday campaign mid-month. Owner Joe Bright believes it’s going to be big for the two-store retailer, as consumers are getting back into more traditional shopping cycles.

“I think it’s going to be a huge sale for us. We’ve noticed in our business at least that the customer has gone back to being driven by promotions, especially at holidays,” Bright said. “These big holidays roll around — Labor Day, Columbus Day, Black Friday — and traffic is through the roof. For the two years preceding that, you had to say you’re open and customers come in. Now they’re seeking deals, and if they wait until these holidays, they’ll find the best deal.”

Bright said Dunk & Bright has doorbusters on select products, including some recliners for $329, sectionals for $899 and sofas for $359. He said from there consumers will find plenty more to buy.

“The goal is to sell other product at a normal markup as well. As long as you get the customer in the door, good things happen,” he said.

Bright said with a second store added this year, Dunk & Bright isn’t in dire straits when it comes to its assortment. “I’m not overstocked. I have more space in my warehouse than I’ve had in probably a year. We’re increasing what we’re buying. We have the space, and customers want items in stock,” he said.

‘Great Furniture Reset’

Top 100 retailer Conn’s HomePlus is also in a solid stock position said Norm Miller, interim president and CEO.

“From an inventory perspective, Conn’s is in a good position, and that has allowed us to implement new initiatives to help rethink our merchandising strategy,” Miller said. “In addition to bringing in more color and fabric options across our products for shoppers to choose from, one thing we have been working on this year is a concept we call the Great Furniture Reset, which a new way of looking at layouts and displays within our stores.”

To illustrate what the Great Furniture Reset means, Miller said Conn’s is taking a more balanced approach when it comes to styles and sizes in the furniture area, as well as diversification with furniture combinations, and it launched specific home décor categories.

“That means that if a customer is looking for specific items like lamps, tabletops and more, they can find these items by themselves or paired with furniture,” he said.

Among Conn’s holiday deals, Miller noted 50% off select furniture and mattresses, as well as 35% off select Samsung products and black tag appliances. He said the brand’s exclusive Dreamspot mattress will have its lowest price of the year, and it’s got plenty of financing choices and layaway options.

He said a lot of the deals kicked off early this month, as Conn’s has high hopes for the holiday season.

“Conn’s has always placed a major emphasis on the holiday season, and like most retailers, it’s our busiest and most important time of year,” Miller said. “While furniture and mattresses are not historically popular Black Friday categories, we also offer electronics like TVs, appliances and computers, which differentiates us from other furniture retailers.

“This year, shoppers are preparing for the holiday season earlier than ever and are looking for more value and discounts. For that reason, we’re offering Black Friday deals throughout the entire month of November.”

Sticking with advertising that works

As it gets ready for its big holiday push, Harkness Furniture takes its traditional spot front and center in Thanksgiving Day advertising. For years, the Tacoma, Wash.-based retailer has had a print spot that wraps around the actual paper, putting all eyes on Harkness first thing.

“It works out well because we’ve done this oversized circular for years and years,” owner Dave Harkness said. “Because it’s oversized, once we print it, that becomes the wrap. Target and Walmart and the others are inside our wrap; to get to those, you have to get through us. The Thanksgiving Day paper is the best-read paper of the year.”

This year, Harkness’ sale includes storewide discounts ranging from 22% to 68% off, with a number of hot buys. Harkness said while the discounts move merchandise, there’s also plenty of other product in store that gets bought up during these sales, and that’s what makes them successful.

“If one thing COVID taught us is you don’t have to be low price all the time or drop prices on things,” Harkness said. “We’re in a fairly competitive metropolitan marketplace. We’re never going to be the lowest, so we tend to do our own thing. We’re not slugging it out with the majors.”

He said he’s hopeful that Harkness can do most of its holiday business by mid-December, breathing some life into what is a weak month traditionally. And while he’s not expecting anything approaching the record sales of the past couple of years, Harkness is hopeful that things will end on a high note, relative to normal business.

“The past two years have been such an anomaly, we’ve gone back to comparing ourselves with 2019,” he said. “We figure 2020, 2021, even the first half of 2022, we’re not going to see those numbers in the future. We’re still doing well if we can improve over 2019, which was a record year we’re doing well.”

Clearing out inventory

In Houston, Top 100 retailer Exclusive Furniture isn’t banking another 2021 any time soon, but CEO Sam Zavary said there are lots of reasons to go into the holiday season with optimism.

“Black Friday will be better than 2019. Everybody has realized that it’s not going to be as good as 2021. Thanksgiving is always one of these times people want to buy furniture,” Zavary said. “I feel like this holiday season, people are going to buy furniture because they want their families to get together. People are already traveling and some have missed holidays for a while. I think the business is going to be decent.”

Zavary said getting rid of ill fits is also of Exclusive’s strategy this for the holiday campaign. “We’re burning through this stuff we need to. Everybody is probably looking to get rid of some of that inventory. I’m going to do that with stuff that I’m very heavily stocked with,” he said. “That’s bad news in one way; margins will suffer, but at the end of the day we need to get rid of this old inventory and wacky inventory.”

He said while selling those items might not be best for margin, they create opportunities in warehouse space and cash. Zavary said, with cash on hand, retailers position themselves to weather the shakiest of times. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see leaner days once the holiday hustle and bustle is over.

“I feel the elephant in the room is the economy. It is what it is,” Zavary said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to get my cash out. If have enough cash, you’ll be able to go through this. I feel like business will take a dip, but if you don’t pay attention, it’s not going to be a good one.”

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