Furniture CEOs vow to reclaim sales from online competitors

HFA's Mark Schumacher speaks to attendees of the CEO Summit, made up of Top 100 retailers

The country’s top furniture retailers say they’ve given away too many sales to big, online vendors, and it’s time to win them back.

That was the consensus reached during the first business session today at the Home Furnishings Association’s CEO Summit in Pebble Beach, Calif. The event attracted 50 owners, presidents and chief executives of Top 100 furniture retailers, who collectively operate thousands of brick-and-mortar stores.

The CEO Summit was convened to address challenges that impact HFA members of all sizes, with the intent of finding solutions all can implement in their own stores. Participants shared a remarkable determination to advance the entire industry, HFA Executive Vice President Mark Schumacher observed.

Schumacher and Keith Koenig, CEO of City Furniture, led an opening discussion with Eric Rea, CEO of Podium, and Laura Khoury, CEO of Shoptelligence, examining online disruptions from giant retailers such as Amazon and Wayfair. Executives agreed the first mistake of in-store retailers was to concede small, introductory sales to online competitors, as those first purchases often lead to larger ones.  The lesson learned is to meet that competition head-on.

‘We need to take the street back’

Succeeding in that effort requires retailers to claim the advantage of the in-store experience, where most customers still want to touch and feel furniture before they buy. But to succeed, they must win other battles: meeting customers in their preferred online channels, pulling them through the door, offering easy transactions and getting home delivery exactly right.

“We need to take the street back,” was one comment that expressed the mood of the CEOs, Schumacher said.

Today’s second panel turned to an economic forecast, led by Tony Foster, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Synchrony, and Peter Keith, principal and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. The outlook is positive, as consumers are generally confident and willing to spend. There are few signs of a recession ahead. The main concern stems from worries about government policy – particularly any escalation in tariffs and the trade war with China.

This conversation also turned to online competition, however. Even if consumer spending continues to climb, the fight for market share between online and brick-and-mortar is likely to intensify.

The CEO Summit’s opening day was “an amazing first step for the industry,” Schumacher said – and not just for those present. It will generate strategies that all HFA members can use to increase business in their stores.

Look for daily updates on HFA channels and in-depth coverage in the HFA’s next Insights Magazine.

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