HFA members find eager buyers as they reopen

entrance to Coconis

Home Furnishings Association members preparing to reopen their stores might be encouraged by others who preceded them. After waiting more than a month when his doors were shut because of state orders, Bo Coconis wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened his family’s furniture store in Zanesville, Ohio, this month.

It didn’t take long for Coconis to get his answer. On the first day back with 12 appointment-only customers, the sales staff at Coconis Furniture & Mattress 1st enjoyed an 80 percent close rate. The next day was even better — 92 percent. Not bad for a store that historically has an average close rate of about 35 to 40 percent.

“We were blown away by the response,” Coconis says. “It was steady business because we spread out the appointments and everything went so smoothly. We couldn’t be happier with the results.”

Across the state in Lima, Sheely’s also reopened to customers by appointment only with similar success. Manager Jeff Curry says the close rate over the first weekend in May was “about 96 to 98 percent — just phenomenal.”

Furniture is essential to customers

The success both stores enjoyed proves that furniture retail truly is a an essential business, as HFA members have argued throughout the nationwide shutdown. But even more important, the first-week sales showed there’s a pent-up demand for furniture by consumers who spent the past two months at home.

Industry analyst Jerry Epperson says furniture retailers just starting to reopen can expect similar results from consumers who have been under lockdown in their homes and apartments while the nation tried to bring the coronavirus under control. “They’re seeing that maybe furniture really is essential and their buying habits reflect that,” says Epperson. “Nobody expects this to last, but retailers need to be ready for this kind of demand when they do reopen.”

“Nobody’s predicting this is going to last because, well, it just can’t,” says Coconis. “But we’re going to take advantage of this spike for as long as we can and help our customers out.”

Curbside delivery and lots of cleaning

Both stores are offering curbside delivery, one of many changes as they try to meet their customers’ heightened safety concerns. It starts in the morning when employees are screened with forehead temperature readings. It continues with an attendant at the front door limiting the number of people in the store. And throughout the day, both stores are busy with a very public cleaning of surfaces, bathrooms and furniture.

Curry says the cleaning is not just for show at Sheely’s. “We don’t just want to look like we’re safe to the public. We want to be safe. We need to be safe, but at the same time it’s important to show them we are practicing what we preach.”

That same mindfulness of a clean store is what customers see when they first enter Coconis Furniture, where signage asks customers to wear a mask and practice social distancing throughout the store. There’s even a sanitizing station at the front for customers to use coming and going. “People are just now getting back into the world,” says Coconis. “We want to make them feel as comfortable and safe as we possibly can.”

Messaging should be serious, not gimmicky

That feeling of security is going to go a long way with customers looking for a safe environment to shop. Marketing consultant John Graham says retailers need to come out of this pandemic with new messaging that’s not gimmicky. “It’s less about having the best-this or the easiest-financing-that and more about what you are doing to look after the needs of your customers. That’s the only way you’re going to get them into your store. They need to know you’re looking out for them and not just trying to make a sale.”

Epperson says consumers are going to be in a buying mode this summer. “At least the ones who can afford to be,” he says. “But they want that security. They don’t expect to go back into your store the way they used to. We might not see that type of thinking from consumers for a long, long time — maybe years. But they do need to feel safe.”

Coconis knows sales will eventually drop, so he and his staff are doing everything to accommodate customers today. The adage of making hay while the sun shines is appropriate. “As long as they’re coming in and being safe and practical, we’re going to do our best to help them out,” he says. “That’s really no different than it was before we closed.”

[HFA’s COVID-19 Recovery Resources]

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