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Scattered Thoughts from a Scattered Brain

July 2, 2010
About two months ago, I lamented in my blog that some manufacturers were beginning to sell directly to consumers by developing Internet stores. I felt this was a “knee-jerk” reaction and that there were better ways to increase distribution. In the past week, two manufacturers have proven me right.

 

Brown Jordan announced this week that they have engaged German furniture designer Mathias Hoffman to design collections targeting the design community and trade professionals. As I said in my blog, Brown Jordan is testing international waters in the hopes of finding new distribution overseas. Perhaps just as important, they think this will open their eyes to new design aesthetics they can incorporate into their product line. You can see some of Hoffman’s extraordinary designs at his web site. It is clear these designs are going to appeal more to designers and the hospitality industry. These are huge markets that hold a lot of potential for any manufacturer.

 

I also said in my blog that there must be other avenues of distribution besides the Internet that should be explored. Agio was way ahead of me. Unless you get trade mags for the interior furniture market, though, you might have missed what they are doing. They are taking out full-page ads in these venues with the headline: “If you’re not selling OUTDOORS, you’re leaving money on the table.” The ad goes on to explain the outdoors segment is a big and profitable category.

 

It wasn’t too long ago that outdoor reps looked for three types of stores in a city to sell their wares, specialty, furniture, and department. Many furniture and department stores abandoned the category several years ago. However, now that furniture stores are making a comeback (poor babies, they have had a rough time of it over the past two years), placement there seems natural. In additional, several department stores, Macy’s and Dillard’s come to mind since they have stores here in New Orleans, have gone back into outdoor with happy results.

 

We specialty storeowners might not be happy to have additional competition. However, I would rather compete against a brick and mortar furniture store or department store instead of some amorphous Internet retailer. At least their pricing policies will be competitive, not predatory.

 

Couldn’t finish this blog without mentioning the upcoming Chicago Casual Pre-market. I didn’t attend last year. The economy was just too bad to justify going on a buying trip where I wasn’t planning to buy anything. I have been going religiously to this market since its inception. In fact, it had become sort of a religious thing for me and, like praying at night, I didn’t know if it was doing any good or not, but I was afraid of the consequences if I stopped. Now that I realize I am not going to be struck down dead by a vengeful God for not attending, I don’t think I would have gone this year even if the economy had been better or was predicted to be better next year.

I can’t decide how relevant pre-market is anymore. We are all writing smaller early buys; opting instead to give broader product placement to fewer manufacturers and depending on quick ship programs. In addition, with several large manufacturers (read Brown Jordan and Winston) not actively participating in the pre-market, there is more reason to go to market in September rather than July.

 

This is a very hard decision for me. When I was discussing the market with one of my reps last week he said many of his SMALLER dealers weren’t going. Whether he meant to or not, the take away was that he (and probably a lot of other reps and manufacturers) looks at non-attendees to this market as small potatoes. Quite an ego buster! So I have to weigh the cost and possible return of this market against the impression my reps are going to have of my store after this. If I am “small potatoes” are they going to start looking for bigger players? Whether they find a bigger player or not, in the process of looking, they might find someone to sell to they hadn’t considered before. I don’t know, that why I always sign off as,

 

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce