Business Issues  

How To Skin A Cat

By Joseph F. Carroll

…today’s consumer is looking for Selection, Inspiration and Value.

WE HAVE AN OLD SAYING, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” In case you do not have an equivalent expression in Chinese or your local language, I am not advocating animal cruelty. I am referring to the fact that success can be achieved in many different ways.

At the meeting I attended last year, two retailers, participating in a panel discussion on New Retail Formats, shared some of the innovative ways they had found to compete in today’s complex world of furniture retailing.

Larry Klaben, president and CEO of Morris Furniture, with 21 stores in Ohio, opened the discussion by asking “What do consumers want when shopping for home furnishings?” I was silently answering the question to myself, “Look, Comfort, Price” - a formula I have heard for many years. Instead, Larry said he had hired a research organization to conduct a survey and learned that today’s consumer is looking for Selection, Inspiration and Value.

People today are looking for something exciting; something that will save them time and money. Based on this input, Klaben created a store called Morris Home Center. He is providing one-stop shopping by putting 5 stores under one roof. There is an Ashley Home store, a sleep shop that carries his own brand of mattresses, a 18,000 m2 home furnishings store, an electronics store and the “Morris Back Room” for bargain hunters. Each store has its own sales force. The stores are connected with coordinated facades and entrances, common interior pathways, easy directional signage, exciting branding and vendor signage with bright, open display areas.

In the Ashley store, all displays are in collections. The Better Sleep Shop carries leading brands of mattresses in addition to the Morris store brand. The main store is called “Making Homes Great” and carries of full range of wood furniture and upholstery. Within the store is a Design Center for custom orders. There are designers to assist the customers. The electronics store, called Morris Big TV, can be accessed from the main store. It carries the major brand big screen TV’s. 50% of the furniture sold in the Back Room is especially purchased; the other 50% comes from the main store. Morris’ highly successful advertising campaign states the premise very simply,

More Style, More Selections, More Savings.... More For You”.

The next retailer to speak was Michael Bay, founder of the Merinos Home Furnishings warehouses. Michael told the audience a very touching story of how he came to be in the furniture business and how he developed his own style of retailing. He was born in a small village in Turkey near the border with Syria. The family was very poor. His father was a farmer. His home had no indoor plumbing. Michael felt he could do something to have a better life. After high school he went to London and worked as a dishwasher. He saved enough money to return to Turkey and started his own business selling frozen meat. Then the Mad Cow disease broke out and his business came to a standstill. From watching American movies he saw the USA as a place he could succeed. He came here in the early 2000’s. His first job was selling cast iron furniture imported from Egypt. He traveled in his car all over the United States averaging 193,000 kilometers a year.

During his travels he had lots of opportunities to see how home furnishings were being sold in different regions of the country. He observed the problems different size retailers were experiencing and what made some successful. He discovered that almost always the main problem was lack of selection and the high cost of real estate. He also realized that the internet would soon play a major role in changing the way accessories were sold but would influence the sale of furniture to a lesser extent. He believed that big selection, instant availability of goods and the best prices available in the marketplace would be the key to success. Of course, maintaining a large inventory and selling at low prices requires extra investments and costs. He made the decision that certain expenses should be eliminated to offer the best prices and huge selection. His first step was to keep basic operating costs such as rent, heating and air conditioning, to a minimum. He believed that many customers know what they want and come to the store having already made price comparisons with their smart phones.

This faith in the customer’s ability to discern value made him decide to simplify the shopping experience even further. In the Merinos stores there are very few sales people. Those who are there do not bother the customers except when the customer asks for assistance. There is absolutely no sales pressure. Customers are even encouraged to delay making their purchase until they have had time to do their research. Michael strongly believes that honesty and building long-term relationships with his customers is the key to success.

Michael’s vision statement sums this up: “Our goal is to offer people a great shopping experience by offering a wide array of quality products at the best available prices and service in the market. We have destination stores that are not limited to home furnishings, that are unique, fun to shop and great places for an entire family to spend quality time.”

These are the strategies of just two of the dozens of retailers who attended the conference. Each is very successful, but with entirely different concepts. Each has figured out his own way of how to “skin a cat.” With all the new ways to sell furniture we see developing we may have to change our other ‘old saying’ that a cat only has nine lives.

former Publisher of Furniture/Today, is co-founder of the International Alliance of Furnishings Publications. He is an international marketing consultant. He can be reached at joecarroll@