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by Dave Garretson
Traditional Furniture Stores
That Score Big With The Futon Concept
Yes, you can have a successful futon department in your furniture store. Four retailers tell you how.
You're a furniture retailer, you're an experienced and able merchant, but you just can't seem to get anywhere with futons. Relax, you are not alone. Most furniture retailers sell futons, but few feel that they are successful in the category.
We talked to some furniture retailers who are successful with futons, and they were willing to share their secrets.
Currie's Furniture no longer has a sleeper department. It's been replaced by the futon department at Karlene and Greg Currie's 20,000 square foot store in Traverse City, Michigan.
"We began five years ago with a single black metal futon model, "explained Karlene Currie. "Then we got into a pine futon frame from a distributor, then we added four models from New West who went out of business. Well, we didn't give up hope. Today we have a complete futon department with ten models, and it's successful. Last year we broke up the sleeper department and there's only one or two sleepers on our floor now. When a customer asks for a sleeper, we're always sure to show them a futon, and we sell them."
Currie's futon sources include August Lotz, SIS Futon Covers, Kimlor Mills, and Southern Textiles. They also buy pine futon frames from a local source and metal futon frames from an importer.
"We advertise futons, so people regard us as the futon specialist," said Currie. We always have an educational futon ad in our TV rotation. It shows futon furniture opening and closing and really explains the whole thing. We work only with USA-made futon furniture products and I think that's the way to go. We had trouble galore with the imported futon wood frames, and it just wasn't worth the headaches."
"Everybody in town footballs the $399 oak arms or the $169 metal futon frame," said Currie. "And we're in there with a competitive price. The other furniture stores are busy with the basic model, and no upgrades, no futon-covers, no variation. Many times their buyers will come to us for the futon-cover.
"Futon covers are very important. SIS will drop ship futon-covers direct to the customer's home, and we push that. When we first started in futon furniture, we got our mattresses in different colors. Big mistake! Now we only do white, we do a good business in futon-covers, and everybody is happier!"
Turrell's Furniture Outlet
At Turrell's Furniture Outlet in Oneonta, New York, Bob Turrell first tried selling futons about eight or nine years ago. "It looked nice," he remembered. "I thought we had something, but it just didn't work. It didn't sell at all, and we dropped it after six months."
Five years ago, he decided to try again. "We brought in the King Koil program and had a little taste of success with futons," said Turrell. "So then we decided to attend the futon trade show, and that's when things really turned around. Once we saw the full range of what was available and what was possible in futons, that was it. Finally, we could see it in person instead of in catalog photos. Before, we didn't know if we had a good product or not."
Today, Turrell shows fourteen futon models, ranging from twin A-frame futon lounger to an oak mission. Suppliers include King Koil, Wolf, Knockdown Frameworks, World Imports, Rockwood Design, and futon-cover vendors Dream On, Lifestyle and Burlington.
Karlene and Greg Currie
of Currie's Furniture
"Our competition is another furniture store and the big box stores," said Turrell. "They'll show one or two futon choices, the cheapest possible thing with a four inch mattress. We offer a better futon product than any of them, and it's not hard to get people to trade up.
"The secret is to show good variety," explained Turrell, "and get away from selling by price alone. We explain that all futons are not created equal. The cheap ones they bought in the past that were uncomfortable, there's a reason, and we're here to point out the difference.
"The average person thinks a futon is something a college student buys for their dorm room. Actually ninety-five percent of the futon furniture we move is sold to home owners. Futon furniture is for the den, made-over basements, or for lake houses. We even had one customer re-do a whole section of her house so she could put in a futon couch with matching chairs, tables and lamps."
"The secret is to show a good variety and get away from selling on price. Futon covers are also very important. That's your entire look. Some customers buy as many as three futon covers, so they can change their decor with the seasons. You can't do that with any other kind of furniture!"
Nebraska Furniture Mart
Is there any furniture store bigger than Nebraska Furniture Mart? The Omaha powerhouse boasts 380,000 square feet of furniture, including futons."Our futon department is a consistent winner," said Carolyn Idle, futon buyer. "We've had double-digit increases every year.
We show about ten futon models in our futon furniture department," explained Idle, "Starting with the basic promotional twenty-nine inch black metal futon frame, and ranging all the way up to oak. Oak has a lot of perceived value in our area, and we've had better luck with oak than with the Asian hardwoods. "Our futon department is set up in room groups with tables, slip-covers, etc. We stock slip-covers and many customers give us repeat business, coming back to us for more. We're the place they think of for that.
"Futon covers are absolutely essential. They differentiate futon sofa-beds from sleepers, because you have a very affordable way to redecorate. For $139, you can re-cover your futon with a top-of-the-line futon cover, as opposed to paying eight hundred bucks for a new sleeper. This makes futon furniture very attractive."
But isn't NFM concerned about futons eating into their sleeper business?
"Sleepers have been declining for years," explained Idle. "There are always those customers who want it, and we have them, but there are a lot of negatives. They are uncomfortable, hell to move, expensive to re-cover. For us, futons make up for those lost sleeper sales and provide better margins, too." NFM's futon suppliers include Gold Bond, Big Tree, Coaster, BJ Mountain, Primo, Crown, and Cottonworks.
"We believe in a lot of staff training, and we take advantage of whatever our factory reps can do for us. Actually I wish our futon lines did more of that for us. Many times I do the training myself," said Idle.
Carolyn Idle's advice to you, if you wish to improve your futon sales?
"Think of futons as another family room sleeper and treat it like that, merchandise it like that. Treat futons like furniture, not like some foreign alien thing that's in the corner of the showroom. If you think it's a weird novelty fad item, that's how your customer will think of it too. Who wants some foreign weird thing in their home?"
Dabbs Furniture of Greensboro, NC has been family-owned for over fifty years.
"We were one of the first furniture stores to sell futons," said owner David Dabbs. "Futon furniture is a great alternative to sleeper sofas, they sleep twice as good and they're not as heavy to move around."
The 24,000 foot store features a futon department with about a dozen futon sofa-bed models, featuring products from Hickory Springs, New Energy, Coaster, Bluestone Mills, and Island Futon.
"When customers are looking at sleepers, if they're not seeing what they want, we switch them to futons," said Dabbs. "Nine out of ten will say ‘What's a futon?' but after we show them, they'll usually switch. More variety, better price, better movability-wise, and just nice over all. "The key is selection, prices, inventory, futon slip-covers. The stock is here, the price is right, and we stand behind everything we sell with a one year warranty on everything, regardless of what the manufacturer does.
"Nice futon covers, you need those. Pillow packs are a pretty good deal.
"These futons are perfect for family rooms, beach houses, vacation houses, office rooms. We had a lady customer, she bought a futon sofa-bed and got rid of the queen sized bed that hogged up her guest room. Now she can still have company come over, but the rest of the time she uses the room as her office.
"We've been selling futons for ten years, but just two years ago I learned my biggest lesson. Move up, up in your pricing, upper end in your quality. Two years ago our futons were low to medium priced, and our highest ticket was $399. We upgraded everything, and now we're getting $699 to $799 all the time. You just have to show them where the value is."