Retail Observer

November 2020

The Retail Observer is an industry leading magazine for INDEPENDENT RETAILERS in Major Appliances, Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings

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NOVEMBER 2020 RETAILOBSERVER.COM 53 ASHLEY SALES PREZ RICK COPPOLA TALKS SUPPLY CHAIN CHALLENGES WITH AVB G etting back to "precedented" times was the hope and theme of an exclusive AVB interview with Rick Coppola, president of North American sales for Ashley Furniture Industries, streamed during the buying group's recent 2020 Virtual Convention. While a welcome goal, this path may prove to be a long and winding road for Ashley and the greater home furnishings industry. Indeed, Ashley is presently experiencing tremendous backlogs, and during my hour-long chat with Coppola he acknowledged the frustrations most furniture retailers were experiencing. The unprecedented surge in demand seems to be coming primarily from the independent retailer channel, he noted, and while that's a testament to the talents of the AVB membership, it has also created a challenge for Ashley to deliver "at least their share of any product that is available," he said. Despite allotment issues, Ashley is importing a record number of products. "We currently have 18,000 containers on the water today, putting us in the top-five importers in the U.S.," Coppola said. To help alleviate inventory constraints for dealers, the company is reviewing options to deliver container loads directly to retail customers that can accept shipments of that size. But the biggest challenge presently facing Ashley is simply receiving the container and cross-docking in order to distribute the desperately needed goods, he observed. Coppola added that Ashley is also hiring hundreds of employees each week to increase capacity and ensure that its production lines are staffed-up and operational. But the retention bonuses and higher wages Ashley is paying to keep workers on the job, combined with higher transportation and raw materials costs, forced the company to impose an average 4 percent price hike on most of its products effective last month, as reported by Home News Now. Coppola's best advice to retailers to ensure a flow of goods: "Identify the highest-priority orders that go to the top of the list. If you are able to buy containers, we will be happy to work with you and sell you containers directly. And communicate with your customers so any expectations are clear. Also communicate with your marketing specialists." On the latter point, Coppola stressed the importance of a digital strategy that allows consumers to browse a product completely while providing as much purchase information as possible, including pricing, whether it's displayed on the sales floor, and expected delivery dates. Coppola also offered a list of retailer "musts" that dealers should be focusing on right now. His top six include: • You must have a fantastic-looking website. • You must advertise digitally; it's where the customers are looking! Newspapers and TV spots during the late-night news are not working at all. It's time to start advertising via social platforms. Just do it! • Shoppers visiting your store must experience "customer centricity out the wazoo!" Make it fun for the customer to buy, he said. Hire people with the best attitude and provide product knowledge and sales skill through training. • Partner with your marketing specialist, because the Ashley sales team is more than sales reps – they are constantly trained on marketing tools to help you and your business succeed. • You must focus on your average ticket, he advised. You need to increase your ticket size without being pushy by understanding your customer; they are tired of shopping around and want to do business in-store with retailers that will best care for their needs. • You must know who your competition is. Coppola's final words of advice: "Have a great merchandise lineup, have great salespeople, and just constantly focus on your customers' needs," he said. Coppola's insights clearly connected with AVB's member dealers. As Brian Shealy of Economy Furniture commented, "I had a chance to listen and I was very impressed – he was insightful. I took comfort in the fact that he was very down-to-earth, very truthful and honest." "It was clear they are doing all they can at this time, doing the best they can, just like we are," Shealy continued. "I was very impressed and appreciate the time he took to answer questions even though he was traveling. You don't see that every day, and I thought it was refreshing." Seth Weisblatt Furniture Trends RO Seth Weisblatt is Director of Merchandising /Home Furnishings for BrandSource, a unit of AVB Inc. He previously served as Executive Vice President at Sam's Appliance & Furniture and Vice President of Digital Marketing at Ashley Furniture Industries.

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