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Feathers Adjusts To Shoppers' Nesting Needs

Jeff Mulert has adaptedJeff Mulert has adapted his Pittsburgh specialty shop Feathers to keep up with a changing retail landscape.
PITTSBURGH - With his extensive experience in luxury linens retailing, there is one thing in particular that has served Jeff Mulert well: adapting.
     During nearly three decades of working in high-end linens, most of that time owning and operating his specialty shop Feathers, Mulert has mastered the art of adapting to the ever changing landscape, especially in recessionary times.
     In recent years, Mulert has steered Feathers into new business strategies, creating a new private label program and layering in new product categories, among other efforts.
     But he has been adapting since the beginning.
     "After graduating from college I opened up my own antique business, wanting to be an entrepreneur," Mulert told HTT. "But I soon realized I needed a real job, and ended up getting one with Gimbels [now-defunct Gimbel Brothers department stores], and over my five years there I worked as a department manager, an assistant manager and buyer."
     From there, he went to work for Altmeyer's BedBathHome in Pittsburgh. At the age of 29, Mulert opted to return to running his own retail operation, opening a Scandia Down [today known as Scandia Home] franchised shop. That was 1984.
     "I did it highly leveraged, and the first store we did, here on Walnut Street, was a success right away," Mulert recalled. "From there we opened one additional location and bettered the square footage."
     For the next eight years, Mulert operated a Scandia Down store locally. He left the franchise in 1992 to open Feathers.
     "I still carry Scandia product to this day. But since then we have expanded into other categories."
     Marking its 21st anniversary this year, Feathers today offers a carefully curated assortment of home goods that centers on top-of-bed and sheeting but also includes other categories, from luxury lingerie through fine furniture pieces - an expanded offering that has gradually grown in line with market trends.
     Feathers started with high end down products, but Mulert quickly expanded the assortment to include better linens in bedding, bath and table. Feathers has experienced its share of tough times over the years. Mulert owned and operated a second Feathers unit near the flagship shop for four years in Sewickley, Pa. But he closed it when the economy went south in 2009.Feathers
     Over the years, Feathers has made a niche for itself in fashion top-of-bed products, as the sheeting segment has increasingly become a more competitive business.
     "Sheeting is more highly competitive and it has become more of a commodity product," he explained. "This is the big story right now. In purveying other brands as a small retailer, it is difficult for us to compete with a NeimanMarcus.com, where they are selling the same brands as we carry. So we are finding the exclusivity in private label. It allows us to offer something unique in our store while still keeping very competitive prices. My plan is to gradually go toward more private label product in basic sheeting."
     Feathers first launched the private-label, high-end sheet program four years ago in partnership with Italian fine linens house RB Casa. The line started out with 600-count Egyptian cotton sateen hemstitch sheets in white and ivory.
     As this basic offering has grown in sales and popularity among Feathers' customer base, the store recently unveiled its first extension of the program to reach more competitive price points. The new assortment comprises 300-count Egyptian cotton sateen sheets featuring a double stripe accent on flat sheets and cases.
     Feathers is now looking at expanding again, with the addition of another 300-count grouping featuring a solid hemstitch. Because "white and ivory make up 85% of business," he added, "we're sticking with only these two colors in terms of stocking."
     Price points begin at $300 for the 300-count sheets and begin at $500 for the 600-count varieties.
     Mulert said Feathers customers "know us very well, and know we have been the high-end linens store in Pittsburgh for many years. They want fine Italian sheets of excellent quality at very competitive prices. So instead of having them go on the smartphone after they leave our store to find out who else has a private sale or is offering a coupon for same goods, we are now able to offer our own Feathers-branded collection that they know and trust, and they feel good about the service and commitment we give them."
     The top-of-bed category "is where we show our fashion," he said. "It's how we can knock people out when they come in the store. And that is our goal - knock them out with gorgeous top-of-bed duvets and coverlets and shams."
     Mulert said that over the store's many years in existence, it has carried a lot of vendors. "We've tried pretty much everybody. I've been around so long, we're very knowledgeable here about products in better bedding."
     Key vendors include Yves Delorme, Schlossberg, Sferra, Anichini, SDH, Missoni, and Scandia. Their products are merchandised on the store's four display beds and in other vignettes throughout the 1,500-squarefoot floor plan.
     Accounting for about 60% of Feathers' total business, bedding is "still our bread and butter," Mulert said. "And we're working now toward building a narrower assortment of top of bed that is fashion driven and focused."
     Other segments, by dominance in sales, include: bath at about 12%; lingerie/loungewear at about 10%; and the remaining 18% comprises table lines, rugs and the fledgling furniture business.
     Feathers has lately experienced high growth rate in the luxury lingerie and loungewear business. Originally, Feathers only carried robes, but then two years ago Mulert layered in some fashion sleepwear, lingerie and loungewear items, like tunics.
     "It's growing quickly," he said. Vendors and brands include Pluto, Yves Delorme, Gretchen Scott, John Robshaw and Yala Designs.
     Rugs and furniture also represent newer business segments for Feathers, as Mulert looks to remain relevant to its customers and new high-tech generations of shoppers.
     Helping him move into these segments was Company C.
     "We started out with their sheet sets and duvet covers in 2007, and as they have expanded into furniture, we have added their furniture to our mix," he explained. "We also included some of their rugs. That has helped us expand into these categories."
Manufacturers including YvesManufacturers including Yves Delorme, Schlossberg, Sferra, Anichini, SDH, Missoni, and Scandia are represented at Feathers.

     Feathers also carries rugs from Surya.
     Aside from Company C, Feathers' only other furniture source currently is Matouk for new upholstered headboards. These pieces are featured on the four display beds.
     Finally, in time for the season, Feathers has added yet another category - melamine casual outdoor tabletop from Le Cadeaux.
     "We're doing very well with it so far," Mulert said. "It hits a lower price point than we normally carry, but it is the only hard tabletop product we have right now."
     Marketing is also an area Mulert is giving attention, accelerating Feathers' social media activity and expanding its online presence.
     "The most significant change that I have witnessed in 29 years of purveying fine linens and down [bedding products] is the competition from online sales. Wholesalers sell directly to my customers. Their ability to provide the quickest fulfillment to a customer gives them a huge edge in providing better service. Typically, the first place an informed customer searches is the brand's website," he said.
     Feathers is responding by improving online capabilities, adding product categories, taking advantage of ‘private' sales that a vendor may offer and cultivating customer relationships.
     "In other words," said Mulert, "a retailer must be the best purveyor of their goods on the planet."

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