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Why Can't the Home Furnishings Business Have More Innovation?

Bert Shlensky GUEST COLUMNISTBert Shlensky Guest Columnist
OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, according to HTT surveys, the home furnishings industry has declined from $24 billion to $23 billion while Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl's, JCPenney and Bed Bath & Beyond have increased share from 52% to 57% of the top 50 retailers.
     In contrast, the market lost more than $2 billion in sales from JCPenney, Sears, Kmart and Linens 'n Things. This excludes Internet-only retailers like CSN stores, Amazon and Overstock, which have probably more than made up for the decline. Most of the reasons given for the stagnant market are a focus on price competition, direct sourcing of mediocre products and the decline in the housing market.
     However, I argue that the real culprits are a lack of innovation, resistance to the Internet and a dearth of new great resources. To the critics of these new arguments, I ask why shoe companies can sprout up like weeds selling shoes for hundreds of dollars and we complain about selling comforter sets for over $100?
     There is a small but growing bright spot in this problem. I counsel with SCORE, a group of retired executives who offer free start-up advice for entrepreneurs. Recently, I have become involved with a number of designers who are frustrated with brick-and-mortar stores and are developing exciting products for the Internet. They have found that eecommerce retailers are much easier and faster to deal with, and are growing at rates above 20% annually. Internet retailers also encourage testing the waters with product, without a 50-100 store guaranteed test, and react to both successful and slow-moving products much more quickly
     An example is Jenny George Designs. Her 15 years of experience in design, product development, sales, marketing and sourcing helped her bring all the facets together to launch a business. However, her success stems from bringing all the best sources, best pricing and great designs to her e-commerce customers. In addition, her company is flexible and fast moving along with the customer base it services. That can mean reacting to product demands or responding to technological advances, such as QR codes and mobile shopping.
     It's an exciting time for companies like Jenny's and an exciting time in the e-commerce world. What is needed is simply more of these companies to regenerate excitement in our business with new product, new distribution channels and new marketing methods.
     Bert Shlensky is an entrepreneur who integrates sourcing, simplified infrastructure, Internet marketing and VC partner resources to develop new businesses with minimal risk, rapid execution, low investment and high return. For many years he was president and ceo of slipcover giant Sure Fit Industries. bshlensky@aol.com

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