A catalyst for home sales: Hancock banks on Waverly alliance

Carole Sloan, November 20, 2000

TUPELO, MS -The rollout of 22 Waverly store-within-a-store concepts at Hancock Fabrics is designed to help grow the home decorating segment of the retailer's business from 20 percent to 40 percent of total sales.

The dedicated Waverly program, which includes decorative fabrics, home textiles products, lamps and dinnerware, all under the Waverly label, is part of a corporate strategy to build alliances all along the supply chain, explained Larry Kirk, chairman and ceo of the fabric, crafts and related home sewing and home decorating retailer and wholesaler.

The first shops were tested earlier this year at the flagship here and in Austin, TX, and Charlotte, NC.

Next year, according to Kirk, the company will roll out the Waverly shops to another 150 stores, which now has 446 stores. The company already has remodeled some 75 percent of its stores to emphasize the new focus on home decorating and home accent accessories.

While the Waverly shop merchandise is open line product, Hancock and Waverly have developed the Lauren Hancock Collection by Waverly, "a premium decorative fabric line of some 20 designs that are exclusive to Hancock," Kirk explained.

The basis for the Lauren Hancock Collection now in the stores emerged from research done as the company planned to move beyond its core home sewing customers. "We are trying to target non-traditional Hancock customers, and with our research we asked customers to describe Hancock. The answers-a distinguished-looking gentleman, nice, good reputation. The Hancock name definitely had masculine impact," Kirk related.

"We had been looking to do internal branding and developed the Lauren Hancock brand," said Kirk, who added the brand can be expanded to other products as well. In the fabric collection, the company is showing a very limited number of accent furniture pieces that customers can order with the Lauren Hancock fabrics on them. As for a full-blown upholstered furniture program, as other fabric retailers have developed, Kirk said, "It may evolve if we can do the logistics. Mostly what we do is display pieces, not sofas or loveseats."

The Lauren Hancock Collection by Waverly also could be expanded to include home textiles manufactured products, he said, but nothing is planned at this time.

Behind the Waverly store-within-a-store program "was our desire to reach out to the customer who may not be comfortable with home sewing. Waverly is probably the most reputable name in the business, and it speaks to this customer," he said.

The relationship also is part of a company-wide effort to form partnerships "as the industry consolidates every step of the way," he explained. "It's best to do cooperative alliances all along the chain. We're doing it in ribbons, laces and trims, on a smaller scale."

And while Waverly is the key player in decorative fabrics and home textiles product, they "are having conversations with other decorative fabrics and home textiles suppliers, but nothing is decided," Kirk noted." But "once you have committed to a growth category (home decorating), you take it to a higher level. Our objective is to elevate our go-forward departments in the store and look for partnerships."

What has been "most productive about our partnership with Waverly is that we both did things as we went along that were not in the basic agreement," Kirk said.

For Christiane Michaels, president and general manager of the Waverly Lifestyle Group, the program represents "taking our relationship to the next level through this exciting Waverly shop concept." Waverly, Michaels noted, "has enjoyed a strong relationship as a supplier of fabrics to Hancock over the years."

To support its emphasis on home decorating, Hancock is hiring and training people who are more expert in these areas, especially in window treatments, "and Waverly is working on specific training programs as each store opens its shop," Michaels said.

Although Hancock does not run workrooms for custom window coverings, upholstery, slipcovers and other textile items, "we've made an extra effort recently to introduce customers to reputable contractors in their areas. We have a free-standing fixture, like a bulletin board, to help them," Michaels said.

The Waverly shops, set at the right front entry of the stores, range from 750 square feet in smaller stores to 1,250 square feet in the stores sized 12,000 square feet and larger. The shops feature four complete bed ensembles and an assortment of decorative pillows, wallpaper borders, table rounds and other decorative accessories.

The shops feature hardwood floors and special fixturing as well as decorative crown molding and the Waverly logo.

Hancock is planning significant promotional activity for the Waverly program, including it in its quarterly magazine, Accent on Style, with a 500,000 in-store circulation and with target mailings to certain demographic groups, Kirk said. "For this we're promoting no-sew programs as well as targeting a 25-to-45-year-old customer with an accumulated wealth who needs fabrication assistance," he said.

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