Of all the product categories that have adapted to the internet, few have had the challenges faced by furniture retailers. Endless options, large products requiring specialized delivery, an even larger price tag, and a consumer who shops very infrequently all contribute to the slow penetration of e-commerce in mainstream residential furniture.
All these roadblocks make the recent progress from one of the country’s biggest regional players, Raymour & Flanigan, even more impressive. Driven by pandemic shopping conditions, changing customer demographics, and perhaps even the competition from mega sellers like Wayfair, the chain—with more than 130 stores centered in the Northeast—has moved aggressively to remake its business model and embrace e-commerce.
Although privately owned (the Goldberg family is moving into its third generation of management) and thus somewhat guarded about hard numbers, the company says it witnessed a 94 percent year-over-year growth in online sales last year, with website traffic up more than 150 percent so far in 2021. Executives won’t disclose what share of overall business is now done online, but said they expect to keep growing at an accelerated rate this year.
For a 75-year-old legacy furniture retailer—they still call them “dealers” in the trade—it’s a big change. Much of this initiative was shepherded by Christoper Gaube, head of brand marketing and creative, who joined the company last year from Nike. Under new president Seth Goldberg, the next generation after current CEO Neil Goldberg, Gaube says he and some other recent hires were brought in “to modernize our brand and see what new opportunities exist.”
That has meant significant initiatives, including a new website in late 2020 and a major campaign to acquire younger millennial and Gen Z customers. “We know the perception is different for these shoppers and so we have to be better at storytelling, and more sophisticated with our media spend,” says Gaube. Today, the retailer is using social media channels, mobile, YouTube and other online platforms in addition to its own website to reach these customers. The goal, he explains, is to be everything for everyone: “Different audiences use different channels. We are most committed to removing friction in the shopping experience, including making our website easier to use through a hands-on partnership with Google and Deloitte. We’re also giving customers the ability to select time frames for their deliveries.”
The company says its online activity is complemented in its stores, as well. “We’re focused on making the showrooms easier to navigate and shop,” says Jim Beckmann, senior manager of retail brand experience. “[We’re] creating inspirational displays, with a variety of alternative flooring and wall paints, to allow customers to more easily envision each piece in their home.”
Technology plays a key role in the stores, too: “Shoppers will also experience a more fluid shopping process as a result of our investment in new technological solutions, like tablets for all associates, which allow for purchases directly on the showroom floor,” says Beckmann. On the flip side, the company’s 1,700 store sales personnel are going online, answering chats and calls.
“We’re just getting started on exciting changes in the Raymour & Flanigan showroom experience, with more still under wraps,” says Beckmann. One of the main priorities is to bring the full expression of the brand’s offerings into its stores, and the company is actively testing new ways—be it QR codes or in-store tablets—to allow customers to see the expanded online assortment. “We’re bringing to life all our great online creative as we further connect our omnichannel experience. We are very committed to increasing the fluidity of a consumer’s experience between our digital and store experiences.”
As a private company, Raymour & Flanigan does not disclose its sales volume, but executives said trade estimates in the low $1 billion range are “inaccurate” while also noting that 2021 is on track to be a record year for the brand, yielding a nearly 70 percent increase year over year. And that’s considering the juggernaut that was 2020.
Nor would Raymour & Flanigan speculate on future expansion beyond its current footprint. “Our biggest goal,” says Gaube, “is to always ensure that we are meeting our customer needs.”