’Twas the week before Christmas—and the visions in my head were not of sugarplums but of chaos and confusion in the wonderful world of home furnishings retailing, as I tried to sort out what kind of year it had been for the industry in 2023.
Yes, some creatures are still stirring as the last gasps of holiday shopping remain, yet the defining elements of the past 12 months are still dancing in my head. After a two-year pandemic-induced euphoria for the home furnishings industry, 2022 turned decidedly ugly, with sales plummeting, inventory rising and prices flying higher than Santa’s sleigh. This year has been one of recovery, as retailers and suppliers alike have tried to stabilize their businesses and learn to live with the new unreality of the market. Clearly, some did it better than others.
So, in reviewing what happened in 2023, a few very distinctive stories turn up on my highly subjective highlight reel.
Beyond Bed Bath & Beyond
When the once ubiquitous home furnishings big-boxer finally was put out of its (and our?) misery this past spring, it was the end of what was one of the greatest retailers in the country. Or so we thought. The brand name was bought up by Overstock and reborn as an online-only entity that held great promise for a stellar Act Two. Or so we thought. It didn’t take long for the CEO who engineered the deal to get pushed out last month and for outside investors to come in and turn the place upside down … again.
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Goes AWOL
Another great name fell apart this year, but this one quite suddenly—at least from the outside. Again, the name will live on, but the retail side no doubt won’t, in a surprise meltdown that most of us are still trying to figure out. As a case study in the struggles of vertical business models in the furniture industry, this one will be studied for years.
It’s a rounding error for HomeGoods parent company TJX, but the decision to shut down what was still a nascent e-commerce operation will likely go down as one of the bigger blunders of early 21st-century retailing. They say you can’t treasure hunt online. Say what?
The Store-Shrink Smokescreen
Plenty of retailers, Target especially, blamed store closings on retail crime, citing mysterious organized theft rings. Late in the year came revisionist history that maybe those closings had much more to do with bad stores than bad boys. If only retailing companies were as creative in their merchandising as they are in coming up with excuses for bad performance.
Macy’s in the Crosshairs
It’s still mostly a lot of reports and rumors, but if you believe what you hear, two investor groups are looking into buying Macy’s, taking it private and then doing whatever it is that these guys do to retail businesses. If you’re not sure, look up Toys R Us, Tuesday Morning and Neiman Marcus for some prime examples. (Hint: It usually doesn’t end well, and this one is going to need more than one Christmas miracle to avoid a similar outcome.)
The Best New Store of the Year
Ending the year on a high note—we need it—Crate & Barrel opened a galactically fantastic new store in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood in November. If it isn’t the best store many of us have seen in a very long time, it would be hard to find one better. The space is wonderful, but what they did with it is even more wonderful. Here’s hoping that 2024 brings us more of the same.
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.