Furnitureland inspires theme park-like delight for home décor enthusiasts.
By Angela Forsyth
Anyone who wants to experience the theme park version of a furniture store needs to drive to Jamestown, N.C., to visit Furnitureland South. It is a home décor-lover’s paradise. Home to the world’s largest piece of furniture – an 85-foot highboy that stands enormously tall in front of one of the showrooms – Furnitureland South is the largest furniture store on the planet.
Owned and operated by the Harris family for 50 years, the store sprawls out to 1.3 million square feet of showroom space, features three large multi-story showroom buildings and hosts North America’s largest Subway shop, as well as an on-site Starbucks.
Even after half a century of dynamic growth, this awe-inspiring retailer still remains rooted in its original values. President and CEO Jeffrey Harris says he aims to take care of clients the way his father did by making sure they can stretch a dollar further at his store than anywhere else. “We don’t sell anything at suggested retail price,” Harris notes. “People buy here for 30 to 70 percent off the retail price.”
The company is able to afford that by using its considerable buying power and strategic purchasing. Twice a year, High Point, N.C., hosts the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. Once the show is over, Furnitureland swoops in to buy the samples at a deep discount, which it then sells in its outlet showroom.
“We’re strategic in our vision and our business plan,” Harris says. “We stay close to the buyers’ shopping habits and provide the best pricing on quality goods. Buying power gives us a definitive advantage in executing that plan.”
Yet, one of the most difficult challenges in the home design industry is keeping up with rapidly changing shopping patterns. Traditional retailers have suffered setbacks as buyers move further into online shopping. “The goal is to embrace technology and how people shop online and combine it with physical presence in the store,” Harris notes.
Only a very small percentage of Furnitureland’s sales are completed as point, click and buy purchases. Harris finds that the majority of his customers engage in a combination of online and physical presence in the store. Shoppers might find inspiration or choose a design consultant from the web site and then head into the showroom to make a decision. “Furniture is a very tactile business,” he explains. “We believe in the showroom experience, but we also believe we can use technology to save people time so they don’t have to spend as much time in the showroom.”
Furnitureland recently completed an $8 million overhaul proving it strongly believes in the physical showroom experience. The updates include new aesthetics as well as an investment in new inventory with the latest products from all of its brands. It’s a balance between holding on to the traditional brick and mortar shopping where shoppers can sit on a couch and test its comfort level and moving forward with modern technology. Approximately 85 percent of the retailer’s business is custom order. These are items not held in-house, which means technology plays a big role in communicating with vendors.
Streamlining operations is especially important because the store serves a clientele all over the US, using a white glove delivery system for nearly 300 loads of furniture every month in the US. It’s also an international resource that does 7 percent of its business with international clients. In first-quarter 2019, the company will roll out a new order entry system that will unify commerce by dovetailing its processes making it more efficient and easier for customers to interact with the website and design consultants. “We have 5,000 customers a month shopping at the campus and a quarter of a million a month on the website,” Harris says. “We want customers to shop Furnitureland the way they want to shop it.”
Also new for the retailer is a freelance designer business called Trade Direct that is run by Jason Harris, Furnitureland’s co-owner and brother of Jeffrey Harris. Freelance designers are given a special discount wholesale price for reselling to their own clients. That business is already bringing in 15 percent of the store’s volume.
Trade Direct is marketed through its own website, TheDesignNetwork.com, which started five years ago as a broadband network for subscription channels such as Hulu ad Apple TV. “Anyone who loves home decorating will be entertained by the videos featured on the website,” Harris affirms. “It allows us to reach a younger audience and do e-commerce through this website. The website is quickly growing and has more than 4,000 freelance designers signed up to buy products.”
Finding new avenues for clientele is always on the horizon for this company. Earlier this year, the company opened Furnitureland Contract, a 30,000-square-foot commercial furniture showroom. This department is solely for commercial office needs including space planning, furniture, accessories and related technology solutions.