Severe winter weather puts strain on furniture traffic

Severe winter weather puts strain on furniture traffic

|January 31, 2018 | News

Freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall, polar vortexes and bomb cyclones are typically bad news for retailers. But guangzhou office furniture factory furniture stores in the North and Northeast appear to have weathered the recent round of extreme weather quite well … unless they happened to be based here in Erie, Pa., like John V. Schultz Furniture.

“We get a lot of snow in Erie, so we’re used to it, but nothing like what we experienced,” said President John Schultz. A bad band set up over Lake Erie pushed in from the west “and just clobbered us,” he said.

“It started on Christmas Eve and was a complete whiteout all Christmas Day and pretty much the day after.” By that time, Erie had recorded nearly 6 feet of snowfall, shattering the record for a two-day period (among other city and state records).

“And that was on top of what we had already gotten for the month of December,” Schultz said. “It was cold so we didn’t really have any melt.”

The weather continued to be miserable through New Year’s Day (the snowfall total rose to nearly 7 feet since Christmas), so business was “non-existent” during one of the retailer’s typically busiest times of year. Schultz estimated sales were down for the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day by more than 70%.

And the store struggled to make deliveries on its written business because the streets in Erie were impassable, except in a few cases south of the city where Schultz managed to get trucks to the interstate.

It’s not exactly how Schultz hoped to end the old year or start the new one, but he’s hoping to make up a little ground.

“We’re routing in some more promotions now, starting next week,” he said. “We’re going to hit the Martin Luther King weekend hard, offering free delivery and things like that to try to pick up some of that business.”

He’s also counting on the typical cabin fever to set in and with that lift sales, although he added that he knows you never really get it all back.

More manageable

Elsewhere in the North following in the early days of 2018, the snow and below-freezing temperatures were uncomfortable but much more manageable, several retailers reported.

Detroit picked up some snow after New Year’s Day, but it was the cold that really halted traffic, said Tom Lias, president and CEO of Farmington, Mich.-based Gorman’s Home Furnishings & Interior Design.

It’s the kind of cold – 8 degrees below freezing – that does slow traffic, Lias said. Unless clients were in the middle of projects with the mid-priced to upscale retailer, they were quick to cancel appointments, and even some in mid-project called to postpone.

“We had a good New Year’s Day, but it tightened up right after that, and the first week of the year started a little slower than a year ago,” he said.

That said, Lias noted he was already seeing an uptick in traffic Sunday and Monday as the severe cold spell broke.

Another positive: The worst of it fell midweek, normally a slower traffic time. “If you’re going to have a cold snap or snow storm, hope for Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.

In Boston, Larry Rubin, CEO of the seven-store Bernie & Phyl’s Furniture, agreed with that sentiment. His market was hit with much more snow Thursday, Jan. 4, and severe cold temperatures followed. The retailer closed all stores Thursday and saw a roughly 5% sales decline for the week, mostly attributable to that closing, but “business really was not that bad,” he said.

“I expected it to be worse than it was,” Rubin said. “Probably 50% of your business is done on the weekend, so if you have a storm that falls on the weekend, I think it hurts you a lot worse,” even more so when it falls on a holiday week, he said. “We had a pretty good weekend, and it was really freezing temperatures, so people still got out and shopped.”

About an hour west of Boston in Worcester, Mass., the weather was severely cutting into traffic at Rotmans, but the average ticket during the worst of it jumped about 50%.

“The consumers that came in were basically higher income and looking for products that were more expensive,” said Steve Rotman, president and CEO. “Also, they tended to shop more. Rather than looking for one or two items, they were looking for a multitude of items, and the closing rate was much higher.”

And because there were fewer consumers in the store, salespeople were giving them more time, which signaled to Rotman that maybe the store is understaffed normally (since the added time was leading to larger tickets).

The cold spell ended Sunday, Jan. 8, and things are warming up nicely,  China office chair manufacturer Rotman said. He closed just one day during that first week of January and like Bernie & Phyl’s, that did affect sales, but “overall our figures were up because we were very aggressive in advertising.”

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