What Memorial Day sales reveal about changing consumer demand

HIGH POINT — Much like the industry as a whole, the Memorial Day weekend proved to be a mixed bag for furniture retailers. Some had outstanding weekends with strong sales and demand. For others the challenge of matching the highs of 2021 amid uncertain economic conditions proved to be difficult.

This was the first Memorial Day weekend as a two-store operation for Syracuse, N.Y.’s Dunk & Bright. Owner Joe Bright said he couldn’t be happier as both stores performed exceptionally well.

“It went fantastic. Obviously, it’s the first full month that our new store was open, and Memorial Day was great at both stores,” Bright told Furniture Today, noting that the average ticket at closing was on par with last year. “We were up 60% over last year. We had a nice weekend.”

Leading into the weekend, Bright said Dunk & Bright put a major focus on bedding, which paid off in spades. Consumers bought mattresses and sleep sets throughout the holiday.

“Bedding was a big focus. We did a direct mail piece that highlighted bedding and we also did a lot of TV,” he said.

One of the biggest takeaways for Bright was the consistency throughout the weekend, even as weather shifted early. He hopes that’s a sign of things to come.

“It seems every Memorial Day is weather-dependent for which day of the weekend you got sales. We had one foul weather day, Saturday,” Bright said. “Sunday and Monday it was beautiful out, and customers came in, so that was promising.”

Challenging picture

In Houston, Top 100 retailer Exclusive Furniture battled. CEO Sam Zavary said traffic was down and consumers were more interested in fulfilling needs vs. wants, due mostly to tighter budgets.

“We heard a lot of ‘I only need this right now.’ We had several customers who bought from us because they bought a new home,” Zavary said. “We heard several times that they had to pay more as a down payment for their house because there were multiple offers. We know that’s a big problem everybody’s facing, and we feel like due to that, people have less money to spend.”

Zavary said traffic was down around a third vs. last year, but sales were only down 12.7%. When customers bought, they focused on three major categories. Living room furniture consisted of 30% of Exclusive’s total sales, while bedroom (26.05%) and mattresses (20.16%) were among top performers.

He said while the 2021 numbers were always going to be tough to match, the addition of higher overhead makes today’s retail picture a bit more challenging.

“The problem is this: Our expenses have gone up. We’re paying people more than we did last year. We’re paying more for electricity, more for diesel. We’re paying more than last year. What does that hit do to our bottom line?” Zavary said. “We can continue to say last year was such a great year, but what about all of this? You’ve got to pay your warehouse workers and salespeople more or they’ll find another job. You have to pay your application person, supporters, even the cleaning people you have to pay more.”

Top 100 retailer Georgia Furniture Mart also had its work cut out entering the weekend, as last May was its best month in history. Vice President Robin Hopper-Graham hopes Memorial Day proves to be something of a jump-start to the summer, noting traffic and sales were both better than recent monthly averages. The Norcross, Ga.-based retailer added a store last month, so its overall numbers were up.

“Overall, considering the overall industry trend over the last three months, we considered the weekend a success,” she said.

Hopper-Graham said big winners for GFM included bedroom and motion.

“We’re really strong in bedroom. It was a strong category for us. It’s 26% of our business, which is higher than the industry average,” she said.

Plus, Hopper-Graham said, a special discount promotion was a big hit.

“We ran a sale where we gave the customer the option of a discount or financing, and they were pretty big discounts. With inflation, we’re finding customers are more interested in the discount vs. financing,” she said.

Building momentum?

Top 100 retailer Tipperary Sales/La-Z-Boy Southeast finished off a strong month with a very good Memorial Day weekend. Byron Brown, senior vice president of the Augusta, Ga.-based retail group, said he hopes that momentum is sustainable entering the summer months.

“We were very pleased. Against last year, which was a record year, we were down, but we weren’t down significantly,” said Brown. “We had a solid performance over the five days and one day where we sat a day’s sales record.”

Brown said among Tipperary’s eight stores, Savannah, Ga. had the biggest year-over-year increase, while stores in Charlotte, N.C., and one each in Greenville, S.C., and Asheville, N.C., also turned in notable performances. “Across the board, everybody pulled their weight across the eight stores,” he said.

Key successes included turning sales into In Home Design clients, which upped tickets and helped build relationships between the retailer and its customers.

“We see a myriad of products when we’re able to move into that phase of business, from upholstery building to case goods and rugs and wall art. That has been anywhere from 40% to 50% of our business,” Brown said. “That wasn’t any different over the weekend. We saw good IHD tickets come through. That’s the best way to accomplish our mission, to convert to an IHD client.”

And while inflation has had some impact on prices, Brown said that didn’t tell the full story, as many shoppers bought more.

“Year-over-year, there are some price increases in the average ticket increase, but not all of it is, so that’s encouraging,” he said. “Our close rate, although it’s typically high over one of the big four holidays, ticked up year-over-year.”

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