Many of us in the home furnishings industry have uttered the phrase, “I am going to Market,” at least once in our lifetime. Whether you are a buyer, a store owner, manufacturers’ rep or vendor, this phrase ultimately means a week of buying, networking and exhaustion.
During last February’s Las Vegas Market, I was given the opportunity to spend half a day on the Harkness Furniture buying team. Harkness Furniture is a full-line, family-owned business which started in 1920. Today it furnishes the homes in the Tacoma, WA area with the best mid-line products available in the market. As a third generation store owner, Dave Harkness has used his 35-years of experience to build a successful business and is also very involved in the home furnishings industry by serving on the WHFA Board of Directors and participating in the PFD buying group.
From the second I met up with the team, which consisted of Dave, his wife Cyndi, son Kellen, and their sales manager, John Opland, I knew I was in for a day full of buying, learning, fun and sore feet! The day started off with breakfast in the Retailer Resource Center on the 16th floor of Building B, where we all fueled-up on food and coffee before the busy day. The Harkness team already had their morning planned with four 1-hour appointments that would conclude with lunch in one of the showrooms.
As we were walking to the first showroom, Dave explained how he prepares for each market and how his process is different than most. Prior to market, Dave meets with each of his major vendors and creates a plan for who they will visit, and what items they are looking for during market, “I meet with each of our major vendors 10 days to a week before each major market,” he said. “I sit down with them, look at our current line-up, and then come up with a game plan of what we need to do. The manufacturer might be canceling items, or we may need to fill holes in our inventory. Then, our sales staff gets together the Saturday prior to leaving for market, and we have an hour discussion with them on the types of requests they have received from customers on merchandise that we do not currently carry. We also have each salesperson turn in a written report to me on the requests, and then I summarize it on the plane ride to Market and make a laundry list of areas we need to look at both with current vendors and new vendors.”
We eventually make it to our first location, Stein World in Building A, which features hand-painted products from around the world with a focus on accent and occasional furniture and lighting. Dave and the team meet their Stein World reps and greet them like they are part of the family. The reps move quickly to show us the showroom since we only have one hour to view all of the product.
As we walk around the showroom, Dave is constantly taking notes on what is being introduced to him, keeping in mind his price points, needs and current product line-up. Kellen and John join the process by testing out items and discussing how the product might fit into the Harkness Furniture showroom. As the three men are discussing which occasional tables would best fit their needs, Cyndi and I start browsing the showroom for items we like, “It is very hard to not purchase items that you like personally,” she said. “You always have to keep your customer in mind, and what works best for your store.”
Dave added that while it is difficult to keep his personal opinion out of his purchasing decisions, his final decisions are based on price points rather than style, and he always knows that he needs to have a breadth of products. “You may hate floral sofas with skirts, but there is some little, old lady moving into a retirement home and that is exactly what she needs—a 6-foot floral sofa in mauve, blue and beige color,” he said. “It is knowing that you have to have a breadth of product, and hopefully, I have done enough research before I have gone to market to know what my current line-up is, and what areas could use a supplement to what I am currently doing.”
While most times Dave is quickly able to spot what will and won’t work for his store, he occasionally asks the entire team for their opinion. At one point, Dave stops at a chair and asks for Cyndi and my opinion on the style and if we would purchase it—in order to get the female perspective. Our slight hesitation was enough for him to skip the chair and move onto the next item.
“When deciding what to buy for our store, it isn’t about recreating the wheel with any of our vendors,” Dave said. “I go in, and ask them what their best sellers are, or I will have them lead me through and if something piques my interest, I will buy it. Over the 35 years I have been doing this, I have the tendency to be able to pick out things that are definite bargains or holes that we need to fill within our store. A lot of my choices are based on a ‘seat of the pants’ feeling and the experience I have. It’s all on how I feel about the look and pricing, and if I am on the fence about an item, then I will get the input of everyone else on the team. There are some things that are no brainers, and I have already made the decision that we are going to do it, but then there are some items where I want to get the opinion of the entire team.”
Once Dave purchased the new lines at Stein World, we moved onto our next showroom, Jofran, which offers dining and occasional tables from around the world. We are first introduced to the dining options while taking a world tour through Malaysia, Thailand, China and Vietnam—the various countries where Jofran manufacturers product. While walking through the showroom, Dave keeps in mind where the product is manufactured in order to successfully group products for the minimum order quantities from the specific points of origin.
The first dining set that we are introduced to makes us all stop. There is no doubt that it was a great deal and product for the Harkness showroom. Even I, being new to the team, knew it was a great fit. As we walk further through the showroom, Dave, Cyndi, Kellen and John give me a little insider tip—it’s all about the candy and food! Scattered in bowls throughout the Jofran showroom were M&Ms and other candies to increase our blood sugar and help us get through the busy morning. “We do try to plan our day around food,” Dave said. “Food is important. We know that Jofran will always have bowls of candy around, and we always try to schedule lunch in one of the showrooms.”
As we walk around, Cyndi pulls out her digital camera and hands it to Kellen to take photos. Kellen then heads back through the showroom to photograph the new items that they would be purchasing for the store. “When we get back home, I put all of the product photos on a CD to share with the salespeople,” Cyndi said. “It gives the team a sneak peek of what is coming in and gets them excited about the new lines we will be selling.”
After all the new lines had been purchased, photos taken and plenty of candy consumed, it was time to leave for the next appointment. We head to the Powell showroom where the team looks around and buys the deals that best fit their store. After Powell, our stomachs began to growl and our legs needed a rest, which made it a perfect time to stop in for lunch at Aspenhome.
While the morning didn’t include any visits to new vendors, Dave tries to visit a handful of new people every market. He rarely walks by a showroom and decides to randomly check out a vendor. Most of his new vendor visits are pre-planned prior to market. “Since we are a part of PFD and have a great credit rating, we are constantly being invited to do business with new vendors,” said Dave. “A week before market, John and I go out to lunch, and we talk about our needs. We will then make a list of three or four new vendors that we want to see that have specific intentions on adding something to our store. If they don’t add to our store, I don’t want to look at them. Also, if I can’t do a minimum of about $20,000 to $40,000 at cost with a new vendor, it doesn’t make any sense on their side or my side to put them into our line-up.”
After lunch and a brief tour of the Aspenhome showroom, it was time for me to leave the Harkness team. As I sadly said goodbye to my new furniture family, I thought about how efficient and productive the morning was. I learned the Harkness Furniture team comes to market with a purpose, and they efficiently know how to work market. By setting up meetings prior to the show, Dave and his vendors know exactly what products they needed to fill in their store, and what items can be passed. Every part of the buying process is well-thought out and executed at Harkness Furniture—making for an excellent experience at Market.
- By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer Managing Editor