Prototype store makeover puts Value City Furniture customers first

on Friday, 25 January 2013.

Lacated in Heart of Weston District

Value City Furniture might be an old, familiar brand, but with its young president and prototype store, the retailer is looking fresh and new.

Leading that effort has been Jonathan Schottenstein, president of American Signature, the parent company of Value City Furniture.

Striding through the retailer’s recently opened prototype store on the West Side, the 30-year-old in a pullover sweater and tan slacks looked more like a graduate student than a scion of the Schottenstein retail dynasty.

 “When I graduated from college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Schottenstein said. “ My dad grew up as a store manager, and he said it was a good business to be in.”

It’s also a business that Schottenstein has refreshed, with his energy and attention to detail.

“When you work with him, you understand he’s totally dialed into the business,” said retail analyst Matt Wilson of SBC Advertising, who has worked with Schottenstein. “You can definitely tell when a company is just paying lip service to best practices and cutting-edge technology. But these guys really mean it.

“After the grand opening, these guys actually went into the parking lot and picked up excess trash and cigarette butts,” Wilson said. “The lessons of the great retailers have really reached them.”

The prototype store is the embodiment of the company’s focus on reinventing the furniture business.

Studies began for the new store about two years ago, said Scott Binger, vice president of creative services and customer experience at American Signature.

“It started with the customer,” Binger said.

Schottenstein said, “(We) went to their homes, we did tons of shop-alongs, we mapped each customer’s experience. We started looking at our brand. Furniture is a different type of business. You don’t get the same traffic as other retailers. We knew the brand had shifted. We were asking why people would buy from one of our competitors when we could be 30 to 40 percent less on the same item.”

Near the end of the study, an opportunity presented itself to apply all the lessons that had been learned: A large retail space was opening up with the departure of a Hobby Lobby, “and we had a store down the street,” Schottenstein said. “When the opportunity came for a fresh box, we knew we wanted to do it as a prototype.”

The new location, at 4300 W. Broad St., has a showroom area that, at slightly more than 46,000 square feet, is quite a bit larger than the 30,000 square feet at the old location at 3385 South Blvd.

While more space is good, the new store also benefits from some carefully crafted design.

Furniture is displayed in environments that give shoppers an idea of how the merchandise looks in a room, with screens that separate each cubicle but that are semi-transparent so that customers can easily look around the store.

“It’s much more open,” Binger said. “You can identify quicker where you’re going.”

Larger areas are marked with signs that are visible around the whole store.

“We use the words dining, sleeping, rather than tables or bedding in the signs,” Binger said. “We wanted to speak in a more simple way.”

One area — the “Help Hub” — takes its inspiration from Apple’s retail stores’ “Genius Bar.” The area is a full-blown information center that includes prominently displayed computer terminals with large display panels, all the better to allow shoppers to go online and compare prices.

“We know customers are going to comparison-shop,” Schottenstein said. “So we want to help them."

In a nod to the goal behind its name, customers also are treated to a “Bargain Board” when they walk in. “It’s got the hot things in the store. It’s kind of a silent salesman,” Binger said.

Efficiency in shopping and value aren’t the only issues addressed at the store. Among the signs in the store are some that suggest that customers measure not only the room in which they will put the furniture but also measure the doorways, to ensure that they can fit it in.

“It’s really important that we be advocates for the customer, to let them know what they need to know,” Binger said. “That’s another element of value, that advocacy, making sure they’re happy.”& amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; lt; /p>

And, so far, customers do seem happy. Since the prototype opened last month, “customer response has really exceeded our expectations,” Binger said, without going into sales figures.Value City Furniture’s 128 stores in 19 states are clustered around or near Ohio, and all will ultimately be refreshed with elements from the prototype, as will any future stores if the company expands into new markets.

While the prototype is large, its elements can be readily applied to any store size, a fact that will become more important as the company moves further into alternative shopping venues, Schottenstein said.

“In February, we’ll re-launch our e-commerce site,” he said. “We’ve always had a website, but this will give us ‘wherever, whenever you want to shop’ capabilities.”

Thus, a shopper sitting at home with an iPad could go “couch shopping for couch shopping,” he said.

Such moves will be needed to sell Value City Furniture to a new generation of shoppers, Wilson said. Reinventing the furniture business was always going to be a tall order because it is a complicated, multi-faceted sector. “It’s a manufacturing business, it’s a fashion business, it’s a sales business, it’s a logistics business,” he said.

In addition to all that, there’s a new twist: “The new generation grew up surrounded by every TV channel having a show about interior decorating,” Wilson said. “They’re armed with better taste, better ideas, because they see it on TV and that’s what they really want.”