Opinions

HFN editors have years of experience covering products and retail for housewares, tabletop, floor covering, furniture and textiles. They share their opinions here.
  • The Young and the Restless

    Warren ShoulbergWhenever the so-called experts talk about the shifting patterns in retail, and it invariably leads them to the internet, they are missing the bigger picture. It’s time that industries like home furnishings stop talking about online versus in-store or big box versus department stores. They all miss the point. The change in the way people buy things is really only about one thing: age. Think about it: the two fastest growth formats in retailing today—in fact the only two formats in retailing growing at all—are online and off-price. These two formats could not be more different. The ... Read More
  • Belief in the Physical

    Maureen AzzatoWho says physical retailing is dead? TJX, who thus far has eschewed e-commerce sales to focus on brick-and-mortar store growth, gives no credence to that rumor. This year alone, TJX plans to add 260 stores. All eyes are on the off-price retailer’s debut of its Homesense format in the United States, which executives say will complement its existing gangbuster HomeGoods brand. In fact, TJX is boldly (some might say unwisely) placing Homesense stores in the same markets, and, in some cases, testing co-location in the same shopping centers. (Turn to page 12 for more Homesense and a photo gallery ... Read More
  • Buying Homes, at Last

    Maureen AzzatoI’ve heard many in the industry lament how Millennials are not interested in home ownership, which they claim is depressing home furnishing sales. Home buying data and other research, however, blow that theory to shreds. More than a third of Millennials are currently homeowners and many more are actively pursuing home ownership in the near future. In recent months, Millennials represented approximately 50 percent of all purchase loans, up several points from the prior year. Forty percent of older Millennials say they’ve already started to plan for a down payment, compared with 35 percent of the general population ... Read More
  • Heterodoxy Retailing

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORYes, I had to look it up too, but when you do you’ll see that heterodoxy – despite any knee-jerk perception you might have had – means “not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.” And a serious dose of heterodoxy thinking is exactly what the American retailing industry needs right now. You see, whenever retailing executives talk about trying to create an “experience” in their physical stores, the conversation invariably leads to more exciting presentations of their products or other assorted variations on their existing business. Unorthodox this is not. When the modern American department store first gained prominence ... Read More
  • Tough Medicine

    Maureen AzzatoChange is difficult for most businesses to deal with. Fewer still are equipped to handle the disruptions of innovation and emerging technologies. But that’s the new normal in the home furnishings industry. Change is here to stay. We might as well get comfortable with it—or more importantly—be a part of it. I just returned from a trip to Detroit where Amber Engine and its parent company, Quicken Loans, hosted the SHIFT Tech Summit, of which Progressive Business Media, the parent company of HFN, was a media sponsor. With the goal of “shifting home furnishings into high gear ... Read More
  • Deportment Stores

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORJohn Wanamaker, where are you now that we really need you? As we sit here in the summer of discontent for the future of the great American department store, one can only pine wistfully for those pioneers of the genre, Wanamaker and R.H. Macy and Stanley Marcus and all the others who made this channel the pinnacle of the retailing world. Except now we talk about it in the past tense. Virtually every remaining American department store company is in turmoil, trying desperately to find the right formula to tomorrow’s success. And it’s safe to say not ... Read More
  • Measuring Up

    Maureen AzzatoIn one form or another, all retailers measure themselves against the competition. HFN’s annual Top 50 Home Retailers report (page 34) provides a bird’s-eye view of how the nation’s top retailers stack up in home-category year-over-year sales and unit growth. The Top 50 Home Retailers tallied $158.6 billion in sales, with the top 10 accounting for a whopping 52.6 percent of the total. The movement on the list this year is far from surprising. The biggest dollar and percentage sales gainers were Amazon, Wayfair, Mattress Firm and HomeGoods, which is inching closer to the top ... Read More
  • Even If You Build it … They May Not Come

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOROut there in the Jersey Meadowlands, where both the foundations and the football are shaky, lies the exoskeleton of as telling a symbol of American retailing as you’re likely to find anywhere. Even the name couldn’t be more evocative: American Dream. For 13 years, myriad developers under a variety of names have been trying to build the biggest shopping center east of the Mall of America in the biggest shopping metropolitan area east of the Pacific. And for these past 13 years they have failed miserably. Today, the half-finished, half-baked, half-assed structure sits forlornly by the New Jersey ... Read More
  • Then, Now and Tomorrow

    Maureen AzzatoIt’s always a good exercise for brands to reflect on their heritage and accomplishments when they hit important milestones, which lends perspective as strategies for the future are devised. As HFN celebrates its 90th anniversary this month, it is apropos to look at the iconic retailer and supplier brands to celebrate how much the home furnishings industry has accomplished over the years. (Turn to page 24 for our 90th anniversary report.) What many of us share in common—like most lasting brands—is the ability to adjust, adapt and reinvent our businesses to ensure current and future relevance. Easier ... Read More
  • Bad Retailers vs. Bad Retail

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORWith all the hysteria about the seemingly imminent demise of American physical retailing, perhaps – just perhaps – it makes some sense to step back and try to look at the bigger picture. Yes, the retailing business is changing, perhaps as it never has before, as e-commerce truly comes into its own and forever changes the way American shoppers consume. But somewhere along the line we need to look beyond the storefronts and examine the more subtle aspects of this radical transformation. And to do so, we need to make the important distinction between bad retailers and bad retail. Bad retailers are ... Read More
  • Advantage: Innovation

    Maureen AzzatoWhile innovation is often used to describe products and services, it should more frequently refer to business processes and best practices, organizational structure and leadership, because these are the elements that fundamentally drive a business forward. Innovative products and services are simply the tangible fruits of a company’s culture whose lifeblood is centered on new ideas and change, employee empowerment and trust at all levels. It’s a tall order, but change is the new normal that the retail home industry must embrace and get comfortable with. In our analysis piece, “Retailers Adapt to Secure Future Relevance,” page 24 ... Read More
  • Walmart: Sears 2037?

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORIt’s happened before. Can the world’s biggest retailer—the corporation that totally changed the rules of retailing, single-handedly altered the way Americans buy their consumer products and put three-quarters of its competition out business—fail? It’s happened before. As Walmart frantically tries to get up to speed with its online efforts at the same time juggling multiple retail platforms in the U.S. while struggling to find the right formulas to do business overseas, one can be reminded that we’ve seen this all before. The biggest retailer in the business used to be Sears. It commanded ... Read More
  • The Young and the Restless

    Warren ShoulbergWhenever the so-called experts talk about the shifting patterns in retail, and it invariably leads them to the internet, they are missing the bigger picture. It’s time that industries like home furnishings stop talking about online versus in-store or big box versus department stores. They all miss the point. The change in the way people buy things is really only about one thing: age. Think about it: the two fastest growth formats in retailing today—in fact the only two formats in retailing growing at all—are online and off-price. These two formats could not be more different. The ... Read More
  • Belief in the Physical

    Maureen AzzatoWho says physical retailing is dead? TJX, who thus far has eschewed e-commerce sales to focus on brick-and-mortar store growth, gives no credence to that rumor. This year alone, TJX plans to add 260 stores. All eyes are on the off-price retailer’s debut of its Homesense format in the United States, which executives say will complement its existing gangbuster HomeGoods brand. In fact, TJX is boldly (some might say unwisely) placing Homesense stores in the same markets, and, in some cases, testing co-location in the same shopping centers. (Turn to page 12 for more Homesense and a photo gallery ... Read More
  • Buying Homes, at Last

    Maureen AzzatoI’ve heard many in the industry lament how Millennials are not interested in home ownership, which they claim is depressing home furnishing sales. Home buying data and other research, however, blow that theory to shreds. More than a third of Millennials are currently homeowners and many more are actively pursuing home ownership in the near future. In recent months, Millennials represented approximately 50 percent of all purchase loans, up several points from the prior year. Forty percent of older Millennials say they’ve already started to plan for a down payment, compared with 35 percent of the general population ... Read More
  • Heterodoxy Retailing

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORYes, I had to look it up too, but when you do you’ll see that heterodoxy – despite any knee-jerk perception you might have had – means “not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.” And a serious dose of heterodoxy thinking is exactly what the American retailing industry needs right now. You see, whenever retailing executives talk about trying to create an “experience” in their physical stores, the conversation invariably leads to more exciting presentations of their products or other assorted variations on their existing business. Unorthodox this is not. When the modern American department store first gained prominence ... Read More
  • Even If You Build it … They May Not Come

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOROut there in the Jersey Meadowlands, where both the foundations and the football are shaky, lies the exoskeleton of as telling a symbol of American retailing as you’re likely to find anywhere. Even the name couldn’t be more evocative: American Dream. For 13 years, myriad developers under a variety of names have been trying to build the biggest shopping center east of the Mall of America in the biggest shopping metropolitan area east of the Pacific. And for these past 13 years they have failed miserably. Today, the half-finished, half-baked, half-assed structure sits forlornly by the New Jersey ... Read More
  • Make Stores More Experiential

    Maureen AzzatoShoppers are looking for experiences. So give them experiential, connected stores that excel at customer service. It sounds so basic, so fundamental, yet so few stores do it well anymore. When I was in Dallas a few weeks back during market, I drove past the flagship Neiman Marcus store downtown and was nostalgically reminded of some great times my mother and I had there when I lived in Dallas as a teenager. Seasonally, Neimans hosted fashion show luncheons at its restaurant, which was renowned for extravagant culinary buffets. Beautiful models clad in the newest fashions graced the floors and came ... Read More
  • The Hunger Games

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORAnd so it goes on. Macy’s, 100 stores. Sears and Kmart, 150. Kohl’s, Walmart and so on and so forth. The ever-increasing, seemingly never-ending deconstruction of the conventional American retailing industry is top of mind in the home business these days. Every store is grappling with the ramifications and wondering when to say enough, we’ve reached critical unmass. But lost in all the headlines is the other side of the equation. Namely, what it means for all the suppliers whose existence depends on sending products to all of the tens of thousands of retail locations. Increasingly, they ... Read More
  • The Total Home Retail Renaissance

    Maureen AzzatoIt’s scary. It’s exciting. It may rip your guts out now and again, but that’s okay, that’s evolution. Home retailers, you stand on the precipice of explosive change and new technologies that promise to disrupt and revolutionize everything you thought you once knew. HFN stands with you. You hold the proof in your hands of HFN’s commitment to you and the home industry with our new redesign. As painful as change is, the good news is it also creates mind-bending opportunities—new innovations, fresh perspectives, and better business practices with new leaders emerging who see ... Read More
  • 7 for 17

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORNo, that doesn't mean I'm batting .411. What it does mean is that I’m about to identify seven big things to watch out for in 2017. These aren’t predictions … I’m not silly enough to put my already shabby reputation on the line by predicting things that can be traced back to me. Instead, they are areas of prime interest that will greatly affect both the local home furnishings industry and the greater global economy. And, between you and me, I don’t have a clue how any of them will turn out a year from ... Read More
  • Three Black Friday Takeaways

    Bill McLoughlinSome people look forward to the turkey on Thanksgiving. For others it’s the football. For me, it’s the Black Friday ads (not the shopping, just the reading). There are few better indicators of the housewares industry’s mindset than this annual ritual of retail self-immolation. It’s always fascinating to see just how low prices will go in the effort to create a pre-sunrise riot on the day after Thanksgiving. Did you know for example that you can get a 5-cup coffeemaker at Kohl’s for less than it costs for two cups of coffee at Starbucks? Or ... Read More
  • Rainmakers and Disrupters

    Maureen AzzatoWhen in grade school I was often chastised for being a chatterbox, a class disrupter. But back then it did not carry the positive connotation it has today in the business world. If it did, I probably wouldn’t have been grounded quite so much in my youth. All kidding aside, to be labeled a business disrupter today means you are shaking things up, pushing the envelope to the extreme where others are afraid to go. It means you see business opportunities in change—perhaps even chaos—and can translate your vision into new business. Not all disrupters are rainmakers ... Read More
  • The Roof Leaks … But It’s Not Falling Down

    Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTORA curious thing has happened on the way to world domination by the World Wide Web. It’s not happening quite the way they drew up the plan. Don’t get me wrong: online retailing has utterly and completely changed the way America shops and that’s not going to change. This is not a generational or temporal disturbance: it is a profound and fundamental seismic change. But it’s not the end of physical store retailing. Need we be reminded: Between TJX, dollar stores and Aldi, there will be thousands—that’s thousands with a “t”— of new stores ... Read More