The Tennessee retailer is on track to more than double the business of its former location
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Furniture Connection’s new, larger store here is off to a strong start with new features, new vendors and dramatic elements designed to wow consumers the minute they walk through the door.
Initially slated to open this past Memorial Day, the 46,400-square-foot showroom made its debut Nov. 23 in this fast-growing market northwest of Nashville. Located on Merchants Boulevard at the corner of the busy 101st Airborne Division Parkway and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard interchange, the store connects via a breezeway to the company’s existing Ashley Homestore.
It replaces a 12,000-square-foot location on Fort Campbell Boulevard that was closed Nov. 22 and reopened as a Furniture Connection outlet earlier this month. (The retailer also operates an Ashley HomeStore Outlet in the market).
“The whole pandemic helped us get our business refocused and realigned,” said Dave Berggren, president and owner. Construction was slowed by “a little bit of everything,” he said, ranging from wet weather in the first quarter of last year to struggles securing needed building supplies on a consistent basis as the nation entered pandemic mode.
But the delay ended up working to the retailer’s advantage. “As we opened up our new sore, we were really ready,” Berggren said.
“We had extra months to plan, and it’s been really helpful, No. 1, from an inventory perspective. When we opened, we had the extra stock needed to sell what we had on the floor.”
The store was designed by Connie Post and her Affordable Design Solutions team and includes special architectural touches and other “wow” elements Berggren was looking for to elevate the in-store experience. Inside, there are no defined aisles. But the furniture displays pop against stained concrete floors. An array of bright globe-shaped fixtures suspended from the high ceilings create drama while pulling visitors through and into the designated spaces.
The interior is wide open and flooded with natural light from oversized windows that “lend architectural integrity to the space and imbue the furniture with a magazine-shoot quality thanks to their dramatice scale,” Post said. “It’s memorable.”
Berggren engaged Post and her team in the fall of 2019 and talked with other retailers she had designed for, including Brown Squirrel Furniture in Knoxville.
“Our customer is a little more contemporary than the rest of Tennessee and Kentucky, and we just knew she could deliver what we wanted,” he said.
“When the customer pulls up in the parking lot and grabs that door handle, they need to have an experience, and they do.”
Other special features include a wine bar serving complimentary wine and beer and a coffee shop operated by a local independent that’s helping to draw traffic the store might otherwise not see. The Furniture Connection parking lot is also a popular destination for food trucks because of the store’s high visibility from the busy parkway. That’s also building traffic for the store beyond destination shoppers while giving employees and customers more places to eat.
The 1,500-square-foot enclosed breezeway connecting the “Ashley HomeStore to the Furniture Connection showroom is dedicated to an assortment of the retailer’s outdoor furniture offering and will double as a dining area during warmer months.
To get all those wow-factors, Furniture Connection invested a little more than it expected in the flagship store project — over $8 million, which was up from the earlier anticipated $7 million investment. Berggren declined to disclose sales figures but said the new store has met expectations early on and remains on track to more than double the annual volume of the previous location in its first full year.
All told, same-store sales, including the retailer’s Ashley HomeStore business, were up about 13% last year from 2019 and the company is tracking the same increase for this year, Berggren said.
The midpriced Furniture Connection has dedicated gallery space to existing brands HGTV Design Studio, Bassett, Flexsteel and La-Z-Boy. Other key furniture suppliers included Liberty, and new sources Vaughan-Bassett, (which the retailer had carried in the past), Rowe/Robin Bruce and TOV.
“We’re proud to bring back Vaughan-Bassett, American-made product,’ Berggren said. “We use to do a lot of business with Vaughan-Bassett, and because of the pandemic, we’re back to doing a lot more.”
The exterior also features a second entrance for the retailer’s nearly 3,500-square-foot sleep department with a “Comfort Test Center” and a lineup that includes newly added Tempur-Pedic and Stearns & Foster brands. Other brands include Serta, Beautyrest, and America’s Sleep Specialists, the latter a promotional private label produced exclusively for Furniture First buying group members by Serta.
While business has remained strong in the midst of the pandemic, Berggren said the retailer has had to make its share of adjustments as a result of the crisis, and related supply chain issues.
“First of all, we used to be same-day, next-day delivery before the pandemic and our stock (position) was really good through May.” The company did pause in-coming orders briefly paused during the height of the uncertainty last year, but quickly regrouped and decided to stock up.
Still, inventory issues have worsened since then, with Berggren noting “some vendors are delivering in three to four weeks, others in three to four months, so it’s kind of (runs the gamut).
“You need to be focusing on inventory every single day of the week and tracking who’s getting it to you and who is not.”
Marketing to the consumer has changed, too. Clear and constant communication has never been more important, Berggren said, and it’s separating successful retailers from the rest.
“The clients coming in today — I don’t think they’re looking for a deal; they’re just looking for furniture and someone they can trust,” he said.
“Right now is really the time to focus on the clients, tell them the fact and communicate with them better.”
See more photos of the new Furniture Connection below.