BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — HOM Furniture had a busy 2020 planned long before the impact of COVID-19 was even a concern for the furniture industry, with two location openings planned for the retail chain during the first six months of the year.
One location, the company’s new flagship location in Bloomington, Minn. — now home to the company’s three retail brands, HOM Furniture, Dock86 and Gabberts — had been in the works for nearly decade and under construction for year. It opened on time in May.
The other new location, a space at the Oakwood Mall in Eau Claire, Wis., was originally slated to open March 19 after the original Eau Claire, Wis., location closed and relocated, but the opening was delayed to May after HOM Furniture opted to close all its 17 locations in March out of COVID-19 concerns.
“We weren’t required to shut down in some of the states that we closed locations,” said Kyle Johansen, executive director of merchandising. “But we opted to because we wanted to keep our employees and our customers safe.”
After the shutdown, Johansen and the rest of the team at HOM Furniture realized that they would have to find a way to deal with opening both new locations in a strange new environment. Instead of focusing on the typical fanfare associated with opening a new location, especially one as big as the new flagship location, the HOM Furniture team found themselves canceling earlier plans for catering, promotional giveaways, sales and largescale advertising campaigns and instead focusing on how to open them without attracting large crowds.
“We really just treated them as soft openings,” explained Johansen. “Before we were asking ‘How big can we make this,’ but with COVID-19, we turned to the opposite. We didn’t want people just coming in to look around. We just wanted people who are serious about buying so we didn’t overcrowd the store.”
That goal has caused marketing waves across HOM Furniture’s 17 locations. Johansen said the company had already cut back advertisement spending when the pandemic first began making an impact, both to save money and rethink its strategy. Now, the store is pivoting its messaging to attract only serious customers and to spread information about its commitment to safety.
Accuracy in advertising has also proven to be a problem during this period, as the industry faces product scarcity in nearly every category. Prepping to run a newspaper ad about a set of sectionals on sale, for example, has become difficult for to do because the advertisements have to be submitted weeks before publication, and Johansen said they are having a hard time ensuring that inventory will be available for sales planned so far out in advance.
So, HOM Furniture opted out of advertising that required them to turn in materials weeks in advance of their store openings and chose to go online, where the ads can be placed more cheaply and changed more frequently and quickly.
For customers that came to the new and existing locations, HOM Furniture and its 1,000 employees busied themselves with new safety protocols, staying six feet apart from each other and customers, wearing masks at all times, sanitizing more frequently and moving in-person meetings to platforms such as Zoom.
The stores also offered customers the option to book appointments for shopping to help control the amount of people coming inside and to eliminate time spent by customers waiting in stores.
“We were able to get people checked in quickly when they came in. And on the questionnaire, when they signed up for an appointment, we’d ask ‘is there a product you’re specifically looking for,’ and we’d have someone who can talk about that ready for them,” said Johansen. “That really helped and went really well in the first few weeks, although interest has died down. We’re still offering it in all our stores, though.”
Similar safety measures were taken in setting up HOM Furniture’s new flagship location, which was put together during COVID-19 shutdowns. Members of HOM’s team worked in same socially distanced pairs throughout the process. Unloading processes were staggered to keep people apart, too.
No one got sick during setup, according to Johansen, but it did add about two weeks to the timeline.
“Things like setting up may take a little longer or be a little more complicated, but it’s worth it,” said Johansen. “We wanted to have a big opening and have everything run on schedule, of course, but we were fine changing things if it meant keeping people safe. That’s what is important right now.”