HIGH POINT — The home furnishings specialty stores on Furniture Today’s Top 100 recovered some sales ground conceded to their larger conventional furniture store counterparts the year before, but massive store closings by two bedding retailers and Pier 1 Imports put a damper on their overall performance.

The 26 specialty companies on the list (same number as last year) combined for a 3.6% increase in 2019 sales to $21.88 billion. That was enough to top the 2.3% gain for the conventional stores — to $26.16 billion — as well as the overall Top 100’s 2.9% gain.

But it was a different story on the store front, as the specialists shed a net 1,124 locations, down 12.6% to 7,824 stores this past year. The loss was more than enough to offset the 148-store net gain for the conventional stores (to 3,828 locations) and drag down the combined Top 100 for a net loss of 976 stores (bringing the total Top 100 store count to 11,652 showrooms across the country.

The bedding specialist subset, which dinged the specialty stores on last year’s list, again had a lot to do with the consolidation. The eight bedding-only retailers combined for a 1.9% sales increase to $5.79 billion and a 16% decline in store count to 4,085 locations (down 778 units). The damage largely came from just two of the players — No. 4 Mattress Firm, which saw an estimated 4% sales decrease and shed another 800 stores during the past fiscal year (on top of 256 stores that closed the year before); and No. 77 Mattress1One, down 48.4% to an estimated $80 million as it closed a net 145 locations.

Some of this hit was offset by No. 39, newcomer Tempur Sealy International’s growing direct retail business. TSI acquired the bankrupt former Top 100 company Sleep Outfitters last year, and that business combined with its other corporate-owned stores to fuel a 77.8% sales increase (best growth rate among the Top 100) to an estimated $240 million. The purchase of the Sleep Outfitters also turned what had been a Top 100 negative into a positive, accounting for much of TSI’s net 113-store lift to 153 physical U.S. locations at yearend (the best net unit growth of any Top 100 company).

Better performers

There are three other specialty store subcategories: lifestyle, living room and miscellaneous (the latter featuring No. 9 Big Lots and No. 63 Chair King/Fortunoff Backyard Stores). Combined, they were the better performers, countering much of the weakness in the mattress store world. Big Lots and Chair King had the best sales growth, together up 9.7%, but the weakest store growth, up 0.4% with the addition of just six stores between the two.

The three living room specialists — No. 12 La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries, No. 42 Lovesac and No. 91 Tipperary Sales — had the next best sales growth, up 8.7% to $1.54 billion. Their combined store growth, up 4.6%, was tops among all specialists and almost every other Top 100 subcategory for that matter, besting the conventional stores, the Top 10 and the overall Top 100 (only the single-source networks on the Top 100 grew at a faster rate).

The lifestyle specialty stores are the largest subset (13 companies), and their results were mixed last year. The group combined for a 3% sales gain to $12.8 billion, while store growth slipped 16.5%, or by a net 370 stores to 1,871 showrooms.

No. 6 RH had the best sales growth rate and net sales gain among the lifestyle retailers, up 10.3%, or by $220 million, to an estimated $2.36 billion in estimated furniture, bedding and accessory sales.

No. 74 Roche Bobois had a good year, too, with sales climbing 8.6% to $94 million, and store count increasing 10.3% thanks to a net three new showrooms.

At the other end of the spectrum is No. 16 Pier 1 Imports, the long-struggling lifestyle specialist that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early this year. Estimated furniture, bedding and accessory sales for the company fell 14.8% to $895 million, and the retailer closed a net 365 stores (just over 40%), to end its fiscal year with 541 locations.

CSC Generation, parent company of No. 72 DirectBuy (which includes Z Gallerie) is bidding on the business according to a financial news report, although the company’s CEO has declined to comment to Furniture Today.

The 74 conventional furniture stores on the list held up better that the specialists on the physical store front, with the 4%, 148-store net unit gain, but their combined net sales increase of 2.3% amounted to one of the worst growth rates of any Top 100 subset.

Other measures

The conventional stores got beat by the specialists in other performance measures, too: median sales per square foot, stock turns and gross margin, although the number of specialty retailers helping Furniture Today calculate these metrics was very small and may have skewed the results.

The median sales per square foot for the specialists was $937 (only five estimates were calculated) vs. $196 for conventional stores (30 estimates). Stock turned a median 5.1 times for specialty stores, vs. 4.4 times for conventional stores, and median gross margin was 56% for specialty stores, vs. 49% for conventional stores.

Six of the Top 100’s Top 10 retailers are specialty stores, led by No. 2 Ikea the lifestyle specialist with estimated U.S. furniture, bedding and accessory sales of $3.31 billion (up 2.8%). No. 3 Williams-Sonoma, parent of West Elm and Pottery Barn among other home furnishings banners, followed with $3.26 billion (up 5.2%).

The Ashley HomeStore network represents conventional stores and was No. 1 with $4.96 billion in sales, followed by conventional retailer, No. 5 Rooms To Go, with flat sales of $2.56 billion.

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