Well…that was a shock the other day when the report blasted through my radio that the Art Van furniture store chain was going away…but not before a weeks-long liquidation sale.
If you’re not from around here or any of the other markets with Art Van stores, it’s not a big deal. But this is lousy for several reasons, the lousiest being 3,100 people are gonna lose their jobs. The distant second lousiest is it’s sad to lose another local brand and an organization that supported local causes including Detroit’s wonderful Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I got to thinking about why this happened. Of course brick and mortar retail has been taking hits for a long time as consumers decided they’d rather shop online or at discount stores. It’s why you see a number of shopping malls dying, downscaling or de-malling. Some retailers simply made bad decisions, either expanding too quickly, misread the market or couldn’t manage their finances.
Art Van was bought out by a private equity firm a couple of years ago after longtime family ownership. By all accounts that company was little more than a financial slumlord, leaving Art Van a future with no future.
The truth is, I always hated going to furniture stores. We did buy a couch from Art Van 10 years ago and haven’t been back. I haven’t been in any other furniture stores either, unless you include Ikea, which is like going to a hobby shop to buy a fun kit to construct, or a plate of Swedish meatballs with a cheap hot dog on the side.
The problem with your traditional furniture store is you’re either stalked from the moment you cross the threshold, browbeaten or ignored. Take for example the time we bought that couch a decade ago. My wife saw the one she wanted in an Art Van circular. We went to the store, was immediately met by a guy who looked like he was having a very bad day and we told me we’d make his job easy. My wife showed him the circular, said, we’ll take that one. Easy sale, right? The guy would just have to write the order, we’d pay, set up delivery and go away. But no, our Willy Loman whined, “you only want the couch, not the whole grouping? It’s better when you buy the whole grouping.” It’s better for him, but it wasn’t what we wanted. We politely told him we’d just like the couch but if he couldn’t sell it to us by itself, we’d be happy to take a hike. “O…..K……..,” he sulked wrote up our order. What the hell! We were an easy sale but were made to feel like we were a couple of cheapskates or losers who couldn’t afford “the whole grouping.”
Then there was the time we just needed a room divider. One of those things that folds in three or four sections. We’re at Art Van again. This time we weren’t immediately attacked. We actually had to walk around the store and beg for help. We finally found a saleswoman who seemed friendly…until we told her what we needed. “Oh,” she said with a very disappointed look on her face. “Yes, I think we might have some. Let me look in the back.” Never saw her again. Room dividers cost less than 100 bucks and that apparently wasn’t worth her time.a
Art Van also operated Pure Sleep stores. We went to our local Pure Sleep about a year ago to replace our bed. Easy, right? Not at Pure Sleep. The friendly salesman said we needed to “take the test.” Oh shit. He had my wife and I lay on a bed with a couple of monitors looming over us. The salesman gave us some mumbo jumbo about how sensors or something in the mattress could reveal how each of us sleep. I could have saved him the effort by responding, “generally soundly, when large TV monitors are now hovering overhead.” Anyway, he led us from mattress to mattress where we dutifully laid down and gave our impressions. We finally ended up at a newer version of the mattress we’d been happily using for more than a decade. That’s the one we bought. The whole process devoured almost two hours. We both needed a nap afterwards.
Finally, at another chain, my mother-in-law was looking for a small dresser. Small..because the room in her home built in the 1920’s…is small. The salesperson showed her one thing and that was too large. Think Smaller! She showed us another dresser….still too large. She just wasn’t getting it. When my mother-in-law said everything she was shown was just too big, instead of working a little harder to satisfy a prospective customer, the sales lady turned snotty, spitting out, “well why don’t you just buy a nightstand.” Next stop…parking lot.
If we had these types of experiences, we couldn’t have been alone. I know there are hundreds of conscientious, hard working and caring sales people just trying to make a living, and they suffer when a few losers give their ilk a bad image. It all leaves a negative impression on customers who just want to find what they have in mind and be done with it. Believe me, I’d prefer to buy my furniture in a store where I can see the colors and feel the fabric or wood and sit in the chair to see if my short, stupid legs will reach the ground. You can’t do that buying on Wayfair.com. But when we bought a new kitchen set last spring, we did buy it online. It was smooth and easy and arrived when expected and no one whined at us, insulted us, or disappeared on us.
Well, we did decide to take one last walk around our local Art Van today to see if we could score a bargain on a living room table. Several hundred other bargain-hunters jammed the store, hovering over the liquidation sale offerings like vultures over carrion. We didn’t see anything we liked, although we did notice an odd piece there and there that were nice, but not necessary, so we kept walking. On our way towards the exit I saw a family test-sitting on a triple sofa and thought to myself, “Do the salesman one last favor… buy the whole grouping.”