It’s a buyer’s market

Imagine, if you will, the need to purchase a new sofa or dining room set. Visit any furniture retailer in the Las Vegas Valley and you will find a wide assortment to choose from. You are faced with hundreds of options in the way of style as well as upholstery fabrics and wood finishes.

Visit more than one store and suddenly your choices have likely doubled.

And, if you are anything like me, narrowing your options to just one selection can be a major challenge.

Now imagine trying to make that same decision when you are shopping at the Las Vegas Market, a trade show for the home-furnishings industry held twice a year at the World Market Center, where there is more than 2 million square feet devoted exclusively to new furniture.

It makes my head spin just thinking about it.

For Bob Yando, director of merchandising at Walker Furniture, shopping at the market is nothing to fret over. In fact, the complex’s proximity to his office makes his job a little easier.

But the decisions he is making are less personal — a whole lot less personal. And they have to be that way.

Yando and his team of buyers spend all five days of the market visiting as many showrooms as they can trying to find merchandise to fill Walker’s two-story store on Martin Luther King Boulevard, as well as its smaller specialty outlets. Although Yando is the primary buyer for the retailer, he has assembled a crackerjack staff with members who specialize in specific areas.

“I look to see what would be a good addition to what we already have in the store,” he said. “I look for better values, better visual presentations and items that have colors that are fashion forward.”

He also considers whether or not he will have to drop another item to get the new piece on the retail floor.

“Generally, I have to eliminate something. I do a good job at keeping the store filled,” he said.

With the amount of furniture that I saw Yando and his team buy in the few short hours I spent with them during the recent market, I would say that is an understatement.

During the January trade show, I spent a morning shopping with Yando; Sylvia Ebens, who specializes in dining rooms and occasionals; Doug Parr, who specializes in bedrooms; and Mike Landsman, who specializes in bedding. For part of the time we were joined by Larry Alterwitz, Walker’s chief executive officer.

They started on the top floor of Building A and were working their way down to the first floor. Then, it was onto the second building.

Even though we visited the same showrooms and looked at the exact same furnishings, I discovered there is a vast difference between buying something for your home and something that you intend to sell.

When shopping for yourself, you are much more concerned about style, color and comfort. But when shopping for others, you consider things such as product construction methods and quality, assembly needs, what it will take to get the product delivered, whether any service issues may arise once the customer takes the product home, and the availability of marketing materials.

There are, however, a few common considerations, with the most obvious being price. Like many of us, Yando was on the lookout for a good deal.

That doesn’t always translate into the lowest price, although Yando did ask for comparisons per piece when buying in quantities large enough to require a shipping container versus getting pieces from a warehouse. He was looking for furnishings that offered the best quality for the best price and that sometimes meant upgrading the upholstery material or buying case goods made out of wood solids instead of veneers or laminates.

He also has to consider the cost of transporting the product from the manufacturer to Las Vegas and warehousing.

Alterwitz said the value of each piece of furniture decreases whenever it is touched or moved.

The Las Vegas Market is only one of many furnishing shows that Yando and his team attend. Yando said he makes between 15 and 18 buying trips each year to other shows as well as to individual manufacturer’s headquarters.

And with 55 years of experience, there are very few people that Yando doesn’t know.

Parr said Yando is one of the top two buyers in the industry and is affectionately known as “The Godfather.”

Although many manufacturers request that appointments be made to visit their market showrooms to ensure that the proper sales representatives will be on hand, they don’t seem to be necessary for Yando and his team. That holds true with new vendors as well, which Yando estimates to be at about 25 percent of the showrooms he visits each market.

“I know what will be my first call of the day, but otherwise I won’t put a time on it because there could be a delay.”

From what I could tell, it didn’t matter what time Yando showed up. He was warmly welcomed wherever he went and was greeted by handshakes or hugs and always with a smile.

It doesn’t hurt either that Walker ranks in the top 100 furniture retailers nationwide in terms of sales volume.

Some of the showroom stops are more like visits with old friends than shopping for the business.

At the Albany Industries showroom, Yando and Ebens casually looked at various sofas and even sat on a few. In between jokes with sales representative Marvin Silverman and making dinner plans for the next time they would meet, Yando purchased three shipping containers of sofas for the store.

Though from all outward appearances, the stop at Albany was all laughs and fun, it was serious business.

“Walker is an aggressive retailer and Bob is one of the most respected guys in the industry. When you have the opportunity to do business with Walker, then it reaffirms your place in the industry,” Silverman said.

Scott Cohen of Coaster Co. of America agreed. “Bob is one of the toughest and best buyers,” he said.

He also knows what his customers like and shares that insight with the manufacturers.

“We hear what the issues are from our customers, especially in the way of service and assembly,” Parr said.

Bruce Huggins, Coaster’s director of product development, said comments like that from the Walker team are invaluable. “We talk about challenges for their clients. I get feedback (about specific designs) so I know what’s going on. I don’t get that from the sales staff.”

When it was time for me to explore the showrooms on my own, I set off armed with a small fraction of Yando’s vast knowledge. I learned that the secret to shopping when faced with so many choices is to have a clear idea of what it is you are looking for, know what your options are and how they can best serve your needs, take advantage of specials, wear comfortable shoes and always shop with someone’s else’s checkbook.

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