Maloney: It’s amazing. We’re picking up a lot of customers now because we have had merchandise that other people haven’t. But the other area of our business that is just unbelievable is new-home construction and remodel. Those products are backed up months and months, because everybody hanging around their houses [during COVID] had decided they either wanted to move or re-do their kitchens. In certain product categories, we may be six months out [on availability]. And that’s never happened in my years in this business. Being a month out would be a long time in our business… I have people calling to order specific refrigerator models, and I can’t help them. But we have been very fortunate that our building and remodeling business [categories] have been great, and we’re doing probably a better job of getting merchandised than most, but we’re still behind, with a lot of merchandise still “on order.”
But you know, people are not spending money on travel, on restaurants, and not spending disposable income on things they’re used to spending it on — they have more money than in years, and also the government [stimulus] help. I have good friends in the car business and they’re having trouble keeping cars in stock. There is a lot of money out there. I hope and believe it’s getting better.
Romero: Buying has spiked online; we’re noticing [a spike] here locally as well. During the pandemic, people just didn’t want to go out and shop, so they went to online. We have an online chat set up, and that was pretty seamless. But now, compound that with availability issues, you really need to talk to the customer to find out what their real needs are so that you can see what you have that will work for them. You have to say what you have in the range of what they need. Online business during the pandemic helped, and honestly, our business was up during that time. So we didn’t see any downturn – in fact, we saw a spike. People were buying appliances and TVs and wanted to upgrade their kitchens and laundry rooms, and were cooking more, so were more apt to shop and buy, and that’s still the case. There’s pent-up demand, but we have just so many products. It’s very challenging.
We’re a heavily promotional company, so to put together a price-point ad is almost impossible, because you may not have enough of this or of that. So we have to get very creative on how we are promoting, and get away from promoting the price, and rather, promote the features, benefits and advantages of shopping with our company. Price-point advertising is on hold right now. Also, for example, in stock now, we have a good inventory of washers across brands. But when it comes to dryers, we’re limited. And that’s across the board as well. So to advertise a washer/dryer pair is really hard to do. We have a lot on backorder right now, and we do have a good inventory, but the mix is thrown off.
Schaeffer: No question [that there are shifts]. When COVID happened, everybody wanted a freezer – you couldn’t find one for the longest time because customers were all staying home, cooking more, and needed the extra food storage capability because they didn’t want to shop that often at the grocery store. For us, now, they are available, but what might be available to us may not be available in other parts of the country. What we’re seeing here [in Central New Jersey] is that people hadn’t been eating out or traveling, and had been saving their money during COVID. And a lot of these customers have a great deal of equity in their homes. With the lower interest rates available to them, they can pull out that equity and make improvements and renovations. They’re doing new kitchens, doing new laundry rooms, doing outdoor kitchens — and they’re letting workers back into their houses. A lot are coming in, in the last couple of months. During the height of COVID, it was all about replacement appliances. New construction stopped, the wholesale business slowed, but replacement business still went on. Now, there’s still replacement, but I feel that because of pent-up feelings and extra available savings, people are spending. They are re-doing kitchens, laundry rooms — and even fixing up a really nice home office. Under-counter refrigerators, coffee-making systems and microwave drawers are going into those home offices.
By replacing a four-piece appliances package in a kitchen without even replacing the cabinets or countertops sometimes makes the kitchen look brand new. I always tell people to wait a bit before considering changing countertops and cabinets until you do the appliances.
Campbell: To some degree there are shifts. Streaming is red hot. And because of that, consumers now want the bigger TV screens. And even though prices have gone up in some instances, you can still get an 85-inch television now for a very reasonable price, where before you had to spend anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000. The other thing is features – sets are edge-to-edge pictures, almost without a bezel, and speakers are built into the screen, or you use a soundbar. So you can put a 75-inch in the same space were you had a 65-inch — the starting sizes for the main viewing areas in the home are becoming larger than ever for buyers.
Yazdian: It works both ways. Customers shop digitally online, and if you have the merchandise they pick it up or it’s delivered. Now people have been buying the larger TVs during the pandemic because they are home and want a better viewing experience. For the time being, that should continue. To see when behaviors will be back to normal, it may depend upon the part of the country you are looking at, and the degree to which people are vaccinated in each area, and when things open up. It all depends on the industry you’re in; working from home is great for some industries, and not for others.
In our brick-and-mortar business, we’ve seen the traffic pick up. We keep promoting buy online, pick up in store (BOPUS). If they don’t want to pick it up, we deliver. I think this trend will continue because of the ease of the shopping experience, like for smaller items that they can buy online, and it is a way around having to pick up certain merchandise. If it’s a larger item, they will probably come to the brick-and-mortar stores. We have customers that go online, do their homework, narrow down what they want, and when they come here, it’s a faster, easier transaction. A lot of it also depends, too, on what you have in stock.
Outdoor-related products have been really good [sellers] — things like outdoor speakers, because everyone’s been confined to their homes. Also, things like projectors and outdoor screens have done well, for movie nights with neighbors, and also grilles and things like that.
Sholtis: Store traffic is up, but online and installation are far eclipsing retail sales. All products for the home are selling extremely fast — especially theater, audio, networking, and office furniture. We expect light commercial to pick up in the third and fourth quarters, as people continue to return to their offices, etc.
Cole: Some things occurred with COVID. People learned how to be Millennials – learned how to buy online, which was great for ecommerce, which is really the velocity of our industry these days. The other part is, people my age also realized the frustrations of buying online.
People were digging into their homes and realizing they needed a better network, which accounted for a huge rise in our business. They were staying home, weren’t going out to dinner or on vacation, so their budget was higher and it was almost, ‘I don’t care what it costs.’ And there was always a sense of urgency, which was a problem – ‘I want that theater next week.’
What else happened was that people discovered that being at home with family can be pretty nice. The whole ‘man cave’ thing — I hate that term — evaporated, and it became about the family. It was one reason we’ve been so successful.
I think that’s a COVID triumph. And I don’t see that going away that quickly.
I feel good about that — and it was one of the factors I’d been looking at very closely this year. Two years ago wasn’t the best year for World Wide Stereo [due to Amazon]. But last year, when COVID hit, business went through the roof. Even when we closed the stores for six weeks, I had four retail sales staff who refused to be furloughed; they said we’ll just call people. And they did Christmas numbers. And people were thrilled when they got the call, for the most part – a common response. They perceived the call as thoughtful – ‘Indeed, I can do with two more TVs, and the kids are home and we need a better network…’ It was a shopping list.
With our online chat, one of our guys handling that averaged $20,000 in sales a day, on his day off, just chatting and working his phone. In fact, one of his customers who wanted a TV and asked how to make it sound better ended up buying a $120,000 theater — [sold] on his phone, from a chair. There was that discovery, you know.
People always just want an excuse to buy a Ferrari, if they can possibly afford it — that’s what I always tell my sales guys. But in lieu of a Ferrari, make them feel like they’re buying a Ferrari!
ABT: People continue to buy in record numbers. Early on in the pandemic, there was a dramatic spike in the obvious categories: technology for working from home, bread makers, air purifiers. But in the last 12 months, we’ve seen increases in almost every product category. Appliances continued to perform well over the summer. And we’re now seeing a nice lift in categories that were all but decimated last year, like luggage.
And in-store shopping is more or less back to pre-pandemic levels. With Illinois now fully opened, we’ve restarted many of the in-store experiences that were closed all last year. Cooking demos, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies on the weekends, interactive displays for kids, things like that.
Goldberg: Thankfully, there is a strong desire for travel, and the airports and resorts are bustling. We are catering more to leisure travelers as well as travelers’ intent to work from anywhere. The needs have evolved and the solutions we provide are therefore adjusted. We are always intent on being a solution for any traveler, and now we offer bundled solutions customized for each traveler.