Why red-hot Nashville is music to furniture retailers’ ears

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While it’s always been something of a destination due to its country music roots, people are seeing Nashville as an ideal place to live as well. That makes it an attractive place for furniture and home furnishings retailers.

EASI estimates say the Music City metro, which includes Murfreesboro, Davidson and Franklin, Tenn., boasts a population of 1.98 million, and grew by 20.28% from 2010 to 2022.

Top 100s in the metro include Ashley — owned and operated by Dufresne Spencer Group — Rooms To Go, American Freight, RH, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and more. It’s also home to several regional players, including NashCo Furniture, Bliss Home, Sanders Furniture and a host of lighting showrooms and designer boutiques.

“There are several very solid competitors in the market and more continuing to join the scene every year it seems. With the explosive growth Nashville has experienced over the past 10 years, there are more and more businesses joining the market,” said Todd Garten, chief marketing officer for Dufresne Spencer Group. “These could be local shops, super-regionals and national players. There are also a few Nashville staples that have been in business for a long time and do a good job.”

Rooms To Go saw enough opportunity in Nashville to expand its presence there beyond stores. “For us, Nashville is a healthy medium-sized market. We made a lot of investments in Nashville in the past couple of years,” said CEO Jeffrey Seaman. “We bought a 900,000-square-foot distribution center that we made into a warehouse and clearance center. That’s the hub of our operations in Tennessee.”

The state of business

Like everywhere else, COVID and the resulting furniture boom goosed sales numbers, and while 2023 isn’t quite at the levels seen in recent years, it’s still in a pretty good place in Tennessee’s capital.

“Nashville’s in a little bubble. We’re still seeing some pretty strong numbers. The money influx in Nashville has been different than you’ll find in smaller towns, even in Tennessee,” said Anthony Moore, owner of NashCo Furniture. “We’ve had an up year, and we added a second location about an hour south of Nashville. Overall, it’s a strong market. Even people who aren’t buying houses are still getting furniture or making home improvements still.”

Moore noted that he rebranded the store in 2017 and took a different marketing approach more recently. He said the results have spoken for themselves.

“We’ve been more strategic in how we present ourselves as different than what you’ll find for furniture advertising. It’s increased the level of product and service we’ve offered,” he said. “As I’ve grown and matured, the business has grown and matured with me. The product is a higher product still at great pricing.”

American Freight, which has had a presence in the Music City since 1978 and has four stores in the area, sees no signs of slowing down.

“With the city’s recent population growth, we’ve seen more people needing our products, so it’s been really great to see how the market is expanding,” said Alissa Ahlman, chief merchandising officer. “Our open-box appliance business has been extremely strong in the area.”

Garten said DSG’s recent run in Nashville has outshined performances in a lot of other metros, as well as the showings from several competitors.

“Overall, our business is steadily growing in metro Nashville. No doubt the economic climate is challenging us from a store traffic standpoint this year, but we are seeing increased conversion rates with consumers that are in market, which is offsetting our traffic misses,” Garten said. “When we hear reports of many other businesses in our space seeing double digit sales percentage declines, we are happy to see positive year-over-year growth.”

Seaman said Rooms To Go, which has been in Nashville since the 1990s, has always seen the city as a good area for business, and it’s gotten better in recent years. That prompted the Seffner, Fla.-based retailer to open more stores.

“It’s always been a solid market. It’s a steady city. It’s growing over time. Two stores wasn’t enough,” he said. “As we invested more in Tennessee in general, adding the distribution center gave us more capability. It’s a solid mid-sized market.”

On the horizon

To that end, Seaman believes there’s room for more Rooms To Go in the Music City, and he expects more growth on the years to come.

“I think we add our fourth store by the end of 2024. From there, we’ll have to see,” Seaman said. “It depends on the growth of the city. For us, it’s not that hard to put in new stores. We love developing new projects.”

NashCo’s Moore agreed that the next five years should continue the metro’s upward trajectory.

“I see Nashville continuing to grow. I don’t see any slowdown with the investment the city is making to gain population and companies and corporations moving here. I’m confident in the next five years,” he said. “We just have to continue to be flexible in our thoughts and offerings to make sure we’re serving the community and offering what customers are looking for with experiences that set us apart from others in the market.”

Ahlman said American Freight also sees opportunity to expand its presence. “We’re still looking to grow, and hopefully at least double our footprint, in Nashville,” she said. “Our open-box appliance business has been quite strong and our significant discounts on major appliances have proven to be popular with customers. Additionally, our furniture and mattresses — and our overall assortment — are a great fit for customers’ needs in Nashville’s growing market.”

Garten said DSG anticipates more retailers putting feelers in Nashville over the next few years, so the Ashley owner and operator is making sure it’s top-of-mind among consumers.

“We expect the Nashville area will continue to be an attractive place to live, we expect more competition will likely enter the area and we want to position ourselves as a leader in style, value, experience and giving back to the community,” he said.

What’s selling?

Nashville’s position in the Southeastern U.S. gives it plenty of good outdoor weather, which makes it a great spot for casual furniture. Garten said that’s ringing true at DSG’s Ashley stores.

“We do really well with upholstery in this market, and the outdoor category performs well for us, too,” he said. “We’ve had good success with transitional styles and vintage casual looks.”

What about Rooms To Go’s shoppers? Seaman said they like the classics. “It’s a little more traditional. It’s more traditional than a lot of our cities,” he said.

Ahlman said items with added features tend to resonate with American Freight’s shoppers, and the Delaware, Ohio-based retailer makes sure it’s got plenty on hand.

“While customers are searching for value and affordability, they are willing to invest a little bit more when it comes to functionality and features in their furniture choices, such as hidden storage, USB connectivity, LEDs and speakers — and also in terms of comfort, like soft fabrics and wider seats,” she said. “Our low-priced options ensure our customers can buy items at an affordable price and still get those special features that they really want.”

Reaching as high as the upper-middle tier, Moore said NashCo has had great success with natural woods, lighter neutral fabrics and leather, as well as pops of color through accents.

“Furniture is fashion. Upholstery continues to be our biggest mover,” Moore said. “We’ve got a great leather program that we import from Italy that has been big for our business, and we offer Tempur-Pedic and Stearns & Foster mattresses.”

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