James+James offers example of ‘retail resilience’ in age of COVID-19

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,190 views 

The severity of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic started to manifest in the second week of March. The timeline is still fresh in James Smith’s mind.

“The first week of March we had incredible sales,” said Smith, the owner of Springdale furniture retailer James+James. “The second week was horrific.”

Smith’s response to the downturn was similar to many business owners, specifically in the retail sector — he asked for help. On March 21, the company emailed to its 14,000+ email subscribers a 30% off coupon code, along with an open plea to help James+James keep its team of craftspeople employed.

“When things started to take a nosedive, I met with our team, and I told them we would do whatever we had to do to keep everyone working, even if that meant selling furniture at cost,” Smith recalled. “That’s what we did, essentially, with the week-long 30% offer.”

Customers answered the plea and better than expected. Even at 30% off, James+James filled enough orders to break its monthly sales record. Surprisingly, it topped sales from March 2019 by 60%.

James+James is primarily an online business — about 70%, Smith said — with customers spread throughout the U.S. In addition to its website, the company sells through other e-commerce websites like Etsy and Houzz. Smith is encouraged that orders are still coming in, though he does expect to see a significant sales decline in the next couple of months.

“We are tightening spending and working on cutting costs,” he said. “Right now, cash is king for all businesses, and so we’re taking every step we can to preserve some money so that we can weather for a long as possible. I’m optimistic that this will peak in April or May, but we’re making decisions as if sales will continue to be low for several months.

“I believe some customers are delaying their furniture purchases, not canceling them.”

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is unique on many levels, Smith said he is relying on experience to map out a business strategy for the remainder of the year.

Most importantly, he is maintaining a resilient mindset.

“Anytime we’ve had a downturn in business, we have one response: improve and innovate,” he said. “As painful as these periods are, if you survive them you come out stronger, and the work you did during the downturn pays off when sales return.

“We haven’t reduced any of our advertising spend, and one of our fastest-growing categories is home office desks. We plan to continue to fight, be as creative as possible, find new ways to serve our customers and work to come out the other end of this stronger than we went in.”

Despite the business climate, Smith moved forward with plans to open a new retail store in downtown Springdale, inside the former Watson Furniture building at 111 S. Main St. The plans had been in motion since August. The old store on U.S. Highway 71B in Springdale closed March 21. The new store, with nearly three times the showroom space as the former store, opened March 24. The store also includes an operational woodshop. The areas are separated by 24 feet of viewing windows so customers can watch the furniture-making process.

“We are looking forward to things returning to normal and hosting some grand opening celebrations,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of our team. They’ve created a retail experience that’s unmatched anywhere in this country, and I truly mean that. Very few places you can smell the sawdust and see furniture built while you shop.”