Leon’s stocks small store with big tech

The furniture retailer is building its omnichannel strategy by testing technology at its first smaller-format location.

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The times are a changin’ and Leon’s Furniture is changin’ with them.

The “110-years-young” retailer, as marketing manager Lewis Leon describes it, officially opened the doors to a new concept store that features much less square footage and way more tech features than its traditional large-format stores.

At 15,000 sq. ft,. the new Coquitlam, B.C., store is less than half the size of most of the retailer’s 302 stores that are dotted across Canada, which are often 35,000-to 50,000 sq. ft. with “giant warehouses attached to them,” says Leon’s divisional president, Mike Walsh.

“With this one, we have more centralized distribution so can go with a smaller footprint,” explains Walsh. “Then the challenge goes from distribution to how you can bring the assortment to life in the smaller footprint with the same assortment of a 50,000-sq.-ft. store? We’re leveraging technology, so whether you’re on the web, or in any size of store, you get a similar shopping experience.”

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The new concept store features everything from individual touchscreen stations to navigate “extended aisle” product selections, as well as point-of-sale tablets and an 11-foot video wall that projects images of the retailer’s furniture and appliances in real-size.

Some items in-store are also available to view using augmented reality (AR) by Marxent, giving shoppers the ability to see what a specific end table would look like next to a couch they saw elsewhere in the store. The technology is also available at home via the Leon’s website, bringing it up to speed to AR capabilities offered by competition such as Wayfair and IKEA.

The retailer is also testing “e-tags,” which shows information that would have traditionally been on a paper price tag on a small screen in-store instead. Depending on the response to the e-tag test, Leon’s may get rid of paper tags altogether down the line, says Walsh.

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Since this store is the first-of-its-kind, the legacy retailer is taking a page from start-ups with a test-and-learn mentality, examining the features that work well in this B.C. store to its other locations. It is taking the same approach at other new stores that are opening in the near future, one in Calgary and one in Nova Scotia, says Leon.

And while the retailer continues to invest in its online experience via a partnership with Shopify, it also plans to keep investing in the brick-and-mortar side of the business in 2019 and beyond.

“Online is where the customer journey always begins right now and we have to be able to evolve with them,” says Leon. “So we’re kind of building that omnichannel store, which is a hybrid between our online experience and our traditional brick-and-mortar experience.”

And both Walsh and Leon note that many online-only competitors, such as mattress-in-a-box co. Casper, have ultimately opted to have some in-person presence as, even in an online world, people still like to touch-and-feel the products, particularly when it comes to bigger purchases such as furniture.

The long-time retailer has been investing in reaching out to the next generation of shoppers in Canada, with a millennial-targeted ad campaign by new AOR Bimm earlier this year that’s “been a massive hit,” says Leon. And while revenue growth was essentially flat year-over-year in Q1,  the company is confident its investments, both in marketing, in-stores and online will pay off in the long-term.

“In Q1, we invested in targeted and innovative marketing initiatives from which we expect to receive further benefits throughout the year,” said Edward Leon, president and CEO of LFL Group, in a recent press release. “2019 and 2020 will be exciting years for our company, with plans to continue to leverage our solid online and national brick-and-mortar footprint into results for shareholders, while strategically growing our presence on both Canadian coasts.”

In keeping with melding old ways with new, the marketing strategy for the Coquitlam concept store mixes old and new ways to reach consumers. OverCat Communications is handling social media and influencer strategy, while OMD is leading media buying, including front-page newspaper takeovers, as well as TV, radio and digital ads in the Greater Vancouver Area to let people know about its opening. There will also be 1.5 million flyers distributed in B.C., as well as scratch-and-save cards. And while IKEA Canada is not mailing out print catalogues this summer, for Leon’s, printed mailouts promoting its wares and deals is still key.

“Printed flyers as are still one of the biggest drivers to our store, but it’s an evolving landscape from a marketing standpoint,” says Leon. “We’re 110-year-old company, or year-young!, company and [we want] to remain relevant and to stay in the consideration set of the consumer so it’s a bit of a balance of strategy, branding and the website… all of these components together is what will work for our strategy of growth.”

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