High Point Wrap Up

I'm sure I have written about the High Point Furniture Market before...the penultimate furniture event that happens twice a year here in North Carolina. Although it is true that much of the NC furniture manufacturing capacity has moved overseas, and although it is true that Las Vegas has a newer, flashier, competing furniture market...High Point is still king. It is true that I am biased, having been a visitor to the HP market for over 15 years now, but still, the scope and breadth of the market is still astounding despite the challenges.

It is very difficult to say what the overall design trend is this year. Manufacturers are just happy to sell anything right now, whether its "in style" or not. In fact, I guess the overall design trend is "whatever will sell". But thats not a bad thing...instead of pushing out collections to the retailers (like us) that they hope will sell, manufacturers are looking as closely as possible to what is piquing consumers interest. I am going to focus on one particular trend in this post and add more in later updates.

The most obvious trend is an increasing use of organic, reclaimed and recycled materials. This includes the use of cast-off materials in the design and incorporation of life-like, naturalistic designs. Here are a few that we carry that typify this trend.

The Soma Series by Palecek is a "green" collection from Palecek, featuring unique recycled wood plank tops mounted on an iron base in matte chocolate finish. The recycled tops will vary in grain and color, of course. This is a totally fashionable and stylish minimalist design using unique materials, only from Palecek. There is a coffee table, end table, and console table in this collection, and it does indeed reflect a great use of reclaimed material.

In that same spirit, Bago Luma has a wonderful collection of Myrtlewood Furniture, which uses wood that was discovered in a forgotten warehouse. Myrtlewood grows in small groves throughout the coastal areas of Southwestern Oregon and the southern Pacific Coast. The wood was sliced into thick slabs almost 30 years ago, and had been in dry storage since. The shape of the slabs is very irregular and the natural bark is still attached to many pieces. No other hardwood excels myrtlewood in beauty of grain and variety of coloring, and Bago Luma did a great job of incorporating this rescued wood into its designs. (Please call us at 800-205-7819 if you are interested in this collection).

Another one of our absolute favorite suppliers using organic materials is Currey and Company. The Malaga Chandelier is a perfect example of how brilliantly they bring found materials into a design, and not only build around it, but actually build from it for inspiration. This breathtaking chandelier is made from recovered sea urchin spines! I have never seen anything like it, and actually bought one there on the spot in Currey's High Point showroom. The way this chandelier flows, using the elongated shape of the spines, to create a stunning visual presentation, all in a manner that can be incorporated into any number of interior designs. Its exotic and yet accessible. This piece measures 22rd x 42h and, although it is not yet on our site, can be ordered for late spring delivery.

Lastly, a very sophisticated take by Century Furniture, as green a company as I have ever had the pleasure to represent. They incorporate earth-conscious procedures in everything they do, from use of renewable domestic hardwood to recycling every used resource they can. This commitment to the environment is also the essence of the Natural Collection from Century. The delicate balance of enduring design and enduring materials - Long sweeping lines, graceful curves and generous dimensions complemented with luxurious organic fabrics. Handcrafted here in NC from the finest sustainable materials, using time-honored craftsmanship, Century's Natural Collection is a great reflection of how manufacturers can honor the materials from which they are made by bringing the full beauty of that material to the surface. (Please call us at 800-205-7819 if you are interested in this collection).

Next post I'll be exploring some of the color trends that were most prevalent at High Point, as well as some trends in functionality with regards to home office an entertainment.

Some Clearance Goodies

The most visited section of our web site (not surprisingly) is our Clearance Section. It provides a great opportunity to pick up brand-name lighting or furniture items at a huge percentage off list retail. Clearance items are discontinued products, overstock items, or some customer returns. Customer returns are always marked as such, but we guarantee they are in perfect condition. Clearance items are in-stock and ship in 3 days. Here are a few of my favorites:

Golden Lighting Marquis 3 Light Fan Light Kit on Clearance
Free Shipping Discontinued Item on Clearance

Comes in Roman Bronze Finish. 12 Dia. x 4.5 H Champagne Glass. Overall Size: 12 W x 6 H. Discontinued Item on Clearance

Slices Collection Console Table Lamp on Clearance
Discontinued Item on Clearance

…is a contemporary piece with a hint of the 50's style. It comes in a chrome finish and requires a 1-100W medium base bulb. Discontinued Item on Clearance
Related Searches: Kovacs

Bamboo Magazine Rack by Sadek on Clearance
Discontinued Item on Clearance

Minka-Lavery Raiden Wall Sconce on Clearance
Customer Return Perfect Condition

Minka Lavery's timeless architectural collection designed for the needs of the 21st Century. Sleek, elegant and meticulous detail distinguishes our Raiden Collection. All Raiden fixtures by Minka Lavery Lighting come in Iron Oxide Finish and Venetian Scavo Glass. This wall sconce holds 1-100W Bulb.…

Oxblood Charger by Sadek on Clearance
Customer Return. No Defects.

The beautiful oxblood charger features a deep warm red accented by the unique and ornate pitted edge. Finish color and pattern may vary due to the glazing process.

Lion Bookends by Sadek on Clearance
Discontinued Product

Recession-Proof Furniture

I have been around long enough to suffer through three recessions (although this one is the worst of those, in my opinion). As certain as it is that we will eventually pull through this downturn, it is also predictable that we will see lots of media coverage of "returning to the basics". Not that this is a bad thing, on the contrary, but how many articles on the benefits of meatloaf and mashed potatoes can we read? (you know, comfort food and all that). But the basics also include spending more time with friends and family, making things last longer, and shopping smarter. Maybe this was inevitable, given the excesses of the past few years, but its not always a bad thing to revisit the classics across all lifestyle aspects.

Part of this Return to Basics is a resurgence of traditional design, particularly in the home and fashion markets. We see traditional design as longer-lasting, perhaps more conservatively tailored to reflect a more somber mood. But nothing could be farther than the truth! In fact, today's "Traditional" furniture styles incorporate elements from many design influences, and no collection reflects that better than Lexington Furnitures outstanding new Barclay Square Collection.

Taking traditional elements into the new age, the Barclay Square Bedroom features a rich blending of materials and design elements. With supple nail-trimmed leather, bold zebra patterns on upholstered benches, and the warm luster of the Brownstone finish on Rustic Cherry, the collection exudes an air of sophisticated and understated elegance. For example, the Columbia Accent Chest shown at left features a deep cranberry finish behind elegant door with brass inlay and hardware. Its a stunning, classical piece, however, shown with the Kendal Leather Wing Chair, the traditional form takes on a unique and eclectic appearance. This effect is even more prominent when supplemented by the Park Drive Mirror with its captivating sunburst effect.

Another wonderful use of this cranberry hue takes form with the Hyde Park Arm Chair, shown at right surrounding the breathtaking Abingdon Dining Table. Its a picture of traditional elegance, but the designs are augmented with some updated touches to make this furniture truly timeless. Also pictured is are a pair of Greenwhich Display Cabinets, which feature gentle downlights and antiqued glass doors. Modern updates include a fabric-backed interior in linen and chenille.

The recession is a temporary thing, but your furniture will last for years and years. I don't think there is a better choice than The Barclay Square Collection to satisfy your yearning for traditional furniture with a current day influence.

Search Engine Secrets Revealed!

My business consists of equal parts furniture/lighting sales and search engine marketing (SEM). Without SEM, our business would not have the national reach that it does. Well over 75% of our sales are to customers across the country who find us via the internet. They find us because we invest money in advertising with Google, Yahoo, and MSN. They also find us because of our Search Engine Optimization efforts (SEO). SEO is the activity that gets your site higher in the natural search rankings.

Over the 12 years I have been marketing on the internet, I have learned quite a lot, and seen many trends and sites come and go. I shared some of this knowledge with MultiChannel Merchant, one of the leading trade magazines about the incredibly challenging and diverse world of marketing through the internet, catalogs and retail stores. You can find the article here and I have copied it below. Not sure if I am allowed to do that, actually, but I wrote the article so we will see. Anyway, there are no secrets to SEO, just common sense. I hope that came out in the article because I would hate for Google or anyone else to think that I have some sort of secret process to get high rankings. In fact, for many keywords I consistantly fail to get on the first page (but then on others, we do quite well. Its a trade off on what is the most important to your business). Here is the article, again as it appears in MultiChannel Merchants latest edish:

Carolina Rustica CEO Spills SEO Secrets

The rise of personalized search (a la Google), social networking platforms, and consumers’ increasing reliance on local and mobile search have created new opportunities to gain visibility for your Website through good SEO. This past January alone, more than 60 million people used their mobile devices to access online information. With good SEO, your Website has a significant opportunity to be found by these users.

SEO also plays a role in maximizing your search engine marketing budget. Put another way, SEO is more cost-effective than paid search programs.

For example, the .10/click we paid for our keywords in 1997 is $3/click today for the same keywords. And there is no end to the number of new competitors we see every year, which further drives up the cost of these terms for our paid search campaigns.

So how can i-merchants perform good SEO easily and cost-effectively?

My list of best practices brings together SEO, paid search and other practices, as true SEO does not operate in a vacuum. It’s also generated from more than a decade of operating my furniture and lighting retail Website, Carolinarustica.com.

Content is king
This is the single most important consideration for optimizing your Website. Yet it’s amazing how many Website owners and designers neglect Website content.

You should be an expert on the products you sell, and be able to address any conceivable questions customers may have, either on your product pages, or in your FAQ’s, or elsewhere. Including customer reviews on your site is a great way to accomplish this.

Also, make your site informative and straightforward, and other folks will not only want to visit your site, but they may link to it from their own sites and blogs.

Although PPC programs do not technically count as SEO endeavors, they are an important step in bringing potential customers to your site, and work with your SEO efforts to generate Website traffic. Your immediate PPC efforts are directed towards converting those visitors you have paid for into customers. But the secondary effect of PPC is that you are generating interest in your site, whether those visitors buy or not.

We continue to dedicate a large portion of our SEM budget to Google AdWords. This is not only for conversions, but because those paid visitors are bookmarking our site and many are placing orders at a later point in time—or they’re telling a family member or friend about us. PPC can act as a catalyst for viral marketing of your site even if you are not measuring immediate conversions.

On-site search and site champion
We use a third-party Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) provider called SLI Systems for our on-site search. SLI has developed a technology called “Learning Search” that provides the most relevant search results when visitors are looking for specific products on our site.

SLI has another hosted service, Site Champion, which is critical to our SEO efforts. Site Champion creates landing pages of search results for particular keywords on our Website. Those landing pages can be indexed by most search engines and actually appear in the first or second page of search results when customers are searching the Web using those same keywords.

Site Champion generated more than 25,000 leads to our site in the first quarter of 2009, with customers clicking on Google, Yahoo, and MSN search results for keywords such as “shell chandelier” or “countertop brackets.” This approach is much more cost effective than bidding for top placement for those same terms on the search engines, which allows us to allocate our PPC budget to other keywords that don’t rank as well.

What’s more, these search results tend to convert well since the customer is directed to a landing page that is basically an on-site search result—not a generic company page. We continue to rely on Site Champion as our third-most significant vehicle for site referrals.

Paid inclusion
Carolina Rustica also uses paid inclusion, which involves a third party taking our raw product feed and essentially reformatting it for optimal placement on specific search engines. This is a paid service, independent of PPC efforts, and it gives us an acceptable conversion rate for our investment.

Best of all, it involves virtually no effort on our part after we have set up the product feed. We use a company called Booyah for this service.

Analyze and optimize
You can’t improve SEO without understanding the dynamics of your site’s traffic. And you can’t beat Google Analytics for providing an in-depth snapshot of your Website dynamics.

Google Analytics is linked to our AdWords account so we can see how our AdWords spend converts into sales, but just as important, Google Analytics looks at our other sources of paid and non-paid traffic to examine those same dynamics. It’s also a great way to measure and compare your site’s performance over segments of time.

E-mail campaigns
E-mails can help your SEO efforts by generating interest and traffic to your site. Websites that deluge new customers with e-mails day after day, however, face diminishing returns and higher opt-out rates.

We send out e-mails to our 30,000 contacts when we have something interesting or unique to offer—about once a month. Our click-through rate is higher as a result, and this further helps with SEO. We use Vertical Response for our e-mail service.

Blogging is one of the easiest ways to generate content for your site, and you control it 100%. With a blog, you can create your own third-party site that points to your main site.

You should focus on topics that are important to your site’s visibility, but also add content that is a little more daring or personal than what you may have on your Website. I try to write at least an article a week for our blog, http://carolinarustica.blogspot.com. We use Google’s free Blogger, which makes it easy to add content.

You can also promote your Website through other people’s blogs that are relevant to your industry. Try exchanging articles or using a sweepstakes for blog readers, which is always appreciated. While search engines frown upon paid links, creating useful and relevant links on other blogs to original content on your site is a great way to increase your site’s visibility.

Affiliate programs
We are just beginning to explore affiliate programs, but I believe they can help your site’s SEO endeavors by the propagation of coupon sites that use affiliate networks to provide coupon content.

Two of the largest coupon sites, Retailmenot.com and CouponMountain.com, don’t rely on affiliates, but there is a host of others that do—and more are appearing every month. Coupon sites provide inbound links to your site, but you need to determine you can afford the cost of the affiliate programs and the decreased profit margin generated by coupons.

Social networking
If you sell products or services targeted towards Gen Y, Z or beyond, social networking via youth-oriented sites like Facebook is an extremely cost-effective pursuit. Twitter, which everyone seems to be using, can also give your site increased exposure by links to your company blog and updates (tweets) on genuinely newsworthy events. Other more targeted social networking platforms such as LinkedIn provide exposure to more technically oriented communities.

Social networking sites are built primarily on user-generated content (UGC), however, and this may be out of your control to moderate. We have found YouTube to be a great platform for our business, since our furniture and lighting lends itself to a more visual presentation.

Pioneered by Wikipedia, wikis are sites that provide non-commercial, non-promotional content—just the facts. I can say with certainty that wikis cannot hurt, particularly if you are trying to make some clarification about your business or Website.

But wikis may not be the best avenue unless you have a compelling, unique story to tell. If you have customers or suppliers who want to tell your story for you on wikis, however, they can become a good source of inbound content.

SEO is a long-term endeavor. My list, while not exclusive, provides useful ways to build your site’s visibility.

The relevance of your site is determined primarily by others, so your SEO efforts should be directed at getting other Websites to link to you. You should also be using third-party platforms and services to enhance your overall visibility and measure your success.

Richard Sexton (richard@carolinarustica.com) is president/CEO of furniture and home decor merchant Carolina Rustica.