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Are smaller living spaces to blame for slumping Pottery Barn sales?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Pottery Barn sales are down after 30 years of growth, yet sister company West Elm is killin’ it – but why?

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30 years of sales growth, now this?

With brick and mortar retailers closing shop left and right, it’s hard to be surprised that Pottery Barn – your suburban mom’s favorite décor store – has hit a bump in an otherwise smooth road. Excluding the Great Recession, the home furnishings chain has had over thirty years of solid sales growth, ever since it was acquired in 1985 by Williams-Sonoma.

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But recently, Williams-Sonoma reported that the Pottery Barn brand has seen a 1.4 percent downturn in comparable sales (online and at stores that have been open for over a year) over the past three months.

This marks the fourth consecutive quarter of decreasing sales for the furniture emporium.

On the other side of the retail success coin, there’s sister brand West Elm, which is absolutely killing it with the upper-middle-class millennial crowd, and boasts quarter after quarter of insane growth.

What’s going wrong with Pottery Barn?

Well, size matters. If you’re an urbanite with a tiny apartment or condo, a lot of Pottery Barn’s rustic-traditional offerings literally won’t fit in your space (or up your stairs, or through your doorway). And even if you can manage to fit that giant furniture into your small space, you likely want it to be more than just furniture – it should offer the storage space that tiny apartments often sorely lack. Bed frame? Cool, where are the drawers? Coffee table – without a shelf, what’s the point?

“We know that the opportunity is often size, because as people move to smaller living arrangements and the urbanization happens, the large-scale furniture is difficult,” said Laura Alber, Chief Executive of Williams-Sonoma.

Pottery Barn on the tiny track

In February, Pottery Barn set out to address the scale issue by introducing more pieces designed with small spaces in mind, and on Wednesday executives said those pieces earned “strong demand” in the last quarter. So if Pottery Barn keeps on that tiny track, will they be fine?

Maybe not. No matter how space-efficient that dining table is, if it’s perceived to be overpriced, no one is going to want it. Thorough customer research last year found that non-loyal Pottery Barn customers saw the brand as “expensive, too predictable, and not for them,” said Alber.

Luring millennials without alienating boomers and Gen-Xers will be tricky, as will remaining “aspirational” while hitting some lower price points.

It seems like there are plenty of competitors at both the high and low end of Pottery Barn’s reach, and maybe that middle ground is just destined to dissolve. Is another type of retail downfall on the horizon that can be blamed on our shifting space preferences?

#PotteryBarn

Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. COLLEEN

    May 29, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    LET ME JUST TELL YOU WHY SALES ARE SLUMPING AT POTTERY BARN. fIRST THEY ARE PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST INFLEXIBLE COMPANIES I HAVE EVERY ORDERED FROM. NOT ONLY ARE THEY DIFFICULT THEY ARE RUDE AND EVERYONE OF THEIR SALES PERSONS LOOK AS IF THEY HATE THEIR JOB. GOING TO THE STORES IS USELESS BECAUSE THEY DON’T CARRY ANTHING IN THEIR STORE THAT THEY HAVE ON-LINE AND CAN’T HELP YOU. SO WHY YOU ASK ARE THEY DECLINING IN THEIR SALES THEY ARE OUTDATED, JUST LIKE PENNEYS, MACYS AND SEARS HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING TO ADDRESS THE CUSTOMERS NEEDS.

  2. Christina

    May 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I agree with the comment above! I think their Customer Service policies are to blame for their slumping sales. I vowed to stop using Pottery Barn last year after having many issues with their policies time and time again.

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Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

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News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

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