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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.

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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

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Written By

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.

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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