With four stores in southern Alabama and one in northwest Florida, Barrow Fine Furniture has come a long way from the small company founded by Teddy Barrow in a little Alabama town called Red Level. Created in the 1940s and sold to the late Tommy Northrop and Will Hall in the 1970s, the company has gradually expanded to other locations but remains a family business today.
“People come to us because of selection and service, and we care about getting to know the markets we serve,” Director Tom Goodspeed says.
For the past 60 years, Barrow Fine Furniture has worked hard to be the leading furniture store in northern Florida and southern Alabama. It offers a wide selection of furniture and its service-oriented sales staff helps differentiate it from competitors.
Keeping up with Change
Barrow Fine Furniture understands that the market changes constantly, but it keeps up with those changes by first determining where it wants to be in terms of its customer demographic. As a result, Barrow Fine Furniture tailors its marketing messages toward educated women aged 30-50 who have a household income of $75,000 or more.
“That is not to say that we don’t sell to people outside of that range, but it is difficult to be all things for all people,” Goodspeed says. “That is where we aim our message and the kind of programs we get into. We look for products that appeal to that base. In the past, it was large, over-scaled and highly carved furniture. But that has changed, and people are looking for sleek, contemporary and functional products.”
Goodspeed says a lot of the concern about functionality stems from the changing economy and housing market. Since many people have downsized their homes, they are looking for items like beds with storage, motion furniture with power and youth furniture that kids can grow with. Barrow Fine Furniture has spent a lot of time ensuring that its product mix takes these new market concerns into account.
At the same time, one of Barrow Fine Furniture’s unique characteristics is the fact that all of its locations are run independently. The stores range in size from 20,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet, and managers are given a lot of leeway when it comes to determining the merchandising mix.
“We stay very close to managers on the scene, and they are involved in merchandising and come with us when we go to two North Carolina furniture markets,” Goodspeed says. “We also line up with companies on the distribution side, as sales reps come in to see our stores and work with the managers. The managers are accountable for what is in their store. We set up programs with the vendor centrally, but the manager can manipulate that according to what they think is needed.”
Barrow Fine Furniture also stands out because of its large percentage of special orders. Goodspeed says the company encourages special orders and rarely advertises price. “Custom orders are one of the main legs to our marketing stool,” he says.
The other legs are keeping prices as low as possible from the get-go, “buy today, get it today” and famous name brands. Barrow Fine Furniture does most of its business via cash or credit card, and it doesn’t advertise huge percentage-off markdowns or financing (even though it does offer financing). As for its advertising medium of choice, virtually all Barrow Fine Furniture ad dollars are spent on television.
“Furniture needs a visual medium,” Goodspeed says. “We promote the Barrow brand, and TV makes the most sense for us to reach the most people.”
Barrow Fine Furniture carries and displays some of the leading furniture name brands at its Alabama stores in Mobile, Andalusia, Dothan and Flomaton, as well as in its Pensacola, Fla., location. The company stresses that it is proud to be a retailer, dealer, reseller, gallery and distributor of leading home furniture manufacturers, striving to work with brands that shares its commitment to offering high-quality furnishings and value.
Barrow Fine Furniture represents dozens of brands, including Aspenhome, Better Homes and Gardens, Craftmaster, Flexsteel, Hooker Furniture, Jackson Furniture, Lane, Paula Deen by Universal, Rowe, Signature Design by Ashley, Thomasville, Vaughan Bassett and Wynwood.
Eyes on the Prize
Barrow Fine Furniture’s plans include looking for ways to make improvements to its physical footprint. It left its Red Level birthplace a few years ago because it had a better opportunity not too far away in Andalusia, which is now the biggest store in the portfolio. Ultimately, Barrow Fine Furniture doesn’t care about being the biggest or the most glamorous, but it does care about the bottom line.
“We always have the bottom line in mind and focus on doing enough volume to see enough profit,” Goodspeed says.
Goodspeed says the company’s long-term plans are to expand, but it will be sure to tread carefully. The company opened locations in northern Alabama a few years back, a move that promptly fell flat. It will continue looking for new locations, but in regions where its brand name is strong and where it can find value in real estate.
“We own our properties, we don’t lease,” Goodspeed says. “We are debt free, and that helped us survive the downturn.”
With the worst of the recession hopefully in the past, Barrow Fine Furniture has seen two consecutive years of solid growth. Although it is still quite away from pre-recession levels and continues to watch inventory very closely, Goodspeed believes the company is trending up.
“We know we are in a new economy and a contentious election year, and gas prices are affecting our costs,” he says. “We know consumers themselves could button up again at some point this year, but we are being cautious and will stay debt free and line up with the right manufacturers. We believe we can have good control over distribution, which is one of the keys to our business. At the end of the year, we should be up over last year.”