When Metro Detroiters step inside the new Loves Furniture chain, which plans to open its first Michigan store next week with more to follow throughout the fall in 18 former Art Van locations, they’ll know fairly quickly that there is a new owner in town.

Gone will be the aggressive salespeople, said Jen Sinha, Loves senior vice president of merchandising, mattress and home décor. Instead, customers will find a concierge desk at the front of each store where they’ll be directed to what they’re looking for. 

And gone will be the Art Van Clearance Center or Outlet. Instead, guests will find a department, Loves for Less, for budget-conscious shoppers or first-time homeowners looking for a more affordable sofa or dining set.

“There’s so much involved” with furniture shopping, said Sinha. “Some people don’t like the chase or an aggressive salesperson. We wanted to create that easy and simplified experience so we can help you.“

Loves’ entry into the Metro Detroit furniture market comes at a challenging time, not just with COVID-19, but changing furniture-buying habits as more people purchase items online. The new stores will open less than six months after Art Van, once the largest furniture and mattress retailer in the Midwest, abruptly filed for bankruptcy, putting thousands out of work and shuttering stores across the Midwest.

Like Art Van, which was purchased by a private equity firm in 2017, Loves is owned by a private equity firm, Dallas-based U.S. Assets. It was started by investor Jeff Love in 2014. In May, U.S. Assets announced they’d acquired 27 former Art Van stores in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Some are former Wolf Furniture and Levin Furniture locations.

Sinha wouldn’t pinpoint what locations will open first, but Canton Township Supervisor Pat Williams said an opening celebration is planned for next week at the new Loves on Ford Road. Other locations include Livonia, Royal Oak, Taylor, Shelby Township,Warren and Waterford Township. The company will be headquartered in Royal Oak.

Williams said Loves’ decision to open a store in the former Art Van location in Canton is a “gift” for the community.

“We were a little disappointed when Art Van filed for bankruptcy and then they vacated the building,” said Williams. “Loves stepping up and filling that space is quite a gift for Canton Township in terms of occupying a facility that is designed specifically for that purpose.”

Roughly 1,000 employees or sales associates, meanwhile, are currently being hired for Loves’ stores.

“Our leadership team lives in the same cities and towns we serve,” said Loves CEO Matthew Damiani in a May press release. “For us, it is a point of pride and hope that we have this opportunity to help put many of our talented neighbors back to work.” 

Casual comfort

Sinha said Loves will focus on “casual comfort,” offering furniture in a range of styles – farmhouse, modern, glam and traditional. They’ll also have mattresses, rugs, lighting and home accents.

Some brands will be familiar to Metro Detroit customers, including Tempurpedic; Stearns & Foster; Serta; Sealy; Lane; Bernhardt; Bassett; and Flexsteel. Others will be new to the market, said Sinha, such as Spink & Co. and PranaSleep. 

“We’re super excited to bring that (PranaSleep)” to Metro Detroit, said Sinha. “We focus our attention on casual and comfort.”

But opening a brick and mortar furniture store in an already crowded market – and amid a pandemic – may be difficult. Ashley Furniture continues to open new locations in Michigan, including a new store on John R in Madison Heights that will open by the end of the month.

Neil Stern, a retail analyst and senior partner with McMillanDoolittle in Chicago, believes there’s room in the Detroit market for another furniture retailer but it’s a challenging time for all retailers.

“There is a huge dichotomy between retail winners – food, home improvement, sporting goods – and losers, right now – restaurants, apparel, department stores,” said Stern in an email. “Furniture could benefit as people spend more time at home, fixing up their homes, home offices, etc.”

Stern said it helps that Loves is opening in former Art Van locations but “it’s tough to replace a legend” and founder Art Van Elslander was a “legend.”

“That said, I think there is a hole in the market that has not been filled since Art Van left and consumers will be curious to check out the new entrant,” he said.

Customer-led shopping

Sinha said eventually, Loves customers eventually will be able to make appointments to shop online or even work with specific sales associates.

But expect a hands-off experience. Customers will be able to start their shopping experience on their own, she said. And there will “inspirational walls” and “modern touch points” to help with their search, said Sinha. 

“We’re not going to have 10 vultures at the door,” said Sinha. “…That’s something that all of us as leaders felt passionate about. That’s probably why online has become so easy because they (customers) didn’t like that aggressiveness.”

Love said the retailer wants to set itself apart from other stores “through a more personalized shopping experience that puts the customer first.”

“Our mission is to provide stylish products, authentic guidance, and an easy experience for our customers as we build comfortable spaces together,” said Love in a press release.

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Saturday August 29, 2020