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Ashley Furniture Home Store opens in Frederick

September 03, 2005|By DAVE THOMPSON

FREDERICK

Sean Sullivan entered the furniture business with a clear idea of what he wanted to change about the business.

"I didn't like furniture shopping," said Sullivan, president and CEO of the new Ashley Furniture Home Store in the Frederick Shopping Center, located off Exit 7 of U.S. 15. "The stores were designed to appeal to women between 24 and 48 years old, and it was not an enjoyable experience for me."

In contrast, shopping at the spiffy 50,000-square-foot Ashley showroom is designed to be a "total family experience," Sullivan said.

For example, there's a "high-definition" area where plush recliner chairs are planted in front of four HD television screens, including a 105-square-inch projector model. The guys can catch the latest game on ESPN while their wives are shopping elsewhere in the store. Of course, the store's staff wouldn't mind if they checked out the recliners and the televisions, all of which are for sale.

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If the children are in tow, there's a "kids' fun zone" where they can sit in a special seating area and relax with Play Station games.

Should shoppers start to tire, they can visit an in-store caf to refuel with sandwiches and other fare.

Even the restrooms, with features such as high-quality tile, have been designed for a pleasant shopping experience. If men want to leave the recliner area for a restroom break, they can still keep track of the game on flat-screen monitors located in the men's room.

However, these special areas occupy only a fraction of the store's floor space. The rest is filled with furniture - lots of it.

"Some stores have high-end pricing. They are designed to sell a low volume, but to make a lot of money on each piece they sell," Sullivan said. "The strategy at (Ashley) Home Stores is to price things to sell quickly. We're set up for volume."

The Frederick store, housed in a former Ames Department Store facility, is the 185th Ashley Home Store nationwide, although the first in Maryland, Sullivan said. The stores are locally owned and operated and set their own pricing policies.

"We're priced for this area's demographic," Sullivan said. "We've had several people ask us, 'Are you sure this is the right price?' Some have said thank you for opening a place with furniture they can actually afford."

Sullivan said the store's direct connection to Ashley Furniture Industries helps to keep prices down. The company's plant in Arcadia, Wis., has 49 acres under roof, he said. There are four other manufacturing plants, including two overseas.

"They are the largest manufacturer of furniture in the United States and the second-largest retailer," he said.

Although the store's grand opening officially began Aug. 31 and will end Sept. 25, it actually had an unadvertised "soft opening" on July 18. Sullivan said the store had distributed thousands of tickets for a free furniture drawing since that opening. Last Sunday, 10 winners were selected to receive a total $25,000 in furniture.

"We had a total of 2,500 to 3,000 people come through the store. We had a lot of tickets out there," Sullivan said. "State troopers and local police were helping to direct traffic. It was backed up all the way out to Route 15."

Sullivan said the Ashley Home Store will offer a variety of financing plans, from 90-day "same as cash" to multi-year arrangements. Deliveries of large items can be made directly from the store's distribution center at 1741 Dual Highway, Hagerstown. Pickups of purchased items can also be made there.

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