La-Z-Boy returns to Pittsburgh

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La-Z-Boy left Pittsburgh in 2007, emptying out its four stores with big sales that indicated a certain finality to the abrupt break-up. The stores weren't "meeting profit expectations," a spokeswoman said at the time.

Consider that ancient history.

The company out of Monroe, Mich. -- having had a little work done, gone in a new direction, gotten the sofa redone and otherwise reinvented itself -- is back in town.

A new 11,500-square-foot store in Monroeville is open, with another set to come in Robinson in October and then a few months later another in Cranberry. More will likely follow, said Soo Bae, market sales manager, earlier this week as she and Janica Smith, manager of the Monroeville location, showed off the place.

La-Z-Boy, which went through a rough time a few years back, is growing again. The company's first quarter numbers released Wednesday showed a 7.6 percent sales increase in the three months ended July 28, and last week it announced plans to buy nine La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores in Ohio, along with a distribution center that will help serve Pittsburgh stores, from the retiring owners.

The overall industry seems to be doing better, too.

Trade publication Furniture Today reported this week the top 25 furniture and bedding retailers in the country, including La-Z-Boy, grew sales 7 percent last year for a combined total of $26.14 billion. Part of that, the report said, came from a surge in the bedding specialty store segment, an area that Smithton-based Levin Furniture is responding to by opening new mattress-focused stores.

La-Z-Boy has adapted its strategy, but not by moving into bedding. Instead, the chain's retail stores are trying to convince customers who sat in their parents' or even their grandparents' La-Z-Boy recliners that the company also sells everything from couches to artwork and vases.

On-staff designers make free house calls to measure customers' rooms and then develop recommendations on furniture, fabric, rugs and accessories. Once the designer whips up a proposal, the customer comes in to see a 3D image of the redecorated room and even a set-up of the recommended furniture at the store.

Kurt L. Darrow, the company's chairman, president and CEO, told analysts on an earnings conference call Wednesday that shoppers are figuring it out. "We are seeing much faster growth rates, higher growth rates, in sofas, occasional chairs, the non-reclining products than we are the reclining products," he said.

Not that La-Z-Boy is shying away from the history that started with making folding, wooden porch chairs and moved onto the bulky recliners that have dominated more than a few dens.

Ms. Bae willingly pointed out the recliners with four separate motors and the ones with seat lifts that even have back-up batteries in case of power outage.

"We're still the king of the recliners," she said. "We're just more than that."

homes - businessnews

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.


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