Ethan Allen Rules!
Love this oldie from one of my favorite stores: Ethan Allen!
Ethan Allen has a bold new campaign and look. It’s a long way from the din of Columbus Day sales.
It’s an entirely new look for furniture advertising. One TV spot shows off the company’s traditional furniture by following a dog around the downstairs of a house. Another features a couple sleeping in a palatial bedroom with the music of French balladeer Edith Piaf in the background. A third depicts rambunctious teens romping through a family room to a chorus of “We’re gonna wreck this place.”
Ethan Allen Inc. of Danbury, Conn., once the most staid of home furnishing retailers, broke ground with its first national television campaign last week in an attemp to cut through the din of “sale, sale, sale” furniture ads that have long hurt the industry’s image.
Ethan Allen, the nation’s No. 2 furniture retailer behind Levitz Furniture Corp. of Boca Raton, Fla., has relied mostly on direct mail and dealer ads in the past. Now, fresh from a leveraged buyout, Ethan Allen finds itself heading into the 1990s without much of an image for baby-boom home owners looking to step up from furniture discount chains.
Indeed, Ethan Allen finds itself caught in a curious market squeeze. Unlike market leader Levitz and the troubled Seaman’s chain, Ethan Allen does not compete on price. Meanwhile, upstart stores such as Conran’s and Ikea are drawing in 25-to-40-year-olds with contemporary and European designs. That leaves Ethan Allen seen largely as an upscale version of an old downtown furniture gallery.
Ethan Allen is the only furniture chain that designs its own branded lines, sees them through the manufacturing process and then sells them under an exclusive distribution system. Marketing everything from beds to drapes to ashtrays, the company has been built on the idea of selling a whole environment to consumers, not just furniture. Making that approach more accessible to a new generation of consumers is now the company’s top priority, says Ethan Allen chief executive M. Farooq Kathwari.
“We can sell everything a consumer needs to create a home environment that reflects their lifestyle,” says Kathwari. “But we don’t think enough of them know that.” Kathwari’s sense of his company’s problems was substantiated when newly assigned agency Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver of New York surveyed over 1,000 consumers when it pitched the $12 million account earlier this year.
“Over and over we heard that Ethan Allen was an old-line store that sold dark, stodgy colonial furniture,” says Terry Bonaccolta, the senior vice president and group director at LHS&B.
In fact, over the past 10 years, Kathwari and company founder Nathan Ancell have diversified the company’s offerings. Only 25% of sales today come from Early American designs, compared with 100% in 1979. The remainder of sales are split among lines such as French Country, Farmhouse Pine and a contemporary line called Canova, as well as rugs, drapes and lamps. Among a wide assortment of accessories is a line of pricey art reproductions made by a sophisticated process that copies works of masters such as Monet and Van Gogh right down to the brush strokes and paint blobs on the originals. “The goal now is to communicate that Ethan Allen is not just a furniture store, and also that it is fashionable,” says Bonaccolta.
This year the company will do about $620 million in sales with about 300 dealers, compared to $500 million in 1982, lagging behind only Levitz Furniture in sales. Despite the rising popularity of mail-order furniture, and trendy specialty retailers like Ikea and Conran’s, Kathwari says Ethan Allen has not been losing customers. But he does feel that the company he now controls has not adequately communicated with consumers who are in transition, going from cherry-picking furniture from Sears and specialty chains to spending thousands on full rooms of home furnishings.
Ethan Allen’s new ads are a sharp departure from the usual run of furniture store ads, but the company has long pursued a contrarian strategy. Department stores, downtown furniture stores and chains generally act as distributors for national brands, or simply act as buyers of products other companies design. Ancell built a vertically integrated business because he wanted total control over a product line for the home. He is passionate about the idea of “home,” and still dreams of extending Ethan Allen’s name into homebuilding, mortgage financing, landscaping and even a planned community. But for now, Kathwari is aiming a little lower. The next item on his agenda is a plan to modernize the colonial exteriors of the stores.
It’s an entirely new look for furniture advertising. One TV spot shows off the company’s traditional