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THORNTON, Colo.-Jake Jabs isn't exactly tight-lipped about his secret to success.

"Sell furniture for less. Sell more furniture. Make more money," he recently told the Western Home Furnishings Association when members voted him Retailer of the Year. It's a formula that works. Jabs' American Furniture Warehouse sold $215 million worth of home furnishings last year, and just opened its 12th and second-largest store. June, July and August were record months for the chain. Many retailers have it backward, he said. "The cheaper you sell it, the more money you make."

So it's not surprising that when American Furniture Warehouse's buyers, including Jabs, come to High Point, they're looking for value. Not one to mince words, Jabs said, "If you're buying something that's really selling well, you're going to look for something similar at a lower price. Knockoffs happen in this business.

"We just came back from Tupelo, where I found four new [upholstery] vendors. I think they're going to be some good ones. One reason that we've been successful is that we sniff out small vendors. Right now I'm buying product from a dozen really small upholstery vendors. The advantage to me is they ship parts the same day. If there is a problem they take care of it. They're more responsive."

Same-day shipping of parts is Jabs' latest crusade. "Phone calls, faxes and bad customer relations cost so much money. You've got the part, just pull it and ship it!"As a manufacturer himself, Jabs knows whereof he speaks. His Loren Mitchell upholstery plant now ships same-day. "I used to go up there and help ship parts and go back two weeks later and have to ship parts again," Jabs said. "I finally just got disgusted one day and said, `Let's just sit down and figure out how to do this.' " He and a handful of volunteers worked overtime to get the orders caught up, and the company has kept up with demand since. "It's just a matter of deciding to do it. It's important to the retailer. Because I do both, I know the problems, and I know it can be done. Sauder does it. If Sauder does it, why can't everybody else?"

What's Selling in Colorado

Big sellers that Jabs is looking to augment at market this week are retro looks and light woods -- surprising trends in a market traditionally dominated by Southwestern styles. "I think the younger buyer is looking for retro. It reminds you maybe of growing up, of your parents," he said. But the look is "not antiques. It's comfortable, modern, with new fabrics and new colors. As far as colors go, blue is just unbelievably hot, blues of all kinds, and blue-and-yellow combinations." In case goods, "the hottest thing we have right now is the real light maple," he said.

One of the surest ways to find value, said Jabs, is to import it. He sees a lot of imports in High Point and makes frequent trips to China throughout the year. "China is just booming," he said. "The Chinese are good businesspeople. They save money so they have money to work with." American Furniture Warehouse also imports from other Pacific Rim countries, including Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Jabs imports accessories and rustic furniture from Mexico, but he said, "Mexico is not China. It's between China and the U.S. in terms of labor costs. But Mexico is too socialist; their labor laws are too liberal. They're never going to compete on the world market."

Thirty-one Years of High Point Markets

Jabs has been attending markets in High Point since 1968, and he said that, for the most part, the changes over that time have been positive. "I think the biggest change has been the consolidation to High Point. To me, that's good. We used to fly in to Charlotte and drive to Lenoir, Conover, Statesville, Asheboro. We spent so much time driving and getting in and out of cars."

Although the High Point Market has grown bigger with each passing year, Jabs isn't complaining. "We go there for six days and work from 6 in the morning to 10 at night. It's the world-class market. Nothing even touches it," he said. He declined to join in the grumbling about High Point's shortage of housing and parking, saying instead, "Those things would be nice, but they're never going to happen."

Realistically, the only change Jabs believes is necessary is for more small vendors to be represented in the main buildings. Showrooms that take up entire floors "push out a lot of smaller guys who have to scramble and find spaces down the street or wherever. I don't think they need that much room," he said. "I'd rather there be 100 vendors instead of 50."
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Article Details
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Author:Schroeder, Angel
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 11, 1999

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