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Venture brands home: draws private label blueprint for growth.

O'FALLON, Mo. -- Venture Stores, the 113-store regional discounter based here, has embarked on a comprehensive private brand strategy designed to boost its home furnishings business.

Private brands represented 14 percent of Venture's total business in 1995 and grew to 18 percent in 1996. "Our goal for '97 is 25 percent, and within three to five years, 50 percent," explained Neal Black, senior vice president of product development and hardlines merchandise management.

Private brand development is one piece of Venture's comprehensive repositioning strategy designed to make the chain a "category-dominant" retailer in home furnishings and differentiate it from its national competitors, including Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart.

"Our repositioning and private branding program gives us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves and make us masters of our own destiny," Black said.

Home furnishings constitute the centerpiece of that strategy: Venture has expanded its furniture department an average of 30 percent and is refixturing its home textiles with distinctive wire-weld units.

"Our goal is to offer a fuller, richer presentation of home furnishings," said Cliff Campeau, senior vice president of marketing. "We started testing a year ago, and we have had some very positive results."

In the home textiles area, for instance, refixtured stores are running sales increases of 8 to 10 percent over stores which have not been refixtured, according to Campeau. Home textiles have been refixtured in 87 of Venture's stores, and housewares and tabletop categories such as gadgets, cookware, glassware and dinnerware currently are being tested. Venture stores average 103,000 square feet.

Although Venture's sales are down and the retailer is still in the red, there are recent, hopeful signs of improvement.

Venture had annual sales of $1.9 billion in 1995. Sales for the third quarter of 1996 were $330.2 million, a 25.7 percent decline, but at the same time, the chain pared its third-quarter loss to $9.8 million, compared with $13.2 million.

Although Venture's comparable-store sales were down in February, by 5.2 percent, the rate of decline was slower than the 7.4 percent decrease in January, and 13.5 percent drop in December.

The private brand development program involves all segments of Venture's home furnishings assortment. The company is focusing on its Home to Home label for basic and moderate merchandise in the textiles, furniture, housewares and home accessories segments. Home to Home merchandise is identified with a separate logo, used on all packaging and point-of-sale information.

Other private brands currently in development include Studio Uno, used for casual and contemporary merchandise in furniture, lighting, decorative accessories and housewares; Lauren Rogers, used for classic, traditional and step-up merchandise in all categories; For Chefs Only, used on moderate-priced food preparation products such as cookware and cutlery; Winston Stevens, extending from the men's wear area to furniture and accessories; and Telestyle, an opening-price-point telephone brand.

"As part of our overall repositioning, we are developing a complete branding strategy," Black said. "Previously, private label was just a label. There was no brand profile, no philosophy, no consistency of fabrication, quality or price. Now, we are giving our private brands a separate identity, through consistent, well-designed packaging, quality and fabrication, and pricing strategy.

"The key is brand management," Black continued, noting that there are separate brand managers who are working with the buyers on product development and sourcing. "This allows us to offer products which enhance Venture's image for high quality at low prices."

Venture's brands will be positioned with in-store signage and in the company's advertising as complements to leading national brands. "We have strong national brand programs in categories such as electronics and furniture," Campeau pointed out. "However, private brands give us the ability to offer programs which our competitors down the street don't have."

The retailer also is differentiating itself with its refixturing program, particularly in the home textiles area. "We are presenting more merchandise on the floor, rather than in the stockrooms," noted Jerry Pramik, vice president and general merchandise manager of domestics, home furnishings and electronics. "This has allowed us to expand and enhance our merchandise assortment within the same floor space."

In bedding, for example, Venture has developed a good-better-best assortment. "We're showing 180-thread-count sheet sets, 200 cotton/polyester blend, 220 Egyptian cotton and 230 cotton sateens in a concise, 4-foot presentation," Pramik said. "We have also developed an overhead presentation of mini-ensemble vignettes to show our customers coordinated products without having eight to 10 beds on the floor."

The wire-weld fixturing gives consumers a better view of the actual products, and "really lightens and brightens the whole department," Black added, noting that domestics "is our biggest growth story right now."

Home textiles represented 7 percent of Venture's total sales in 1995, and "our goal is to get it to 11 percent," said Pramik. "Domestics are really the driving category in home furnishings when it comes to fashion and assortment."

Furniture is another growth opportunity: last fall, Venture expanded its furniture assortment by 30 percent, and the category represents 5 to 7 percent of total sales.

"Furniture was one of the first areas we looked to when we developed this category-dominant strategy," Pramik explained. "We've had a strong impact on the business there, moving to more step-up product and a broader assortment."

Black reported: "We have always been strong in dining, but we have expanded the assortment of secondary pieces, such as the hutch, buffet and baker's racks. We also have given a bigger boost to bedroom furniture."

Additionally, Venture is testing its wire-weld fixturing in the housewares, tabletop and decorative accessories categories, and focusing on its private brand development in those areas. "We are taking the business and refocusing it in a more profitable way," Campeau said.

"It's part of our overall corporate strategy to make Venture a destination store."
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Title Annotation:Venture Stores Inc.
Author:Schwartz, Donna Boyle
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 10, 1997
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