A Brand Gone Bland

A few weeks back, I noticed something odd while driving down the interstate. Furniture Row, one of Colorado’s best retail success stories, had replaced the signs over their entire complex. They’re huge white rectangles with large, black, unmemorable type.

These things are awful.

Companies typically signify a stride forward with a project this size (eg. a shift in management, principles or the overall consumer value proposition). That may be what Furniture Row wants to convey, but I think they’ll be disappointed in how this plays out.

Let me explain.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Furniture Row is a very large furniture retailer in Colorado. They began as Pillow Kingdom back in 1974, but can now boast a national presence with stores in 31 states. Over the years ownership branched into new consumer-goods, investing in hot tubs, dining sets and sofas.

Furniture Row brands from 1997-2017.

By 1997 they had four stable and profitable businesses to their name, each intended to furnish the typical American household: Oak Express (1993), Sofa Mart (1994), Denver Mattress (1995) and Bedroom Expressions (1997).

All four companies were individually branded – different color palettes, different logos and typefaces, they even advertised independently.

LIGHTNING STRIKES

In 1997, someone had a stroke of genius. Management brought these companies together under one roof. Rather than four businesses with four leases, four advertising budgets and four times the overhead… they would operate as one: Furniture Row. Each unique logo remained on the building, but inside the stores were joined in one endless shopping experience.

BEFORE (Furniture Row 1997-2017). Click to enlarge. Credit: www.businesswire.com

The brilliance of this move employs a touch of deception. Of course, customers didn’t want to drive all over the city to outfit their homes and Furniture Row presented an opportunity to visit four specialists on the same block. For consumers, it offered a localized hub of industry experts, and was super convenient to boot. They didn’t know that all four were owned by the same folks until they passed through the doors.

Profits piled up and Furniture Row grew so large it even secured its own NASCAR racing team.

SOMETHING GOES AWRY

In 2018, things changed… Furniture Row steered its branding in an entirely new direction. I’m speculating here, but my guess is someone told management they could improve overall visibility, conserve advertising dollars and build brand equity by pushing one name instead of four. On the surface, a pretty smart move. I agree entirely.

What I can’t understand is the solution they’ve chosen.

It’s almost painful to look at.

AFTER (Furniture Row storefront 2018). Click to enlarge.

THE PROBLEM WITH BLACK AND WHITE

Furniture Row is composed of four buildings painted in earth tones. They fit the Colorado landscape and demographics like a glove. Heading into this year, each logo on the outside clearly explained what the consumer would find inside. They projected a warm, comfortable, inviting personality in an industry where people worry about being cheated.

This year, the company ditched those colors in favor of stark black text on a white backdrop.

This is a huge mistake if you ask me. Color is an emotional driver, primal even. Any renowned designer will tell you color is a seriously effective tool in marketing. If you’re switching to black and white, you’re either going to convey rock-bottom prices or extreme luxury. There’s really no in-between.

Furniture Row goes bland. Click to enlarge.

If they were working toward the budget angle, they succeeded. This new look harkens back to generic house-brands from the 1970’s and 80’s. Remember that aisle in the grocery store with nothing but white boxes stamped with a spectacularly plain sans serif type? They had enticing labels like “Beer,” and “Soap.”

Furniture Row must’ve thought this was a winning strategy because they’ve scrapped enticing labels like “Bedroom Expressions” for far less descriptive terms like “Dining,” “Bedroom” and “Living.”

Can’t wait to see how they brand their racing team this year – it’ll probably just read “Car.”

Luxury brands using black and white. Click to enlarge.

Compare this look to companies like DeBeers, Apple and Mercedes. They feature the color black – it’s crisp, formal and elegant. The thin white typeface dresses it all up even more. This is an expensive look, top shelf. If Furniture Row thought it was headed this direction, they’ve missed the mark entirely.

WHOOPS… THEY MISSED ONE

You might have noticed that we discussed just three of the four companies being renamed.

The marketing team apparently felt it was best to leave the Denver Mattress brand alone because when you stand out front, you’ll see one blue sign amidst all the others. I imagine they did this to minimize costs and protect name recognition in the physical product line they’re shipping from coast to coast. Sales would probably fall off quickly if they began labeling their beds with a tag that reads “Mattress.”

The decision to break a pattern of consistency here is a little surprising. It’s another tenet of branding leadership chose to ignore.

KILLING THE BRAND

Even more stupifying, Furniture Row has opted to kill its last recognizable remnant, the company name. The words “Furniture Row” are now only visible on the vertical pillar out front. Everywhere else, it’ll just be called FR.

It’s a real shame, too… these guys have tremendous roadside visibility. Their new store signs must stand 20ft tall and can be read by cars zipping by at 80mph. But instead of welcoming folks to shop at Furniture Row, the signs read “FR|Dining,” “FR|Bedroom” and “FR|Living.” If you miss the pillar, you’ll have no idea what FR even stands for. Not very memorable, right?

A quick Web search showed that not all Furniture Row locations will be turned into acronyms, however. In other markets, they’ll use a silhouette of their storefronts as a logo, and dramatically reduce the size of the company name. I know from my experience shopping with Furniture Row that these are their buildings, but it honestly just looks like clipart.

The whole thing is very strange.

What do you think? Am I seeing this right?

Brian Parker
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