Gardner White eyes expanded customer base, brand perception

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Gardner White has set its sights on expansion, adding 250 new positions and hiring a new advertising firm — Sussman Agency — to enhance its image and support its growth strategy to fill the void created by Art Van’s recent demise.

“This will be a new Gardner-White,” Rachel Stewart, president and fourth-generation leader of the family-owned retailer told Furniture Today. “We are looking at all aspects of our business to determine how we can better serve our existing customers and engage new ones.”

Family-owned and -operated for 108 years, Gardner White ranked No. 57 on Furniture Today’s most recent Top 100 list with estimated 2019 sales of $134 million. The company has built a strong position in southeastern Michigan, where it currently operates 11 locations.

“We’ve been a really good value-driven retailer, and there’s no one who could live in this TV market and not understand we’re a value player,” said Stewart. “When we say value, we mean value for your money. You can buy high-end bedding but get some great goodies and savings with that.”

In fact, she noted, the company’s value perception is so strong that when Gardner White opens in a new area, customers often are surprised by the breadth of the retailer’s selection, something the company hopes to get credit for in its enhanced brand positioning.

The new advertising effort and expansion are aimed at filling the void created by Art Van’s collapse. Gardner White has teamed with the venerable retailer’s former ad agency to develop messaging that will play off Gardner White’s historic strengths while resonating with Art Van customers who have been cast adrift by its demise. The effort will go beyond advertising and encompass refreshed merchandising and product assortments.

“Furniture consumers are going to love what we have coming,” said Stewart. “We’ll have new and improved products across all categories, more consumer-centric showrooms and a brand positioned to earn the trust of the furniture and mattress consumers Art Van left behind.”

In an effort to support this goal, the Sussman Agency has hired two industry veterans, Jeanette McNamara and Andrea Tignanelli,  both former marketing executives at Art Van. The Sussman Agency was previously the agency of record for Art Van for 10 years.

Sussman’s first objective will be to reshape Gardner-White’s marketing and advertising strategy and to connect the brand on more emotional level with consumers. “We’ve made a living by creating category leaders,” said Alan Sussman, chairman. “There’s a hole in the market today that we plan to help Gardner-White fill.”

Making that emotional connection means shifting focus from a largely price-driven messaging strategy to a lifestyle approach, Sussman told Furniture Today. As an example he cited the recent Memorial Day spots the agency had done for Gardner White.

“We want to be the holiday,” said Sussman. “So it’s red, white and blue, very upbeat and positive, with lots of energy and a lot of commitment the holiday itself. You want to be the place that’s fun to shop, that embraces the holiday.”

Sussman explained that one element of his secret sauce is music selection, most often well-known national hits that make an emotional connection for the consumer.

“If I’m trying to develop a targeted spot and that customer is a 45-year-old woman, I want to use her favorite song from when she was 25,” he said. “Music is an emotional connection. You can’t just tell them you have low prices. Nobody advertises they have the highest prices. You need to make that emotional connection.”

Gardner White is betting that connection can reach a new and broader consumer audience enabling it to continue spread its Michigan roots.