Well-heeled home buyers are drawing attention from out-of-state furniture chains, two of which announced plans to open stores in Greater Portland.

Bernie & Phyl’s and Jordan’s Furniture announced last month that they would each open up stores in South Portland. The two locations are almost within sight of each other. Bernie & Phyl’s, which opens Monday, is going in the former Toys ‘R Us store on Maine Mall Road and Jordan’s is heading into the mall spot that had been occupied by the Bon-Ton department store.

“We know a tremendous amount of the people (in Maine) know the company,” said Eliot Tatelman, president and chief executive officer of Jordan’s. Jordan’s did an elaborate study of the region’s demographics before deciding to enter the Maine market, he said.

It’s a growing market. Figures from the state indicate that Maine furniture store sales were hit hard during the recession, falling below $200 million in 2009. But sales have recovered, climbing to $286 million last year, an increase of 6 percent over 2017 sales of $269 million.

Some of those sales are driven by southern Maine’s strong real estate market, said Craig Young, a partner specializing in retail real estate with The Boulos Co., a commercial brokerage in Portland.

When people buy a new house, they often have to buy new, or more, furniture, Young said, and home sales are strong “not just in Greater Portland – everywhere along the seacoast is going great.”

Home prices are also rising, which means that many of the sales are to buyers with the means to couple a home purchase with new furniture, said Dava Davin of Portside Real Estate Group.

Two women walk through an area of the Jordan’s Furniture store in Reading, Mass., called Beantown, which has replicas, all made with jelly beans, of iconic Boston landmarks such as the Old State House, seen at right. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The median sales price of a single family home statewide in Maine this year is $230,000, up from $215,000 last year, Davin said. In Cumberland County, it’s even higher, at $337,500 so far this year, she said, and it’s $296,500 in York County.

Plus, the ultra-high-price market is booming, she said, with sales of homes priced at more than $1 million growing from $340.6 million in 2017 to $426.5 million last year.

“It’s not necessarily that there’s more people buying homes, it’s more people with money,” she said, and they often buy furnishings to go in the new house or make major renovations, which also leads to more or new furniture.

Davin said changes in the types of housing people are buying also affects furniture sales. For instance, she said, homes built in the 1990s feature open floor plans that can accommodate large pieces, like a big dining room table or a sectional sofa.

But moving to a house from a different era means changing that style, Davin said, and many empty-nesters are downsizing, prompting changes in furniture. Someone moving from a large, four-bedroom house in the suburbs to a two-bedroom condominium in the city is going to have different furniture needs, she said.

Moving into a market that dynamic makes sense for the furniture retailers,  said Jerry Epperson, an industry analyst and partner with Mann, Armistead & Epperson, an investment banking firm in Richmond, Virginia.

Owen Sperling, 12, crosses a section of a ropes course at the Jordan’s Furniture store in Reading, Mass. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I know Jordan’s has had it on its to-do list for some time,” he said of the expansion to Maine.

In an interview with Furniture Today, Bernie & Phyl’s CEO Larry Rubin said he expected the Maine market would be very good for the chain, which has eight other New England locations. He said the store in Newington, New Hampshire, draws a lot of customers from Maine, indicating it was time to push north.

FURNISHING TRENDS

Furniture sales nationally mirrored what Maine experienced last year, with an increase of 6.6 percent in 2018 over 2017, Epperson said. But, he said, there’s been a slowdown this year, primarily because buyers are worried that tariffs on China may lead to increased prices.

Epperson said only about a third of the furniture sold in the U.S. is made in China, so that concern may be overblown, but sales in April were down slightly from March, factory output is slowing and shipments are off more than 3 percent.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty over these tariffs,” he said.

Tatelman said Jordan’s is in Maine for the long haul; it plans to open next year. Jordan’s stores are known for their entertainment options, with some stores providing IMAX theaters and others featuring ropes courses, restaurants, ice cream parlors and multi-colored dancing fountains.

The Jordan’s Furniture store in Reading, Mass. includes a 500-seat, eight-story IMAX 3-D theater, seen between shows in this panorama photo. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The reasoning, Tatelman said, is that even people not shopping for furniture will come for the entertainment and perhaps see something in the store they’d like to have. Tatelman declined to say what entertainment will be offered at the South Portland store and said details would be announced closer to the location’s opening, set for March 2020.

“We’re drawing people for fun,” he said. “If you go in, not even shopping for furniture, you might see something you like and buy.”

Tatelman said the company’s target market is Greater Portland out to about an hour’s drive away.

“Furniture being a large-ticket item, people will travel,” he said.

Jordan’s is also known for its Boston Red Sox-connected promotions. The current one will make spring purchases free if a Red Sox pitcher tosses a no-hitter after July 31.

Bernie & Phyl’s relies on more traditional promotions, such as no- or low-interest financing. The company is moving more quickly than Jordan’s to open up in Maine, with the Maine Mall Road location due to open Monday.

Jordan’s has four stores in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire, one in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut. Bernie & Phyl’s has eight stores – six in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire.


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