Why Big-Box Chains Are Suddenly Getting Into the Furniture Business

On the heels of Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond really wants to furnish your living room

Bed Bath & Beyond's new Bee & Willow collection features "expertly designed and curated furniture." Bed Bath & Beyond
Headshot of Robert Klara

Last April, Bed Bath & Beyond began to quietly expand the square footage of furniture displays (“vignettes,” it calls them) at its thousand-plus locations in North America. On a call with analysts, CEO Steve Temares explained that “the goal of this pilot includes raising awareness of our growing furniture business,” adding that the stores will be showcasing “real furniture, not utilitarian furniture.”

Now, nearly a year later, it looks like real furniture has become a really big deal for the big-box retailer.

Earlier today, BB&B announced the launch of Bee & Willow, its first-ever private-label collection of home furnishings that will be not just sold, but designed, in house. By “real furniture,” Temares presumably meant goods that were a cut above folding card tables and plastic lawn chairs—the sort of stuff people buy at BB&B when they’re having a patio party.

By contrast, Bee & Willow—which includes chairs, sofas and dressers, plus a variety of accent pieces like pillow and throws—is made up of what the company calls “well-designed, quality pieces that are crafted in the same manner as high-end furniture brands.”

“We identified the unique stylistic thread that runs through all farmhouses and cottages from Maine to Key West, the Great Plains to Venice Beach that evokes an honest, restorative and timeless feel,” global trends director Barbara Weston said in a statement. “The materials in the collections include an eclectic blend of rustic, distressed and time loved transitional décor pieces combined with distressed stone, wood and metal.”

The move is a significant one for a chain that’s known as a convenient place to buy utilitarian items, but not necessarily where you’d go for what Weston calls “quality investment pieces.”

BB&B’s announcement didn’t address the deeper strategic reasons for this expansion, but the move does come on the heels of Walmart’s Feb. 8 announcement of the launch of its own furniture brand, called MoDRN.

Like BB&B’s line, Walmart’s collection is clearly aiming for a rung or two above the brand’s usual wares. Its three collections (Retro Glam, Refined Industrial and Scandinavian Minimal) are aimed at “customers who embrace a modern aesthetic.” The goods include high-end materials like Carrera marble tabletops, velvet upholstery and “exotic veneers.”

So why is all this happening now? As with so many trends in retail, ultimately it could all be about Amazon.

In 2009, Amazon began adding private-label goods to its mammoth inventory, but it started out with small convenience items like USB cables. In the years since, however, Amazon’s expanding private-label inventory suggests that the online behemoth might well have its sights set on a share of big-ticket home items.

In January, TJI Research announced that Amazon’s total number of private-label brands, as of Q4 2018, numbered 135, and a growing number of those brands are now in the home-furnishings category.

Last month, for example, Amazon launched two brands, Alkove and Movian, for the U.K. market. Movian sells Scandinavian-inspired cabinets, desks and beds, while Alkove’s offerings include leather sofas. Amazon also has a collection called Ravenna Home, which includes a full complement of living room furniture, lighting and storage units.

If BB&B has an edge here, it’s that the chain enjoys a standing reputation for better-quality goods than the deep-discounting Walmart does. And, for all its pricing power and enormous selection, Amazon will have to contend with the simple fact that many consumers don’t want to plunk down a thousand dollars for a sofa they’ve never had a chance to sit on.

While BB&B’s new furniture collection may be its first, there are more to come this year and next. Said branding vp Jean Lindsley: “We’re developing private-label proprietary brands to offer a meaningfully differentiated assortment to bring our customers something they’re not seeing elsewhere.”

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.