MINNEAPOLIS — Top 100 retailer Room & Board experienced its highest-ever sales this past August and September, and it’s not just the increased demand fueled by the pandemic that has boosted those sales.
The 40-year-old company credits a couple other reasons for its stellar numbers, too: the increased popularity and implementation of its Urban Wood Project and a long-term and successful made in America strategy.
With 20 stores across the country, Room & Board has seen a great response to its involvement in the Urban Wood Project.
“The U.S. Forest Service reached out to us and offered participation in a project with wood from houses and trees being taken down in Baltimore, Md.,” said Gene Wilson, Room & Board director of merchandising and vendor management. “Normally, the wood would go in the landfill. We were able to get a grant and, within six months, started making product.”
Wilson said the urban wood is denser, since, in some cases, it was harvested more than 100 years ago, and it’s rustic, so it can be finished in a variety of different ways. But, he added that the environmental and social impact has been outstanding.
“The next step is that cities all across the U.S. have an urban canopy. Those trees are coming down due to storms, which provides a steady stream of wood,” Wilson said. “Instead of that wood going to waste, our goal is to turn it into something of value that can live for years as heirloom furniture.”
The company is now using this reclaimed historic lumber in furniture while also taking the urban trees and capitalizing on the character of the materials by creating tabletops with a live edge. The goal, according to Wilson, is to take fresh lumber from cities and mill them for use in high volume programs such as case goods and dining tables.
Made in America has always been important to Room & Board, escalating in the past five to 10 years. Today, the retailer works with dozens of family-owned manufacturers across the U.S., and the strategy is more important today than ever, Wilson said.
“When he started the business, John Gabbert got scrappy and found a lot of smaller manufacturers here in the U.S. and cultivated relationships with them,” said Wilson. “Now, Room & Board and those manufacturers have a strong vision of mutual success and are willing to invest in each other.”
The company spent a lot of years strengthening its supply chain and helping those small companies to grow at a significant level.
“This year that really paid off with the growth in the industry over the past several months and the company now doing a volume far beyond what we expected,” he said. “We have shorter lead times and have improved our level of communication, so we can immediately update our partners about what to expect as far as order levels.”
Room & Board anticipates increased business for a while moving forward because there is not a clear sign of when people will be able to go back to living a normal life after the pandemic.
“There is a correlation between the amount of time spent in a space and the desire to update and improve that space,” Wilson added. “We believe the home office category and the outdoor category will continue to be strong long term, even after the pandemic is over.”