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The COVID-19 migration was 'good for the furniture industry': Overstock CEO

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·3 min read
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The furniture and home decor business boomed in 2020 as people stuck at home spruced up their spaces, or relocated to new spaces entirely. The continuing strength in housing means the growth can continue, says the CEO of Overstock.com. 

"First, we have a workforce trend with people moving to different places in the country. That's good for the furniture industry," Jonathan Johnson told Yahoo Finance Live. 

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a Great American Migration: More than 7 million households moved counties last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of United States Postal Service change-of-address data.

Another future driver of growth will be outside of the home, according to Johnson. "People are extending their living spaces from the four walls of their home to the four corners of their property. We see a lot of patio furniture, outdoor recreational equipment," he said.

Overstock's sales nearly doubled in the first quarter, and while revenue of $660 million is still dwarfed by that of its larger pure-play competitor, Wayfair, it's growing more quickly. (Wayfair's first-quarter revenue rose 49% to $3.5 billion).

"It's not really a question of whether people will be buying furniture and home furnishings. It's where," said Overstock's Johnson. "That is increasingly online. Fifteen months ago, 23% of home furnishings were purchased online. Now it's upwards of 35% or more."

The surge in furniture-buying, though, isn't limited to online retailers. A recent analysis by Placer.ai found that traffic at many furnishing and decor chains held steady in the first few months of the year. Visits were particularly strong for At Home and Floor and Decor, with traffic up 36.5% and 32.1%, respectively, the first four months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.

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For Overstock, the renewed focus on its retail business follows a period of preoccupation with blockchain investments under eccentric founder and former CEO Patrick Byrne, who sold all of his shares in 2019. Company veteran Johnson, who managed Overstock's blockchain portfolio, Medici Ventures, transferred management of those assets to external firm Pelion Venture Partners earlier this year.

"We think those businesses are in better hands, and as they have exits or financial events, that will be great for Overstock and will help our balance sheet and bottom line," Johnson said.

Among other changes, Johnson has also brought in new executives, including a chief financial officer and chief marketing officer.

Investors have taken notice, with the stock soaring almost 500% since Johnson took over in September 2019.

Peter J. Keith, senior research analyst at Piper Sandler, is one of those who has been impressed, more so after a recent conference and presentation with Overstock's management. "OSTK has made basic changes to better position "the new Overstock". These include: focus on home furnishings, expanding assortment, improving pricing, targeting marketing efforts to core customer (savvy value shopper), automated customer service, improved delivery accuracy. While these changes are basic block and tackling, we believe these simple adjustments can be highly impactful for an extended period," he wrote in a note.

Johnson told Yahoo Finance Live those changes have been measured and deliberate: "We have focused on culture, and what that really means is execution. We've been telling the market what we would do, and we've been performing."

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9am-11am ET. Follow her on Twitter @juleshyman, and read her other stories.

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