By David Gill
Anna’s Linens is sending clear signals that it wants to be a bigger retail player in housewares and tabletop.
Back in December, the home specialty retailer brought on board Jeannie Wolf as senior buyer for hardlines. In this newly created position, Wolf is responsible for the buying of housewares and tabletop—categories she has had experience with as a buyer for Macy’s (where she spent 22 years) and as an account manager for Gibson Overseas.
In announcing Wolf’s hiring, Anna’s Linens said the hardlines area “is becoming increasingly important” to the chain. Carie Doll, Anna’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said of Wolf, “Now we have a housewares pro.”
Having such a pro is a major step for Anna’s, which is looking to become more of an overall home resource for shoppers. Alan Gladstone, Anna’s founder, chairman and CEO, said, “I believe that this is the right time [to grow the hardlines category] because our customers are telling us that they want to buy more from us.”
Expanding the hardlines assortment makes particular sense in this effort, Gladstone added. He characterized it as “a natural category expansion from what we are already offering in kitchen textiles.” Bolstering hardlines also means that Anna’s can be “a complete resource” for home, he said.
The moves in hardlines are another piece in the expansion plans for Anna’s, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in December. Two years ago, speaking with HFN, Gladstone said his dream is to grow the chain, whose store count is now about 300, to 1,000 stores.
Anna’s business has been centered on offering value in its merchandise, and this vision is driving its efforts in housewares. “Consistent with what we offer in soft home, we can bring the value equation,” Gladstone said.
In housewares, Anna’s currently offers cookware, dinnerware, gadgets, storage products, outdoor dinnerware, licensed juvenile dinnerware, cutlery and glassware. Doll said the first area of expansion here will be in cookware. “That’s an area where we want to be seen as a value provider, intersecting quality and price,” she said.
Dinnerware, too, is an opportunity for Anna’s. “We have such great fashion in bed, bath and window, and we want to bring this to the top of the table,” Doll said. “We have had fashion table linens in our assortment as well, and we see us cross-merchandising soft and hard tabletop.”
Looking ahead in other hardlines categories, Doll said small electrics are “back on our radar. We tried it two years ago, but we didn’t allocate enough square footage to it and didn’t support it in our advertising. We’ll put more support behind it this year.”
She also said Anna’s will add to its “fairly modest” gadget assortment and to its offerings in beverageware.
In terms of a timetable, Anna’s is looking to begin these category expansions in late spring, with more robust assortments coming to its larger-format stores in early fall. Doll said the entire chain will have the expanded hardlines assortment by mid-fall.
The company is already ramping up its support for this effort.
“We will do advertising, in-store signage, all the things we can do within four walls,” Doll said. “We’re planning print circulars every two weeks.”
While housewares and tabletop will be bigger players in Anna’s stores, the retailer has no intention of turning away from its long-standing focus. “Our textiles offerings will continue to be our core,” Doll said. “The linens will remain the primary part of our business.”
At the same time, Gladstone said Anna’s is gearing toward “significant growth” in its hardlines business in the next year to 18 months. Not only will the additional merchandise play a role in this, but so will the chain’s continuing focus on its customers.
“We already offer a high level of customer service within our stores,” Gladstone said. “When a customer needs help, we are committed to providing that service at retail. That today is a defining difference from our competition.”