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Rather than Recline into Old Age, La-Z-Boy is Reinvigorating its Brand for Today’s Consumers

Consumer insights are a key piece of La-Z-Boy's Century Vision transformation strategy.
(Source: La-Z-Boy)

Getting older is hard — humans know it, and so do brands. But unlike humans, brands don’t have an innate shelf life. The ones that leverage the benefits of age — experience, name recognition, emotional connection — can survive, but only as long as they are able to evolve. And that is exactly what American furniture brand La-Z-Boy plans to do.

“This is a 96-year-old, iconic brand,” said Jorge Calvachi, La-Z-Boy’s Director of Consumer Insights in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “When I say ‘La-Z-Boy,’ people say, ‘recliners, high-quality, very durable, my grandpa or my grandma has one’ — 99.9% [of the responses are] beautiful, nostalgic, positive memories. The problem is that they are dormant, they are in the past. So how do we make this brand more contemporary, more fun, and get people to think about it in [the context of] today’s world?”

Building for the Next 100 Years

In 2021, La-Z-Boy launched its Century Vision transformation strategy, aimed at growing the brand through its centennial year in 2027 and beyond. Key components of the strategy include doubling down on omnichannel and growing its ecommerce brand Joybird, but first and foremost is reinvigorating the core La-Z-Boy brand.

One of the first steps the company has taken toward this goal is to create a consumer insights function for the first time in its history. This effort is being led by Calvachi, who throughout his career has held similar roles at Kraft Foods, General Mills, Clorox Corporation and Amway.

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The classic La-Z-Boy moment from 90's sitcom "Friends"
The classic La-Z-Boy moment from 90’s sitcom “Friends.”

He’s been with La-Z-Boy for less than two years, but already his work is bringing about major shifts in the way the company views itself and how it plans to present itself to the world. “The whole industry treats furniture buying as a product journey, but I believe it is an emotional journey,” he said. “We don’t talk about the emotions that furniture enables. We talk all about the quality, the durability, but think of that Friends moment [when Joey and Chandler recline their La-Z-Boys for the first time], don’t you want to feel that way? At the end of the day, everyone wants that, and that is what we should be talking about.”

Connecting with consumers in a new way is no easy task, especially for a nearly century-old organization, but key to that effort is helping employees at all levels of the organization understand those customers. To enable this, La-Z-Boy and Calvachi have teamed up with enterprise insights platform Stravito.

“As soon as I joined the organization, I did a diagnosis of not only what type of insights will unlock growth for Century Vision, but also what will accelerate those insights and what will derail them — that is, what things could stop us from being successful,” said Calvachi. “We quickly identified that the company was working in silos. Like a lot of big companies, they were doing the work and not talking to each other. It was clear that if I was going to spend a lot of money and effort doing this research to drive Century Vision, then I also needed to find a way to share and democratize and socialize that knowledge and insights. It’s not just about connecting data and helping people find what they’re looking for, it’s also about making it user-friendly and engaging and fun — that’s when the good ideas start to bubble up.”

This is exactly what Stravito was designed to do. “With COVID a lot of people realized that their software became their office, but corporate software is often so complicated,” said Thor Olof Philogène, CEO and Co-founder of Stravito in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Why isn’t it as easy to use as the stuff you use when you’re not working, like Netflix or Spotify? That is our holy grail, to make [this platform] as easy and intuitive to use as whatever you’re using when you’re not working. If you don’t lower the barrier and make it super accessible, then nobody’s going to use it.”

Turning Insights into Action

La-Z-Boy began a phased launch of Stravito across the organization in summer 2022. The ultimate goal is to make these insights available to all 11,500 La-Z-Boy employees, including store associates. First though, La-Z-Boy has to gather and assemble those insights. To do this, Calvachi has conducted a slew of foundational and strategic research, including:

  • One of the largest segmentation studies he has ever done in his career;
  • Customer journey mapping;
  • Competitive analysis;
  • Brand health tracking through consumer interviews and more;
  • Brand DNA comprehension studies;
  • Trends tracking; and
  • Research into how consumers define comfort.

“The beauty of insights, and what I believe Stravito will help us do, is not about just going out there and finding the segmentation and the target [customer], for example — it’s about connecting that data to the jobs that need to be done,” said Calvachi. “If you’re going to be successful in building a consumer-centric organization it’s not only about the data, it’s about connecting people to that data.”

The Emotion of Comfort

As an example, Calvachi pointed to the company’s research into consumer views on comfort, all of which is now available to employees at La-Z-Boy who have access to Stravito. Now, “we have to identify what that means in terms of opportunities for growth and how we win,” he said. “For instance, how do we create an opportunity for people to relax even more? Our recliners are already the most comfortable recliners in the industry, but how can we take it to the next level? Those are the conversations that we’re having, but not at the product level, at the emotional and sensorial level.

La-Z-Boy offers more than just the recliners that made their name.
(Source: La-Z-Boy)

“We live in a ‘VUCA world,’ that is, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, so we all need more comfort right now, but what is the future of comfort?” said Calvachi. “It’s ‘me time,’ ‘we time,’ creating memories — that is social comfort, not the physical aspects of comfort that we typically think about with furniture right now.”

Once that nut is cracked, the next step will be getting those insights into the hands of store associates so they can “have conversations that build trust with the customers,” said Calvachi. And that conversation will also begin happening on a broader level very soon. “In a few months, we are going to relaunch,” Calvachi said. “It’s going to bring [all of this] front and center, connected to cultural moments, where we’re doubling down on our name and who we are.”

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