Sorry for the radio silence for the last few weeks. I fell down the tax rabbit hole -- I had a cute little analogy about getting smaller after drinking out of a bottle marked "Deduct Me" but I never fully developed it, which probably says something about my state of mind. Three weeks of taxes and money, money and taxes, got me thinking of tips regarding saving money when buying retail furniture. I have furniture sales experience in my background and I learned a few strategies during my time there. Sometimes it is about timing, oftentimes it requires some research and comparison shopping, and every now and then it's about building relationships.
As far as timing is concerned, your best bet in starting to look is in the middle of the month so you have time to comparison shop, determine the look you want to achieve based on what's available, and to measure to be sure any furniture you purchase will fit in your space. It's important to have a plan for the room instead of buying individual pieces on a whim, hoping that they'll all work together. Sales tend to end at the end of the month, so the associates will be extra helpful then, especially if they are working on commission (please don't toy with them though, working without a salary is a very stressful business). If you are considering a large purchase, you might get lucky and the associate will share with you if the next month's discount is better than the current month's discount in order to make the customer happy and close the sale.
For upholstered furniture, keep in mind that the price listed is often their least expensive model. It is usually available in only one or two options, usually their most basic fabric and a single finish. Sometimes that model is the only one that's included in the sale so check with a sales associate to be sure. Any form of customization is going to raise the price, and it's easy to get carried away. The fabric and leather options are often listed with a grade -- either a letter or number. Make sure the associate explains to you how their grading system works, as every store has their own system of measurement, and also how much of a difference in cost can be found between grades. Overall however you can bet that simple solids with a polyester mix will have a lower price point than an all-natural fabric with an elaborate print. With leather you can usually feel the difference in price as the less pieces will be thinner and the more expensive pieces will show more of the qualities of natural hide. Any addition of detail such as nailheads, contrast welt, or dual fabrics will add to the cost as well so ask for that to be itemized. In several retailers, you can upgrade your accent pillows for a small fee with your pick of fabrics in the store, upgrading the overall look fairly easily.
The frame construction should be a hardwood plywood for new furniture, as it is among the most durable around, and steel spring foundations offer the most consistency in quality. The old standards of eight way hand tied construction and kiln dried hardwood are still regarded as the high standard for custom one-off pieces, but don't write off a retail manufacturer for not applying them to their furniture. Always ask not only how the furniture was constructed but why that method was chosen. As you comparison shop you will have a much better idea how construction affects the price point and can make a decision as to what works for your lifestyle.
As for casegood furniture such as dressers and coffee tables, it's important to know how they are constructed and the materials that are used. Key words for quality construction include "dovetail joinery", "corner blocks", "dust proof panels", "return moldings", and "center guides". The associate should be able to demonstrate these details to you with the floor model. Also, does the furniture arrive assembled or is it "knock-down"? Knock down furniture requires assembly and can demonstrate a cheaper product. Also do not necessarily write off a piece that is made with veneers. Veneers are often placed on furniture in order to prevent splitting and cracking as solid wood tends to do when the weather changes. Do, however, check the floor model to see if the corners are peeling away. Sales for casegoods tend to be pretty straightforward as there is much less customization involved.
Of course, this is a lot of information to take in and keep in the old noggin. One tried and true way to find your best options at the best price is to take your interior designer with you on furniture shopping trips. Many stores have a designer program where the designer has already developed a relationship with the store and/or its employees, who are incentivized by the notion that the designers represent repeat business for them.
So I guess that after being away for a while unleashed a diatribe from me! I'd better go before I'm late for a very important date. And before I throw out too many half-baked Alice in Wonderland references…