Last week, in my monthly goals post, I discussed my desire to buy a couch. It’s by no means a certainty, but I’m interested enough to visit some stores.
Why I Don’t Want to Buy a Couch Used
When I first considered buying a couch, at the beginning of July, I assumed it’d be vastly cheaper to buy a couch used. Thus I watched Kijiji for several weeks. Yes, it would probably cost much less to buy a couch used. It could also cost me a lot of wasted time, money, or both.
For starters, I want a leather, reclining couch (more on my criteria in the next section). There’s not a lot of these specific couches available in the local classifieds.
I’m no couch expert. That means I have asymmetrical information. I wouldn’t be able to definitively tell if a used couch was bonded leather or top-grain leather. If I buy a couch new, I can ask a salesperson at The Brick or Leon’s and get a definitive, legally-binding answer (so long as it’s written on the bill of sale). This isn’t feasible if I want to buy a couch used. The brand is clearly advertised on a new couch making it easy to seek consumer reviews. It might be evident on a used couch if the owner hasn’t removed the tag — then again I didn’t get a lot of responses when I asked sellers this question on Kijiji. If these used sellers are honest, then used couches on Kijiji are disproportionately upholstered in fine Italian leather. In short, if I bought used, the risk is greater that I’ll pay too much or get a poor quality piece of furniture.
Further, I’ve noticed that the Kijiji sellers are, in general, asking way too much for their couches. Some people are asking for 90% of retail value because they “only purchased the sofa last year”. They’ve got no concept of depreciation (sorry you bought it and it doesn’t fit your house’s “style”. Pay your stupid tax and move on). Others are asking for $300 for a couch with worn, stained or otherwise damaged leather. In general, a used couch is a bulky, difficult-to-dispose piece of furniture — in short, a used couch is a liability. If the leather is ruined, then it’s not worth anymore than a fabric-upholstered couch. That is, it’s not worth more than it would cost to have somebody take it away. If you need to get rid of it quickly then, yet again, pay your stupid tax for letting your kids/cats/domesticated fox play on the couch and just give it away to the first person who can pick it up.
I also know that, if I buy a couch at The Brick or Leon’s, I’m less likely to bring home a bug infestation. ‘Nuff said.
My Six Criteria (Or, “How to Buy a Couch That Doesn’t Suck”)
After much research, I’ve determined that I want a couch with the following six attributes:
- Sofa (length of at least 80″ and no more than 96″, with seating deep enough to be generously comfortable when I sit on it)
- Reclining (this negates a sofa bed); two recliners or three is fine, but obviously a fixed seat in the center should command a lower price
- Top-grain leather on all cushions, back rests, and arm rests (note that bonded leather or vinyl is OK, but only for non-seating parts of the couch)
- Cushions and pads are detachable and/or have zippers (prefer both) to make moving, re-stuffing, maintenance, and cleaning easier
- Suspension system is 8-way, S System, or another extremely sturdy design
- Foam is high-resiliency with a density of 2.0 (or higher) to ensure longevity and comfort
From Whom Shall I Buy a Couch?
I’d send out a Request-for-Tenders but my partner thinks I wouldn’t get many responses. In the next week or two, I’m going to drop by the following stores to find their least expensive couch that meets my above criteria:
- Leon’s (large national retailer)
- United Furniture Warehouse (small national retailer owned by The Brick)
- Bennett’s Home Furnishings (local retailer) – they’re expensive but really good quality. They’re right beside United Furniture Warehouse so I might drop in.
- The Brick (large national retailer)
- Clearing House Outlet (small regional retailer)
I’d go to Sears but, after reviewing their offerings online, I’ve determined they’re just so stupid-expensive that I’m not going to bother. I’d also visit Jysk (they have an amazing loft bed/workstation that I can’t wait to buy for Holly), but their couches are all short, faux-leather affairs. There’s no Ikea in my area, but I think they’re over-rated anyway.
Some Initial Research and Negotiating Room
I’ve looked online for a “baseline” couch that I’d find acceptable based on my criteria. I’ve found a few examples, some of which are cheaper than the one I’m about to give. It’s a good example, however, because the couch meets all of my criteria (e.g. S system support) and presents some easy negotiation strategies.
- The fact that it’s the same price at two stores means there’s an opportunity for a price matching discount (even though they’re owned by the same parent, UFW should be willing to undercut The Brick or their entire “low cost” business model is a lie).
- Right now it’s available at The Brick for $749.97 — if you purchase the matching love seat or chair. That gives me another great negotiation strategy. How so? The Brick is obviously not going to sell the Luke sofa below cost even if a customer already bought a love seat or chair (why would they give away profit?).
- Based on my own research, I’d estimate that the couch costs The Brick (including sales commission and transportation) about $500 to $600. What research? Well, The Brick’s gross margin (revenue minus the cost of goods sold, not including any apportionment of fixed costs) was 45.2% in 2011. This margin is after any sales commission, negotiation with customers, and incorporates the thinner margin on appliances. I’d estimate that the gross margin on the full MSRP for the couch is anywhere from 60 to 70%.
- I’ll be willing to tack on another $50 for delivery (since I’m not buying two products from them) and pay the HST, which would bring the initial cost ($749.97) to about $903.
- If the salesperson is hesitant, I can offer to pay with cash rather than credit card (since they pay a 1 or 2% fee to my credit card issuer).
- If neither the salesperson nor the manager at The Brick (and then at UFW) decides to bite, I’ll just return on a Monday or Tuesday closer to the end of the month, when they’re hungrier to improve their monthly sales figure.
- Finally, if none of that works, I’ll contact the Commercial Sales Division at The Brick and try my luck.
It’s reasonable to expect that I should be able to get everything I want, including taxes, for under $1000. If not, I just won’t buy a couch. The ability to walk away truly is the best negotiation tool.