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This Clayton, N.C., store fronts a DC that serves five Ashley Furniture stores.

An independently owned retailer that is part of the Ashley Furniture Industries family, headquartered in Arcadia, Wis., has developed a 135,000-sq.-ft. distribution and retail complex in Clayton, N.C., that also hosts the company’s headquarters, a 10,000-sq.-ft. clearance center and a 25,000-sq.-ft. store.

Ashley Furniture HomeStore of Clayton owns stores in neighboring Raleigh, Durham, Goldsboro and Fayetteville, each serviced by the Clayton DC.

John Spach, advertising and marketing director for the North Carolina furniture retailer, took Chain Store Age on a tour of the DC and store, explaining that the company reviewed a number of sites over the course of a six- to 12-month period before settling on the current location, chosen largely because of its central positioning relative to the other company stores and its immediate access to major transportation arteries.

“The lease on our previous DC in Morrisville, N.C., was expiring and we first thought we would build a DC with a clearance center, but when we found this location we decided to include a retail store,” he said.

The flagship store is stunning, with a welcoming foyer of stacked-stone columns, a floor-to-ceiling waterfall cascading over a glass etching of the company logo, and an expansive ceiling with rustic timbers forming a cathedral A-frame. However, the most notable aspects are economies of scale gained through the one-site-fits-all business model and efficiencies built into the design of the DC.

Inside the DC area, the ambience is distinctly improved over typical DCs—which are characteristically noisy, dimly lit and poorly ventilated. Conversely, the Ashley Furniture DC is bright and quiet, with fresh air circulating throughout the space.

There are no conveyors or forklifts, and two machines, which are used to recycle materials, were not audible although they were operating during the tour. Low-energy fluorescent lights facilitate excellent visibility, critical to quality-control inspections of product.

“In our previous DC, product was stacked high on three levels of racking,” Spach described. In the new DC, all inventory is on the floor, which has greatly reduced the amount of product damage and created a safer working environment because the product, which is inherently bulky and heavy, no longer has to be accessed with electronic lifts.

“We maintain very low inventory,” continued Spach. “Typically, product is in and out the same day. The corporate office [manufacturer and licensor Ashley Furniture Industries] has a cross-docking system that automatically schedules deliveries through our stores’ POS systems when customers make their purchases.”

The unique forced-air ventilation system makes a huge difference in the working conditions of the DC. Six large fans installed at ceiling height on one side wall maintain air flow, which is augmented with the opening of dock doors. The DC has 20 dock doors plus a triple-wide garage door on the opposite side of the DC from the fans. This extra-wide bay is utilized for customer pick-ups, an option that has gained popularity as budget-conscious consumers increasingly elect to pick up their purchases rather than incur delivery charges. The customer pick-up area includes a waiting room and public restrooms, also rare to find in a retail DC.

When Chain Store Age visited the DC last month, humidity was high and the temperature topped 80 degrees, but the DC was pleasantly comfortable with the fans running, two dock doors and the customer-pick-up bay open. Spach said that even on the hottest, most humid summer days, the DC was adequately cooled by the fan system, and an auxiliary air-conditioner unit never had to be turned on.

© 2014