The Furniture Godfather once again answers your tough questions about life in the home furnishings industry...
The Furniture Godfather has been in the Witness Protection Program, residing in an undisclosed location in Central Wisconsin after helping to convict an RSA who tried to pass off veneer as solid wood. Here are some of the letters that he has received over the past few months from Furniture World readers.
Dear Furniture Godfather:
I try to maintain a decent mark-up, but all of my customers ask for a lower price. They are either saying that they saw my furniture for less at the big Furniture House down the street or on that World Wide Web. I think my prices are fair, but I either have to cave in and give a schneid or else I have to starve. What can I do? Signed Discounting in Detroit.
The Godfather believes that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Sometimes you have to leave your store, climb into your car and pay a visit to your competitors. Walk around and see what they have, keeping an eye on their prices, but also what they charge for delivery or any extra charges. That internet is not going away. It will get bigger. I have my “family” sign up for every furniture website so they know what is going on in cyberspace.
Always remember-and never forget; if the other stores are giving such a good deal, why are people shopping in your store? They are looking to buy from you. Just give them a reason to do it.
Dear Mobili Padrino:
After some unfortunate and unexpected departures I need to build my sales team. I advertise in the local rag but hardly ever get a response. And when someone does come in, they are either some goombah or giamoke. How do I get good people to apply? Yours, Lonely in Lodi.
Perhaps you are the goombah and not the people applying! No one looks in the newspaper classified ads for a job anymore. If you want to go fishing (and not sleeping with the fish) go to where they are biting. Websites like Linkedin and Facebook give you the opportunity to reach out for little or no cost and let people know you are hiring. Or use services like Monster.com. Sure they’ll want to get their beak wet for promoting you, but they’ll bring in a lot of good candidates too. If you planned ahead and have a customer e-mail list or mailing address list, you can also recruit from your customer base.
When you do have candidates, keep an open mind. Hire for attitude and train for aptitude. Younger people are not going to look, dress, or speak like your team’s old-timers. But, your customers are younger too! Hire someone that speaks their language, even if you don’t understand it.
I had a successful business in my town for over 40 years. In the last couple of years three big guys have muscled in on my territory and my daily traffic count is in single digits. What can I do to bring more shoppers in as I would like to give my competitors a single digit. Regards, Overwhelmed in Orlando.
Dear Double O: The Godfather never gets angry, he gets even. For years you gave shoppers what they wanted, a New, Clean, Exciting Place to Shop. But if you haven’t invested a dime in your store in the last few years, it’s probably looking old and tired. Meanwhile, the places down the street look and feel great. Chances are good that they have the latest colors and clean new carpet. Their windows are washed on a regular basis and their RSAs have shiny shoes and pressed slacks, shirts, and blouses.
Those new guys reach out to shoppers where the shoppers like to hang out. That means a great website that works with their fancy smartphones, on Facebook, Twitter and more! You’re only as good as people say you are, so they get a lot of online reviews.
You don’t always have to beat them, you just have to copy them, and do what they’re doing-just a little bit better.
Dear Capo di tutt’i capi:
You tell us to get our store on that web thing and to chirp or tweet, or something. I don’t know the Facebook from the phone book! How am I supposed to do this, for crying out loud! Sincerely, Tearful in Tucson.
Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about, like having the GOB boys circling your store! The Godfather doesn’t know how to toss pizza dough, so I call Papa John! Call in an expert, or someone who wants to learn. Get a Consigliere to manage your electronic media and pay them with the money you save by getting out of non-productive advertising. Take this advice too-turn off the news, reruns, and sports on TV for a few hours and learn how the world advertises today… don’t land up with dough on your head!
Dear Don Furniture Godfather:
I have worked hard and make no apologies. I wanted to make a good life for my family. Now that I am ready to head to the warmth of Boca, none of my children want to take over the business that put them in cars and through those fancy colleges (where they learned God knows what). How can I convince them to keep the shop open and keep my other 22 employees in a job? Yours Very Truly, Whynot in Minot.
Dear Frozen Goomba:
When I first started in the furniture business, I never wanted my children in it. I thought they could be Senator Furniture or Governor Furniture. However, now that I have had a brief stay in an equally frozen environment, I know that our chosen field is honorable and performs a necessary service.
But children rarely listen to what you say as much as they look at how you act! At the end of the work day do you come home and complain about how hard life and business is, or do you talk about how you make peoples’ lives better? Do your children have responsible roles in your business?
Give them a role where they can make decisions,and then live with how they decide. It may not be what you would do, but it just might work. And pay them well; give them an open market salary, plus a little bit more, after all, they are taking care of your grandchildren!
If it’s too late for that, consider an Employee Stock Option Plan or ESOP. Let your current employees buy you out. After all, they have been saying how much smarter they are then you are, behind your back of course. Help them choose a reliable leader and let them run with it.
Do you have furniture questions that require the wisdom of the Furniture Godfather? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org for a quick and personal response.
Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht