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The Furniture Repair Decision

Furniture World Magazine


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Repair in-house or hire an outside local or national provider?

According to a recently completed Customer Eval-uation Survey commissioned by Guardsman Products, approximately 50% of US furniture stores maintain some type of in-house repair department. This is only one of the options, however, that furniture retailers can consider when making a decision on how to handle repairs. There is a growing trend toward outsourced repairs, a move that can increase response times, lower overhead expenses, and improve overall customer satisfaction.

Few would argue that the repair side of furniture retailing is less than glamorous, but it's directly connected to good customer service and potential repeat business. Taking the time to evaluate your current repair status could yield big gains.

How does a retailer begin to find that optimum repair solution? With three stores in the Detroit area, McLaughlin's Home Furnishings Designs uses a combination of in-house, independents and the latest option, contracting with a national operation. Finisher Mark Horen is McLaughlin's service department. He handles what he can in-house, and farms out the rest of the work.

Horen points out that even a small in-house service department is a significant overhead expense, especially if the service is performed at the customer's site. The expense can typically amount to between $22 - 25,000 plus benefits per repair person per year; a tidy sum when you consider that most in-house repair operations function only on an as-needed basis. Typically the repair person splits his or her time with delivery duties, forced to shift gears as the workflow demands.

Outsourcing repair services can be not only more efficient but clearly more cost-effective if only from the salary reduction standpoint. Yet, it also allows the store to utilize a larger number of craftsman with a wider range of skills who are dedicated solely to repairs.

"When we use an independent, we don't have one of our own people on the road, getting stuck in traffic, putting miles on a truck, trying to catch people at home," Horen says. But that savings comes with a trade off. "It's not someone who works for us, and I can't guarantee that they'll have the same dedication as someone on our payroll would. But they are representing our company. We want them to represent us well, which means strong professional and technical skills as well as the ability to deal with our customers."

Horen says it can be a time-consuming process just to weed out the good and bad independents. A special challenge is finding an independent who has both the technical skills and the people skills to get the job done and keep the customer happy. "We've had independent people who could do good work, but their attitude was bad, and we couldn't tolerate it because it was a bad reflection on the company." Horen says.

A growing alternative for handling repairs and addressing many of these concerns is to turn to a national company that offers services on a negotiable contract basis.

Horen expects better service out of a national operation. Not only does he feel that fully trained technicians will yield better results, but that he has some recourse in the event of a service failure. "With a brand name connected to the service, the pressure to perform well is greater," he says. And if things go wrong, there's always someone up the line to help.

Mark Mathes, a Guardsman WoodPro franchisee in Cleveland, Ohio, points out that franchisees make a significant investment in their business. "I've made a serious financial commitment to my future," he says. "And I'm going to protect my investment by giving consistently high value, quality work and great customer service."

Horen is confident that the trend of outsourcing repair service will continue. "The basic decision is, can you really afford to add any more repair people to your payroll? We still need good people. Our company name is on the line, no matter who goes out there."

PROS OF OUTSIDE SERVICE

  • Fully trained craftsmen.
  • Skilled at customer relations.
  • No payroll or benefits needed.
  • No balancing of employee job roles.
  • Referral for non-warranty work.
  • Eliminates repeated search for local source.
  • Time saver for trucks and personnel.
  • Can be used as store representative.
  • More flexibility for appointments.
  • Promotes confidence in repair service offered.
  • Can work in tandem with existing in-house help.

CONS OF OUTSIDE SERVICE

  • Has no initial contact with customer.
  • Not an actual employee.
  • Cannot guarantee loyalty to the retailer.
  • Once on the job, must assume customers needs are met.
  • Creates third party layer between store and customer.
  • May replace existing personnel.


Tony Ziegler is the director of franchise operations for Guardsman WoodPro in Grand Rapids, MI, a franchised mobile furniture touch-up and repair service. Its technicians benefit from comprehensive repair and customer service training. Guardsman WoodPro is a division of Guardsman Products, Inc., the largest domestic supplier of wood finishes, and a well known name in the industry. Direct questions on furniture repair, to FURNITURE WORLD care of editorial@furninfo.com.

 

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.