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Renaissance In Print Media: Follow The Leader

Furniture World Magazine


Ethan Allen takes the use of print media to the next level.

Don’t Expect Wild graphics in the Ethan Allen catalog. The cover makes it look like a magazine... no bold text screaming sale, only the announcement of a theme: Solutions.

The furniture industry has experienced a “dark age” in print advertising during which the art of skillfully crafting retail print advertising was almost lost. Happily we are entering a “renaissance” period. Evidence of this rebirth can be seen in an Ethan Allen piece (Furnishing Solutions by Ethan Allen, Winter/04) that is, without question, a new benchmark for retailers. Their effort is so impressive that the key factors making this piece so powerful bear closer inspection.

Before moving on to specifics, there are two “sacred cows” we must first put out to pasture. Ethan Allen has brushed aside these false assumptions that keep most furniture stores in a rut when it comes to building a brand and increasing business:

False Assumption #1: People don’t read. Put your money into TV.

False Assumption #2: If you must use print, keep copy to a minimum.

A furniture retailer who believes these assumptions will be able to remain competitive in print only if his competitors believe them as well. People do read, and the best way to reach customers is to use print, direct mail, flyers or brochures, and newspapers. Why? Print is the principle non-intrusive medium. TV can sell a concept if you can afford it. But it is fatally fractured in most communities, and the mute button is on during most commercials. The Ethan Allen piece, in contrast, will be saved by nearly every woman who opens it. It can be referred to at leisure, and is loaded with valuable information.

Another assumption that cripples furniture retailers is the idea that people will not read copy. It is true that people won’t read an ad if it is of no interest to them. They will, however, pay close attention if the ad is well done and important to them. Unfortunately very few advertising people are well trained in the art of producing print advertising materials. Direct mail retailers are masters at selling in print. They must get return for their efforts, and every direct mail piece must be cost effective. So the Bean and the Sharper Image printed pieces are written and produced to standards that furniture retailers have never approached…. until now.

Don’t expect to see wild graphics in the Ethan Allen catalog. The cover makes it look like a magazine -- a typical Ethan Allen technique. No bold text screaming sale, only the announcement of a theme: Solutions. No “grabbers” until the reader turns the page. Then, the consumer is greeted by real people who are devoted to solving home furnishings problems! Right up front is Ethan Allen’s President, Farooq Kathwari, and immediately behind him are members of his team. Their first names and summaries of their duties include delivery, receptionist, customer service, product development, design consultant, accents merchandiser, quality control, and fabric development. Oh, and the president’s job is listed as: “I see to it that all the Ethan Allen employees [Note: I prefer the more modern term “associates,” especially since Kathwari refers to the Ethan Allen “family”] are empowered, motivated, and challenged so that you are always satisfied.”

Facing the page described above is a nice letter from Kathwari, introducing the new magazine format. On a sidebar is featured some of the unique services that Ethan Allen provides their customers: Wedding Registry, Finance Solutions, On-Line Room Planning, Complimentary Design Service, and Free Local Delivery. How many of these five services are you performing?

The Contents spread enlarges upon the promise of the first three pages. Look at the list of solution categories listed:

• What's New: The Latest Ethan Allen products, styles, and trends.

• Design Challenge: Everyday living solutions for a growing family.

• Work Solutions: Create the home office you need.

• Media Solutions: Home Theatre designs for everyone.

• Quality: An insider's look at our manufacturing process.

• Design Notebook: Follow a design consultant as she helps one couple make their dream a reality.

• Customer Profile: How inspiration can lead to the perfect backdrop for a new life.

• Comfort Solutions: New additions to our Leather Expressions collection.

• Budget Solutions: Budget Solutions: Awaken to great style and value.

• Style Within Reach: Achieve high style without spending a fortune.

• Kids Spaces: Pint-size Ethan Allen style.

• Shopping Solutions: Hundreds of accents at your service.

• Lighting: Great lamps at great prices.

• A Fond Farewell: 18th Century Classics, Avenue, and Georgian Court.

Trust me on this: any woman reading this skillfully written prose embroidered with the continuing theme of “solutions” does not have to be enticed further. She can’t wait to turn the page. The exhibits with this article will help give you an overview of the structure of the entire magazine. This overview will not, however, capture the nuances of the presentations. I will, therefore, take one of them and give as good an analysis as I can in the space we have available.

Design Challenge Spreads: Everyday living solutions for a growing family. The magazine devotes six pages to this idea… the growing, active family. Refer to the exhibit we prepared on this spread. Here is how Ethan Allen’s writer defines the consumers’ problem for readers immediately:

“Design challenge… making a house a home. How one Ethan Allen design consultant helped a family create the home of their dreams.

“Challenge: To create an environment that was relaxing, inviting, and that embraced and fulfilled this family’s day-to-day needs.

“Solution: Using a budget-conscious strategy, a comfortable and functional home comes to life with New Country by Ethan Allen. This casually sophisticated new collection provides everyday living solutions using easygoing, adaptable designs and family-friendly fabrics.”
The psychology behind the well-crafted words is much deeper than talk. The four pages are alive with people. No models, just real people doing things that people do. A stunning room is shown… but how about the price? In large print, $127 a month for 60 months. Of course the total price would knock your hat off: $5894, but that is in much smaller print. And today’s consumer, for the first time in a long, long time, is generally going for terms rather than savings.

On the next double page spread is the same family activity theme. We have another fun room, with large photographs of children coloring and sumptuous furniture options. The headline: “This room is always buzzing. We’re together but doing our own thing most of the time, so everything that’s here is here for a purpose.” The reader is referred to another page for the “pricing details.” On this page the price per month is again the feature, playing down the gross price. Think about it. The wife is thinking: “What’s $127 a month for sixty months? Look at our car payment!” By the way, the pricing page has “people living” photos framing the price lists.

I have seen stores do a good job on family living themes. But remember, so far we’ve only covered six pages out of a magazine of 48! Ethan Allen goes on to tackle many more solutions to a wide spectrum of problems. It is true that people want furniture they can relax into and live with, but there are a great number of other issues that intrigue homemakers. Moreover, the last thing a general retailer wants to communicate to a woman is that they are specialists in “family room” type furniture, but not a source for the more elegant showroom furniture that have intense appeal for many who dream of having a formal living, dining, or bedroom.

There is one flaw throughout the Ethan Allen product. In too many cases the art director striped copy into confusing backgrounds, and the great message was very difficult to read. The exhibit on this page shows how the message and the beauty of the photograph could work without this error. The end result would communicate to the reader with much greater clarity.

The magazine promises lots of solutions, and we are not disappointed. If the man of the house was bored with the first section… the “Work Solutions” gives him lots to look at and think about. This is followed by a spread on “Media Solutions.” Not the tired old shots of cabinets with video stuff jammed in them, but rather a dramatic spread of a beautiful piece with lots of “call outs” showing all the great features and benefits of the product. Not a new idea, but one that has all but been forgotten by other retailers.

Next the magazine devotes two full pages to showing the quality of the Ethan Allen products. Not boring stuff, because once again the theme comes alive with real people who build the furniture and inspect it. The inspection team gets a full-page photo with their first names listed at the bottom. What a morale booster, and what a powerful appeal to the homemaker! Next on the solution list is the “Design Notebook.” Not a lot of fluff, but a real design consultant by the name of Janet who informs us: “I’m not here just to sell you furniture. I want to help you create the home you want.” By the way, if you are still calling your associates who sell “salespersons” and not sales consultants or design consultants, you are living in another century. The same applies to shoppers… they are “guests” not customers. Four pages are devoted to design, followed by a smashing innovation featuring a case history.

Six pages are devoted to: “Customer Profile… How an Ethan Allen design consultant helped one couple make their dream a reality.”

“Challenge: Inspired by their travels, a couple wishes to transform their home into a refined paradise.

“Solution: By incorporating select pieces from Ethan Allen’s Townhouse, British Classics, and Tuscany collections and a scintillating mix of textures and patterns, the design consultant was able to help her customers express their new freedom of style.”

Six pages of furniture to die for follow, featuring low monthly payments, and brief commentaries to move the reader along: “Finding everything we needed in one store was pure joy. The time it saved was priceless.” Right on. Time is everything to today’s consumer. This benign little comment is loaded with customer benefits and knowledge based upon the latest research.

“Comfort Solutions” features “100% quality-crafted leather at great prices.” Of course, complete product descriptions are provided, loaded with customer benefits supported by product points. The next two sections, “Budget Solutions” and “Style within Reach” are obvious appeals toward achieving an upscale look on a budget. Lots of people are featured in small photos, and a stirring testimonial comes from somewhere out of the ether: “I didn’t think it was possible to have the furniture we wanted with what we could afford.” Very powerful stuff.

“Ethan Allen Kids” dominate four pages followed by “Shopping Solutions… everything you need in one place” which covers accessories (Lamps are featured on the back cover). Personally, I would have devoted something to mattress sets. Many homemakers will dream through this book and just may be able to get their husband to consider the new mattress they have needed for a long time. It is never good to neglect a product so keyed to health and well-being.

“A Fond Farewell” is an artful call to action. Once again, the writers have enriched their appeal with robust efforts at defining benefits and copy that is written from the point of view of the customer. Bravo to the team at Ethan Allen, a noteworthy, groundbreaking effort.

I realize that most furniture entrepreneurs are far from the Ethan Allen level of marketing. However, think in terms of the solutions that are being offered the customer. How many of them can you perform? If you can’t afford an expensive, slick magazine you can afford a tab of six pages to drop in every month and tell your story. Mail your tab to your customers and follow up with an insert in the newspaper on Sunday, or the weekday when other inserts are present. Readership goes up 20 to 30% on those days. If someone tells you that the newspaper is only reaching half or 40% of the households in your area, don’t be concerned. There is no other medium that can get the attention of that many homemakers in a non-intrusive way, and (if it is good enough) get them to save the advertisement. Don’t forget to use a direct mail offer up to six times a year. Study the Ethan Allen product, and figure out how to do some of the things they are doing so masterfully. In this case, following the leader is a good idea.

If You Can’t Afford An Expensive, Slick Magazine... you can afford a tab of six pages to drop in every month and tell your story. Mail it to customers and follow up with an insert in the newspaper.

Larry Mullins, President of UltraSales, Inc., has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies for independent furniture retailers that are sound, complete, and innovative. Inquiries can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.