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Does Who You Are Matter To Your Customer?

Furniture World Magazine


Not unless it matters to you!

0% Financing: Is This All We Have To SayAbout Our Services? The two ads far left are run by stores fighting to dominate the higher end market in Denver. Yet, about all they have to say about themselves is “Zero Percent Financing”. Neither one is either aggressively pursuing new customers. Can't you tell me something about your selection? Brands? Years in business? A relative newcomer on the right publishes a two-sided broadside on good slick paper in full color, using 1/2 of one side to say: "0% Financing," and 1/2 of the other side to say: "Zero % Financing." These ads are common because they are easy ads for an agency or an ad department to create, but a terrible waste of money. In the next issue we will examine the wasted money so many furniture stores lavish on print and broadcast media, and how to get much more bang for the buck.

E ditor’s Note: In the October/ November issue of FURNITURE WORLD, Joe Capillo wrote an article entitled “Customers Don’t Care What You Say!” In this issue, Larry Mullins responds by looking at whether or not they care who you are.

There is a long list of furniture stores that stand for nothing in the minds of their customers. Their ads and commercials reflect this lack of identity. Unfortunately, their CEOs and mangers don't seem to be aware that they are wasting advertising dollars by running ads that look and sound like hundreds of other stores. Yet, many of these stores possess unique identities and powerful merchandising dynamics.

One of the newer buzz words these days is "branding." Branding, in its broadest sense, does not necessarily mean private labels. Branding is the means by which you define and express (in a conceptual way) what you do and who you are to prospective customers. When done successfully, customers see your logo and immediately they see visions of all the great things you can do for them. How is this done? It begins with the classic saying: "know thyself."

You sell furniture. So do many other people, but you are different, aren't you? Think about it. Getting back to basics: aren't you glad you are in an exciting business which impacts-and even changes-lives? As a furniture professional you have so much to offer people, so many benefits to help them live in more comfort and beauty! And aren't you glad you can offer people a thrilling shopping experience that exceeds their expectations? Isn't it great to be a contributor - an agent of change - a creator of value, in this world?

Advantages No Competitor Can Equal
You have four solid advantages that your competitors can never equal:

•Your Unique Knowledge, Experience and Values.

•Your People, their skill, their caring and their commitment.

•Your Systems (provided that they pass on your personal skills to others by means of procedures) that free you to do the high level creative work that all visionary leaders must do.

•Your Advertising and Marketing (provided they reflect WHO you are and HOW you are unique).

If you have all these things in place, no wonder you are overflowing with confidence! No wonder you still have "the eye of the tiger!"

Let's play a mind-game. I'm sitting in your office, right across your desk. I ask you: "Are you really providing value that is superior to that of your competitors?" If that question stumps you, imagine I ask: "If I chose another furniture store, would I get the same level of service, quality and value as you can give me? Would another furniture store provide me with the same quality of shopping experience?"

I'm hoping you would answer: "No. We do things that other stores don't." If you can, then we can take our mind game to another level.

Every Customer's Three Major Fears
Imagine a family comes to your store. They are a little nervous because they don't have unlimited dollars to spend. In addition, they have three major fears about shopping for furniture. They are afraid that they will make a mistake. They are concerned that their new living room won't look right, or won't hold up. They worry that a neighbor or relative will tell them they "got taken". They are afraid that one of your sales consultants will take advantage of them and push something on them they don't want.

Now, imagine that they experience nothing but positives from the moment they drive onto your parking lot. They notice the immaculate housekeeping and are greeted by smiles and made to feel important. They hear themselves referred to as "guests" - not customers. They are put at ease when their three greatest fears are put to rest. the sales consultant quickly assures them, "I will do everything I can to help you get exactly what you want, and I won't let you make a mistake. And when we are all done, I promise you'll be proud of your purchase, and friends will compliment you on the great buy you made." Best of all, regarding their shopping experience, everything goes down just as the sales person promised. Every member of your team does his or her job with dedication and excellence. When the furniture is delivered, the delivery person "resells" them on their choice, and makes them feel great about it. A week later a "Thank You" arrives from the sales consultant who waited on them. And a few days later the consultant calls to make sure everything meets or exceeds their expectations.

Aren't you proud that you created an organization that enhanced this family's life? First of all, your team provided them a pleasant, total shopping experience. They gave them top of the line service, quality and value. Your staff saved them countless hours of stressful shopping time. And, you provided them with years of "bragging rights" about the purchase they made. Of course, you invested quite a bit of time and effort to build the kind of organization that could bring this off. And you put in a lot of time to keep the machine running.

What You Do Is What You Are
Now, give this serious thought. The things you do for customers make you important to them. Because, in turn, these things you do make your customers feel important. You become involved in the problems, the dreams, and the hopes of their families. In other words, you make friends, and you constantly set new relationships into motion. Can you imagine what one of these relationships is worth? Forget the "stats" about customer loyalty - those are abstractions. We are talking about real, one-on-one relationships-friendships. If the events of this fall taught us anything, it is that Americans are still great and loyal people. We also know, as retailers, that keeping customers and selling them more things is much easier and less costly than selling things to new customers.

That is not to deny change. Your customer-friends get older, they buy new houses and need new home furnishings. Children grow up, their rooms become guest rooms or studies. Furniture and mattress sets wear out. Travel plans change, and our friends suddenly have money available for new furniture. All these people need professional advice about their decisions to spend money on the home. Don't you owe it to these past clients, these friends of your company, to contact them on a regular basis and tell them you care about them? They may or may not need the services of your company just now, but you care about them nonetheless. That is why you have a current preferred customer mailing list and why you use it about six times a year.

Branding Made Simple
All of these factors add up to the key principle of branding: who you are is important if you prove yourself to be a trusted, reliable and caring friend. If that statement is too corny for you, or you believe it to be unrealistic from a retailing perspective, your marketing position will probably be usurped by one of the new breed of retailers. These companies are willing to go the extra mile to build relationships with customers, especially women, who initiate most home furnishings purchases. Fortunately, there are not many of the new breed of retailers around just yet. You still have time to become one yourself.

Four Steps To Branding Your Store
In this article we can't cover in depth all four of the unique-factor areas mentioned earlier. We can, however, hit the high spots and give you some very clear guidance on advertising, which is consistently the weakest link in the chain. Furniture advertising is generally very weak, especially in the sense that it fails to clearly brand the dealer running it.

Your Unique Knowledge, Experience and Values: Clearly, no one can match you in this category. John F. Kennedy, in his last news conference in November of 1963, was asked if he enjoyed being president. He replied that he did, and he offered what he referred to as the "Greeks definition of happiness... full use of one's powers along the lines of excellence." If you strive for and teach excellence, you are one-fourth of the way to branding your store as the best retailer of furniture in your market area.

Your People, Their Skill, Their Caring And Their Commitment: These are your greatest assets - not your branding or your merchandising dynamics. Your people are an extension of you, which is to say your people are your company from your customers’ perspective. Yet, at closing time these valuable assets get up and leave, and, for all you know, they may never come back the next day! When this sinks in you will have a perception that your business is all about people. This principle is fairly basic, yet only one furniture store in several hundred has a program to continuously energize and inspire their people. So, hire, train and keep the very best people possible. Let them know you appreciate and respect them. Create a brilliant culture based upon mutual respect and benevolence, and no competitor will be able to equal it. Have a feedback system that helps you communicate in a two-way manner. We have written about this critically important subject in depth, and you can research the earlier articles on FURNITURE WORLD's website, www.furninfo.com.

Your Systems: Your systems contribute to your branding effort if they pass on your personal skills to others by means of procedures. Only then will they free you to do the high level creative work that all visionary leaders must perform. Systems offer you an opportunity to achieve the freedom you need to create a great company. They free you up to be a visionary leader at the highest level. If you have any doubts about how this works, read “The E Myth Revisited” by Charles Gerber. Systems are sets of procedures that are in place in your business that produce a predictable outcome each time. You need to draw upon your own experience and knowledge to develop systems that work precisely and make your business hum like a well-oiled machine. With the leverage of great systems you can multiply your expertise through people. When these systems are in place and working, then your unique factors become consistently apparent to your customers.

Your Advertising and Marketing: These are important to your branding efforts provided they reflect WHO you are and express HOW you are unique (see recent ads in the figures accompanying this article). Brand-building is important, but it can also be a cop-out. Advertising should build good will and enhance your image, but it must be measurably cost-effective or it will drag your business down. Modern retail furniture and mattress advertising, the best there is, must do three things consistently, effectively, and equally well:

•Advertising must constantly attract new customers. Of course. You can't attract new customers if you look and sound just like the guy down the block. If the best thing you can think of for a headline is "Two Years Free Financing" you are doing your dynamic merchandising a huge disservice. Free financing is table stakes these days. Yelling at me about it before you sold me anything or even interested me in anything is not selling, it's desperation. And that's just how it sounds.

•Advertising must be crafted to permit ticket-building for each sale. That means a step-up plan for each item advertised, and crafting an incentive and technique for add-ons. We all know this, but we get lazy and hope the: "No Interest! No Payments!" handle will work just once more. Many furniture people who whine about the lack of loyalty, and that customers come in and "cherry-pick" the bargains, have no plan for the salesperson to upgrade from the advertised item, or to add on to a ticket that is in process.

•Advertising must develop ways to attract old customers and to encourage new ones to come back to you again and again. Advertising can't do this if it is boring. And there is no excuse for boring advertising when you are in one of the most exciting businesses in the world. Consider all the money that is spent at market to excite you about new furniture ideas. Do you rush home to share these ideas with your sales force and advertise them to bring in your customers? If you don’t, then why not? Aren't your customers also your good friends?

Spectacular Growth: If your advertising and marketing efforts increase all three of these advertising goals by 10%, how will it affect your growth and bottom line? Exponentially. Visionary branding will also significantly increase closing percentages, the other major component impacting sales.

Branding Through Leadership: Please examine the exhibits in this article, and you'll get ideas to help you to increase your "branding" power. It's difficult to get all these elements in place, and sometimes it requires an expert or two to help. But once you have these principles operating, everything else becomes relatively easy. In the February/March issue we will show why most print advertising is relatively ineffective, and how branding can boost your advertising efficiency.

You are good at what you do. But being good is not enough anymore for a visionary leader operating in today's retail market. It's no longer good enough-even for a President of the United Sates-to achieve the ideal of "full use of one's powers along the lines of excellence." Today what is required for a visionary leader is "Full use of one's powers along the lines of excellence, integrity, and benevolence." Excellence in everything you do, integrity in every aspect of your business, and benevolence, appreciation and respect to associates, customers and vendors.

Ever Look For A Plumber?
These ads are typical of the Yellow Page plumber listings. The two guys on the left don't brand. They don't stand for anything. Can I trust them? How long have they been in business? I don't know who they are. Look at the guy on the right. Family owned & operated since 1973. Senior discounts. BBB member. Claims to be clean, experienced & fast. I believe it because he's been in business over 25 years. Applewood seems to understand my fears about calling a plumber. Which one would you call? Do you tell folks how long you've been in business? If you answer: "Our customers know us," your competition with less longevity will love you for not aggressively taking the basic steps of branding your home furnishings store for a new customer.

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.