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What are we learning? How are we growing? Where are we going?

It's our first anniversary of the new millennium. What have we learned? What phrases have become part of our new vocabulary? "24/7" is the first one that comes to mind. We're going 'round the clock. Instead of operating by rote on a treadmill, we're setting priorities for our lives today, and tomorrow. We're taking care of business personally, and professionally. The phrase, "It's not about you," has us focused on other people instead of ourselves. We're trying to listen more. We're realizing it's not a passive activity. That little voice inside our head called the "Yabut" wants to keep interrupting. It acts as our personal library and resource center, and it needs to be kept in line. To get the "Yabut" to shut-up we're listening to others. We're caring more. Volunteerism, mentoring, and charitable contributions are at an all time high. And of course the question everyone is asking, "Is that your final answer?"

The Void Left By Those Unfortunate Dot Coms:
For those of us in the furniture industry, ".com" was a four- letter word that scared many of us only one short year ago. Some prominent furniture .coms have bitten the dust, but the internet isn't going anywhere. It's going to grow bigger, and become more important to our industry. Our mission is now two-fold. The first of our ongoing assignments is to make "click-and-mortar" payoff for everyone; supplier, retailer, and of course, "Ethel."

Tell Them The Who, What & Where:
The second assignment concerns the internet. Web sites are being redesigned by brick-and-mortar retailers who are becoming more web-centric. The best retailers are making sure that their new sites are thoroughly integrated with the rest of their operations-and even with other sites that can promote their retail brand and provide sales leads. This is how we can all benefit from the computer age. It is a terrific way of reaching consumers and letting them know WHO we are, WHERE we are, and WHAT we can do for them.

What Your Customers Really Want:
People shop the internet for convenience, service, and price. When the customer calls and wants a price quote over the phone, don't just give them the price. We should no longer be "clerks," or "order takers." We should be sales professionals who provide expertise, and answer our customers' questions and concerns. We need to help them to make better decisions. If you or your salespeople just quote the price and hang up, have you really helped your consumer? Many good retailers won't quote prices over the phone. They let the caller know the services that they offer. Instead of just focusing on the price and hanging up, they try to find out the customer's needs and wants about that particular product. They make an appointment to go to their home or set up an appointment for them to have a special consultation in the showroom. You don't have to quote prices. If this customer is shopping price and price alone, they will never become your client anyway.

Price Shoppers:
According to research company Net-Smart America, "only 39% of consumers went online to get the lowest price." When asked why they visit furniture sites, "88% said that they wanted to get information about the products. In addition, 65% said they wanted to learn about products, and anonymously ask 'stupid questions'. The problem is they're having trouble finding the information that they want." This experience is confirmed by consumer inquiries to the website of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine, www.furninfo.com. Although designed for retailers, furninfo.com also attracts many consumer inquiries to the "Consumer Message Center." If you think that consumers are primarily searching for price, then read some of the posted inquiries. You will be surprised.

What does your site look like?
Is it JUST about the product, or are you letting them know WHO you are, WHAT you do, and HOW you can help THEM! Is it all glitz and no substance? Are you spreading the word that you are here to make this process more convenient for THEM, and save them lots of THEIR valuable time. This is where the second part of our mission comes into play. The internet is giving us the opportunity to assist today's and tomorrow's consumer.

Turning Their Problem Into Your Strength:
In many cases, those failed .coms really did a real PR number on us. Although customers say they will miss the convenience, selection and style that some of the .com retailers provided, there were big problems with delivery and customer service. People didn't get what they ordered. Sometimes what they ordered was not what they really wanted, or they received nothing, and still have not gotten their money back. These internet retailers found out the hard way what many brick and mortar retailers knew all along. It's very difficult to provide service in the world of furniture. Our customers are a tough audience. Furniture is personal. They take it personally. After all, it's for their home.

Having said all that, it is no secret that many conventional retailers also do a poor job of customer service. Furthermore, the failed internet retailers never gained large market share.

Still there is a void of unfulfilled expectations that these internet retailers have left behind. In the future, our consumers will do business with those retailers who provide the ease, the style, the selection, the information and yes, the services that they really need. They want minimum risk and maximum return! Good furniture dealers have got to spread the word fast. Tell them the rules! Let them know you are the best one to assist them. Let them know about the services you offer because your customers are important to you. And that you deliver them to your customers "up close and personal," "human to human."

MORE TRENDS

House Calls:
Be very careful before accepting a phone order from someone "just calling in." Don't move back into "clerkdom." Just consider phone orders from a service point of view. One of my clients took a special order for an armoire over the phone. It wouldn't fit through the door. The customer was furious. She had waited a very long time, and was very disappointed. Whose responsibility was this? Could she have avoided this problem and made a friend? Should someone have offered to go to her home to make sure that what she was ordering would work in HER home? Would offering this service not only inspire confidence and loyalty from this consumer, but also be the best way to help her with her future decorating needs? Think about it. How much square footage for these types of returns are taking up space in your warehouse?

Changes In Work Environments:
There has never been a better time to be in this industry. People are spending more time today in their homes than ever before. Faith Popcorn says we're "cocooning," "nesting," and "burrowing." Just look at this past year. More and more professionals are working in their own offices at home. Ethan Allen is even expanding its line of office furniture. Women are starting businesses at the rate of 2-1 over men. "Job security" on the corporate level has become an oxymoron. John Hamm of the Internet Capitol Group makes this point, "It used to be that making your mark meant climbing a career ladder. It wasn't as entrepreneurial. People today can express their ambitions more openly. People get to take a shot." Moreover, we're doing it by exercising three short verbs: to do, to be, to go. We're getting rid of "should's." To quote George Elliot, "It's never too late to become what you might have been." Yes, we're doing it under our OWN roofs!

The Business of Feng Shui:
When I first heard the term feng-shui I thought someone was sneezing! This ancient Chinese art of placement has become a major business. People are hiring consultants to help them achieve more energy in their surroundings to minimize conflict and encourage spiritual growth. Thomas Moore, author of "Care of the Soul" says, "how you treat the space around you affects your mental and spiritual health." Anthony Lawlor concurs. In his book, "A Home for the Soul," he points out that "a home for the soul sparks our imagination. It addresses all levels of mind, body, and environment." He discusses the importance of colors, shapes, and textures. It's self-discovery through interior design. Your home today can be "a powerful affirmation of your values and dreams." Author Kelee Katillac calls it "belief based decorating." It's painting the picture and bringing the room to life. Retailers need to romance the fabrics, get customers to touch them, feel them, own them. You must get their emotions involved, touching all the senses. Our rooms are making a statement of who we are. We want them to reflect our personality. Our souvenirs of today are becoming our "treasures" of tomorrow. We're cleaning out. We're giving away. We want to create more energy and space in our new surroundings. I call it the four R's: Replace - Replenish - Re-do - so that it Reflects who we are. This is what we want in the new millennium. We also want and need your help to achieve this. It's psychology, it's empathy, and it's listening. (Control the "Yabut.") Help her surround herself with the things she loves. Bring her dream room to life.

The New Age Home:
Today, we seem to be searching. Instead of looking to the outside world for answers, we're turning inward. We're becoming more philosophical and spiritual. Just take a look at some of the books making the New York Times best seller list. The authors, Tim LaHaye and Terry B. Jenkins became well known with the introduction of their first novel, "Left Behind." This series based on the book of Revelations just released its eighth installment called, "The Mark." It's already a hit! "Tuesdays With Morrie" was published over three years ago, and is still setting records. "Who Moved My Cheese" is a wonderful parable by Spencer Johnson on how to deal with change. The two little men, "Hem" & "Haw," discover change can be an exciting adventure and opportunity, if you take advantage of it. Gary Zukav and his book, "Seat of the Soul," along with Dr. Phil and exploring "Relationships" have become regulars on Oprah. Speaking of "Oprah," her new magazine as well as "New Age," and "Spirituality & Health," are also gracing other periodicals on the newsstands. We're going home in more ways than one. We're settling in. Help "Ethel" do this comfortably. Help her room make a statement of who SHE is.

A Need For Security:
Security is another reason we're digging in. We're taking extra precautions. A recent survey found that "33% of consumers have changed their shopping habits because of fear of crime. Of these, 43% no longer shop after dark." Is this not another opportunity to service these customers, by offering to go to their home? What other services can we offer to accommodate this growing trend? According to Ms. Popcorn, "this year we will spend $104 billion on private security versus $44 billion on public services. The merchandising team at Chrysler took this into consideration in designing the new PT Cruiser. They wanted people to feel not only nostalgic, but more secure, more safe. It worked! Since its introduction the Chrysler PT Cruiser has been a hit. In most states there's at least a six-week waiting list. Marketing research has shown that one of the reasons it's so popular is that "people do feel safe." It reminds them of the gangster days of Chicago, the Valentine's Day Massacre, "bulletproof!"

A Plug For Harry Potter and Reading Areas:
Computers, and televisions got turned off in record numbers this year by the younger set with the arrival of Harry Potter. Upholstery got snuggled into as children who had never cared about opening a book before delighted in the make believe world of Harry and his cronies. Parents read to children and the adults got pulled into Harry's world as well. I personally believe everyone over the age of 21 should read these books. They're fantastic. It lets that little child that's inside of you, the one who hasn't come out to play in twenty years! I've read all four books and I can't wait for the fifth installment. I love it as I travel across the country seeing grown men grapple with their lap tops, brief cases, and the latest edition of "Harry." I have numerous clients "hooked," and my mother (who is 85) is half way through number four!

With all these consumers "curling up" and "snuggling in," should we be giving them ideas on ways to create comfortable reading areas complete with overstuffed upholstery? Let's add chairs and ottomans, or recliners. We can build libraries with wall units to house all these new books. We can also help them design a "get away" area. Help them take a "personal time out." Help them plan a "retreat" in a special corner in their living room, great room, or bedroom. There's a wonderful book called, "Time Shifting." It is the ultimate book on time management. The author points out that, "You have to slow down to show up." Help them slow down, and unwind so they can show up. That's what is so exciting.

What Else Can You Sell To Your Customer?
We are showing up in more ways than one. But, are we showing up in every way to help this customer create their home? As one of my clients pointed out, "We're still leaving too much money on the table." We sell them a sofa, or a recliner and we stop there. We believe them when they tell us that is all they need.

Are we finding out how they are going to be using it?
Older consumers may need to put their feet up due to swelling ankles, and just everyday aches and pains. How about customers with back problems? Do they need to purchase extra firm upholstery? Would they be glad to pay a little extra for additional lumbar support?

Some people out there, "Boomers" included, are blooming. Obesity is at an all time high. Do we need to take that into consideration when helping them with their selections? How many rooms out there are we leaving unfinished? Are we listening, and deciphering the consumer's real needs and wants? Are we performing a disservice by not fulfilling their expectations? What have we learned? What's the definition of insanity? "Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." Is that what we're doing?

Follow-up Or Fall Down:
As a manager, I called customers at random from the daily trip sheet. It was wonderful for customer relations and for repeat business. After a brief introduction and asking for a minute of their time, I explained that I knew that their consultant had already contacted them. I was calling to find out about their shopping experience with us. People were amazed. "You're the manager, and you're taking the time to call me?" It was great! I made a new friend for the company.

The result was that all the consultants made sure they did their follow-up calls. The store received valuable feedback on delivery procedures, and found out if customers were made aware of all our services.

If you offer house calls, there is another great way to help your customers and generate follow-up sales. Visit your customer's home soon after delivery. Help your customer to finish her room and find out what the next project will be. If you don't offer this service, schedule a special time for her to visit your showroom and coordinate an accessory consultation there. It's a "win-win" for everyone.

Good sales consultants know how to follow-up and follow-through. You worked hard to sell your customer the first time. Why would you only want to sell them once? You want this customer to become your client and to help them with all of their decorating needs. When you help customers to finish their room, wonderful things occur. Average sales take off, clients are born, and referrals rule! Good follow-up also helps you to find out how well your delivery team is performing. Since you can't be on the truck with them, good follow-up also gives you an opportunity to make them feel like part of the sales team. They will love the applause, the 'atta boys!

To all you owners and managers who are gulping out there -- This does not take a lot of time. Each day select at random, two or three people who were delivered, and give them a quick call. You will find that this activity is one of the most productive periods of your busy day!
To all you consultants -- Make your hard work, and all that valuable time that you've spent with that customer really pay off - for you and her. Help her finish the room and turn her into your client. Position yourself in the marketplace as the ultimate professional of the new millennium!

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Lynne Franks, author of "The SEED Handbook: The Feminine Way To Create Business," says it best: "All these years, I've been selling products. Maybe it's time to sell the idea that we CAN make a difference." Can WE do that? Can we make a REAL difference? Absolutely we can! WE'RE the ones Learning, Growing, and Going full speed into this new great century. We CAN do this. We CAN make a difference.


Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at finney@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.