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To be recognized as a leader in today's competitive retail furniture market requires developing a solid marketing message, capturing the attention of your targeted buying audience, and retaining the interest of your current buyers. But just how you approach this task can determine whether you step out front or trail the pack. The key to success is to create a marketing message that is relevant, consistent, and compelling.

The Hunt is On: Tracking the Target
The essence of good marketing is to appeal directly to your prospects. It makes them think, "this product is for me." But, how do you discover what buyers want? The easiest method is to overlay your current customer information with lifestyle trends. Simply tracking the age, gender, and income of your buyers can yield volumes of information about your customers. Once you've got the facts, you're well on your way - now, apply them in ways that will lure in new buyers.

Cyber-hip Offerings
If your average buyer is in his early 20s, explore options that will accommodate GenX lifestyles, trends, and tastes. Based upon demographics, it's more than likely that many of these consumers are first-time furniture buyers keenly interested in style. Focusing on style versus longevity and providing relevant selections like retro-offerings from 50s dinette sets to reclining chairs help you appeal to this target. You can also capitalize on lifestyle information by stocking a wide array of CD and computer accessories. Another consideration is to offer flexible or extended hours, perhaps staying open until 10 p.m. or even midnight. Any one or a combination of these tactics can result in a significant increase to your traffic and sales.

The Odd Couple Dilemma
The moment you begin marketing to a couple, the rules change since the couple must agree on all major purchases. Your role here is to simplify partner negotiations by providing a range of services and selections that facilitate decision-making. Begin by stocking a good blend of style and value in your merchandise with numerous "compromise" offerings in neutral colors and shapes. To lock-in "return-to-purchase" visits, consider offering your customers Polaroid snapshots as well as decorating magazines that can provide a "finished-look" picture.

Enticing Too Busy, Two Career Couples
When you're dealing with well-educated, time-starved, two-career couples, convenience and services are among their priorities and must therefore make it to the top of your list as well. Have you considered offering valet parking or same-day delivery for in-stock items? What about holding special "invitation only" events featuring exclusive offerings? Reinforce the message that you're interested in their business by taking the initiative to make appointments with returning customers. This approach ensures your availability while also demonstrating your commitment to service. And, being prepared means bringing full-service full-circle. Is your Rolodex up-to-date with handy names and numbers of architects, kitchen designers, floor refinishers, and other services that your buyers may need?

Marketing to Kids to Reach Parents
Now that we're in the midst of a mini baby boom, appealing to children is parallel to accommodating parents. Do you have changing rooms in your restrooms, including the men's room? Do you give away helium balloons emblazoned with your logo to act as free advertising? Do you have a kid-friendly, nothing sacred, nothing-dangerous area? Are you offering designer children's furniture to match the explosion in children's high-end fashions from Versace, Maschino, and Armani?

The benefits of providing a kid-friendly environment are twofold: It endears your store to parents while providing them a welcoming environment in which to shop for and purchase furniture.

The New Senior Citizen
Senior citizens today are a different breed from yesteryear. Although looking to age gracefully, they welcome appropriate programs that meet their needs. Asking for proof of age only once and issuing a senior member card demonstrates your respect. Opening early-on designated senior days is also a sign that you recognize their sometimes-fitful sleep patterns and early waking hours. Are you changing the type size on all of your signs for easier readability? Do you offer a shopping assistant to help with cavernous stores and myriad design options? These are just some of the considerations that will be appreciated and will identify your store as service-oriented.

Voicing a Consistent Message
Consistency of message means "owning" a position in your customer's minds -- it means always presenting the same tone whether whimsical, curious, or casual. In essence, you are giving a voice to your brand and letting it whisper or shout its way to glory.

Do you remember the enormous impact made by Clinique cosmetics when it first introduced the white lab coat to its sale representatives to hone its medical image? Recognizing that the appearance of your staff reflects the overall image of your business enables you to create an atmosphere conducive to serving your customers. Perhaps it's time to try khakis and denim shirts to complete the casual atmosphere. Or, mandate southwestern attire or business suits. Regardless of the look you select, it should be consistent with who you are, whom you serve, and how you want to be perceived.

The Size and Shape of Consistency
Your store image should be further refined through the consistent use of shapes, sizes and colors. Here, your objective is to exploit your theme in innovative ways. Are all of your brochures, envelopes, and shopping bags the same color with common design elements? Have you tried innovative business cards made of fabric, rattan, or even laminate to stress your point of difference? You can literally drive your message home with delivery trucks boldly displaying your advertising theme.

A Sign of Creativity
Signs in and around your store provide another opportunity to creatively employ your message. A New York deli asks if you "want to schlep the leftovers home." A maternity store reserves the first few parking spaces for pregnant women only; a cat veterinarian threatens to "scratch, bite, and neuter" all illegally parked cars; a new store celebrating its move to the address of 704 started its party at 7:04p.m. complete with a promotion of 704 reasons to visit. Explore and exploit opportunities that will enhance your business. You can even re-label your bathrooms to appeal to your customers. A hip store might label the restrooms "Monica" and "Chandler" from the TV show "Friends." A children's store can use "Ken" and "Barbie" or even "Raggedy Ann" and "Andy." The point is to avoid being plain vanilla and add the flavor of your store to every aspect of marketing.

Yet, as important as consistency is to your business, inconsistency can be fatal. Programs and promotions should be directly related to the overall concept to enhance your positioning. Otherwise, you commit marketing suicide. J.C. Penney, for example, recently introduced a Day Spa, but how is a spa consistent with JC Penney's positioning of value and budget? Or, how about a Chicago high-priced restaurant that calls its frequent diner program "Friendz in the Hood?" While creative attempts to gain increased exposure are great, beware of sending the wrong message.

Creating Compelling Promotions
In today's retailing world of The Nike Store, FAO Schwartz, and even Rainforest Cafe, it's not enough to simply provide merchandise. You need to provide the experience -- to show how furnishings actually work in a living area, to demonstrate arrangements and how these groupings fit together. This metamorphosis is the new reality of merchandising.

Since consumers are often reluctant to experiment with fabrics and styles, creating a total environment will improve your chances of selling every item in the display. Engage a variety of stimuli to create an atmosphere that feels complete, from sight and sound to smell and touch. Are you playing age-appropriate music and selling or offering a joint promotion on the stereo? Are you showing the table set as if the couple had just ordered in sushi? Do you welcome buyers to actually try the reclining chair while viewing a televised football game?

Of all the various stimuli, the sense of smell is often the most overlooked, yet it is also the most powerful. Emotions and smells are inextricably linked. They allow you to penetrate the exterior. In point of fact, positive aromas are associated with triggering better moods, happier prospects, and increased sales. Successful smells have included vanilla for men, bubblegum for children, floral scents for women and pine needles for the holiday season.

It's important to remember too that bad smells can undermine all of your hard marketing efforts. Did you just use ammonia on the floor? Is there a new carpet smell lingering? Does the smell of plastic overwhelm the ambience? Even the most basic of techniques, from fresh flowers to high quality potpourri can counteract negative signals.

Adhering to these marketing principles through innovative approaches that are relevant, compelling and consistent will distinguish you from your competitors while capturing a memorable place in the mind of your customers. And burnishing a s

trong brand image is your goal in gaining the competitive edge.


Elizabeth Goodgold is Chief Nuancer of The Nuancing Group, an identity consulting firm that creates names, numbers and nuances that result in flawless recall. She founded the business after spending 18 years in marketing management for Quaker Oats, Times Mirror and Macmillan Publishing Co. She founded her own firm, Good As Gold Marketing, to combine strategic insights with creative thinking. Questions about any aspect of image creation or marketing can be sent to Liz care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at editor@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.