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Advertising Principles - Part 4

Furniture World Magazine


The media of choice for companies that are built to last.

The most important media of all are not TV, color circulars or anything most furniture merchants would guess. The most important media are "People Media," beginning with what you are communicating to your managers, and what they are communicating to your staff. People Media are what people are saying about you - what salespersons tell customers, and what customers tell their family, friends and neighbors. People Media are the messages given by your delivery people to folks who have bought at your store. THIS is your image, not full color circulars and jazzy TV commercials.

Is the medium the message? Perhaps this is true only in the case of PEOPLE-MEDIA. People Media are people communicating with other people... saying good things about you, your store and about your merchandise. People Media may be the least expensive, best-kept and most powerful "secret" in retail marketing! On a cost-effectiveness basis, people-media is your best buy!

Joe Girard reigned for many years in the Guiness Book of Records as the world's greatest salesman, selling 1500 automobiles a year, one-on-one, to customers. To buy a car from Joe, you actually had to make an appointment! His secret? One secret was his selling technique. A selling expert I knew once bought a car from Joe, to see just how he did it. Mr. Girard spent most of the half-hour session asking questions, learning about the specific needs and desires of the expert. Then, because he knew his inventory completely, he took the gentleman to four different cars, each nearly exactly fitting his needs in color, size, price and so on. The second part of Mr. Girard's technique was his follow-through.
Girard's "rule of two hundred" states that every average person knows, fairly well, about 200 other people. (He came up with this by discovering that the average funeral was attended by about 200 people!) So Joe reasoned that every happy customer could potentially influence 200 other people. For this reason, Joe sent each customer a card on his or her birthday, and on special holidays. He always wrote these personally, and always said the same thing: I LIKE YOU!

Of course, there are very few sales people like Joe Girard. How many cards do you get from people who have sold you a big-ticket item? Smart insurance people who depend upon you for continuing business are good at keeping contact. Smart Realtors constantly ask previous customers for referrals. But most furniture salespeople forget you the moment you walk out the door. Just think of the opportunity this represents - especially when you consider the Rule of Two Hundred!

People Media Has Three Phases
There are three key phases of PEOPLE MEDIA we will address here:

  • First and most important is the quality of the messages you communicate to your associates, executives and managers.
  • Next are the messages that your staff communicate to each other.
  • The third phase has to do with messages that your company, as a whole, communicate to your customers, and that your customers communicate to their family and friends.

In communicating with your people, the driving ingredient in each encounter and meeting is YOU. You must provide the upbeat leadership, and you must pound away at those UNIQUE FACTORS that have made your business successful. Resolutely communicate that each salesperson, and each cashier and delivery person is a spokesperson for your store. As a matter of fact, most people think of the salesperson who sold them something as actually being the store. And, remember the last person to see your customer is usually the delivery person. A good delivery person will reinforce the buying decision and greatly reduce customer service calls (see more than 25 articles on "delivering the goods" on www.furninfo.com in the Operations Management Index).

Make sure that every associate knows that each customer should be told how long you have been in business (if this is a plus-factor), how you add a personal touch to selling merchandise, and how reliable and trustworthy your company is. Insist that they emphasize whatever qualities and special guarantees that you have that your competitors do not have. Otherwise, you may as well not have them! And don't forget to add those things to your people media that your competitors forget to relate (see the case history about sterilizing beer bottles in the December/January 1999 issue of FURNITURE WORLD).

Teach the concept of ADDED VALUE. Good furniture merchants can keep a shopper's attention for hours with information about new fabrics and new designs. Yet, most run ads that feature deferred credit terms first, and second mention that "we also sell furniture." Credit terms are table stakes. Furniture shoppers want to know that your furniture is an incredible value. The more your staff romances home furnishings, the more their value and uniqueness are established. If your customers understand the value and uniqueness of your products, they will appreciate what they buy and what they own. Trying to create excitement at the point of sale by reducing prices is far less effective than enhancing the value of the products you sell.

Trip To Sofa Mart
I recently went shopping for a sofa. My wife and I visited Sofa Mart, a large Denver, Colorado retailer. The salesman there told us a great deal about the store, and about the owner of the store. He explained why Sofa Mart was unique. When it came to negotiating prices, he was very clear that the store would not do this. However, he asked if I was aware of the value that was being offered. He showed me a wall exhibit of top grain leather, and contrasted it to "split grain" rawhide. He asked me to feel and compare the thickness of full grain leather to split grain (which is half as thick), and assured me that "my sofa" was completely upholstered in top grain leather. He explained the construction of the cushions and the "eight-way hand-tied" coil springs. This sales approach was vastly different from another store, where the salesperson told us nothing about the store or the owner and at the first sign of price resistance suggested she could reduce the price. In contrast, the Sofa Mart salesperson energetically enhanced the value of the product and, by sticking to the integrity of the original price, he made the sale.

Reflex-negotiation at the first sign of price resistance costs furniture stores a fortune. I have conducted legitimate sales in stores in which the profit margin went up during the sale! Why? Because prior to the sale the salespeople were giving away large amounts of profit by needlessly or at least too-rapidly resorting to negotiating prices!

For your next event, first have a scheduled and formal Strategy Meeting with your managers. Make notes and prepare to inspire your staff with your vision of a great sales event. During this meeting, delegate duties, attend to the nuts and bolts of serious planning. (We will discuss these factors later.) More important than anything else, this is your opportunity to light the fire of the managers who will carry your message to the front line associates. People Media affect all channels of communication, so in your first "people media" session project a vision of your sale. Later I'll show how to plan the event tightly, detail all the factors of the sale, plus how to delegate and establish clear accountability. For now, let's look at the vision you have of the sale, the broader marketing strategy. Take seriously the admonition from Proverbs: Without vision, the people perish.

Make special efforts to communicate your enthusiasm to your staff. Let them know that part of your goal for this event is to establish better communications and nurture teamwork. Include them in all the processes - listen to their ideas with respect. All of these factors, working together, make for GREAT people media.

The only additional ingredient necessary is energetic leadership. Be a people-person. Be sure that everyone can - and does reel off your store's unique factors those things that can be said about your store that cannot be said about others. This includes years in business and the store's philosophy and guarantees. (The most successful user of People-Media was Walt Disney. He originally "sold" Disneyland almost exclusively through People Media. In those golden days of Disney, every associate at Disneyland had a script. In our sales packages, I always provide examples to help build a brief script that contains the unique factors of a store, so sales consultants can't easily forget them.)

Be sure everyone understands the concept of 'added value' - the things that other stores could say about their merchandise, but don't bother to say: tell how all of your bedrooms have lifetime plate glass mirrors, and rugged dovetail-constructed, dust-proofed and center-guided drawers... and, how all of living rooms feature "family-proof" wear-tested fabrics and kiln-dried, reinforced frames... and how you shop thousands and thousands of offerings at market to select the cream of the crop, to give them the value, service and quality they need for furnishings in their home.

In the past, some furniture merchants have told me something like: "Look, Larry, I am a visionary. I do tell my staff these things you recommend, but two days later the wheels come off and they forget. People don't care the way they used to. It can't be done." Of course the wheels come off if you simply "give it a shot" now and then. A company that is built-to-last is an edifice you must attend to every day. Remember: the success of any program does not lie in its intrinsic value, but in the infrastructure that provides it continuing support. To create a company that is built-to-last, you must develop some kind of a People-Media program.

How about you? What are your associates saying about your furniture store? Is your company built to last? Generally, a built-to-last-company is a visionary company. Are you a visionary? Are you looking down the road several years, or just to "making the month?" If you have a vision of your company for the future and have trouble selling it to your people, this article may be one of the most "media" important you will ever read. Because if your People-Media are working for you, the results you achieve from your other promotional activities will increase exponentially. If not, allocating additional resources to the other media will not compensate for the fatal weakness.

In Built to Last, a best-selling six-year study of companies in America that have lasted more than 100 years, authors James C. Collins and Jerry Porras made some interesting discoveries. They shattered the myth of the great charismatic leader by showing that great visionary companies have "something" embedded in their nature. They are not primarily the result of some godlike visionary or some great idea.

What is that "something? Great companies have two things in common. They are built to last around a solid, unchanging set of values, and they constantly dare to strive for "big, hairy, audacious goals." In other words, the visionary company stands for something that the associates would fall on their swords to protect, and yet they constantly seek new and great ways to improve the company itself.

This is tough, but it can be done. One of the fastest growing and most profitable furniture companies in America is doing it. In the past two decades, Slumberland Furniture has quietly enjoyed astounding growth. Kenneth Larson, the CEO of Slumberland, is patiently building-to-last. "Ken," as he is known by his associates, is a visionary who is often the first to test new technologies, daring marketing strategies and adventurous management initiatives. In my judgment, Slumberland leads the furniture industry in innovative ideas that are specifically designed to appeal to the ephemeral desires of modern consumers. Ken Larson insists on continuous marketing research to redefine this ever-moving target, because what the customer wants and expects changes constantly. Indeed, all Slumberland associates share a common commitment to constantly find new ways to exceed customer expectations. Superlative sales training, outstanding advertising, and state-of-the-art support systems, result in closing ratios that are nearly twice the national average, and inventory turns that are more than three times the national average. But, Ken will tell you, even more important than training and high tech systems is something else: the Slumberland Spirit.

The Slumberland Spirit is in part an attitude of ceaseless willingness of all Slumberland associates to adapt to the ever-changing demands of retail. Yet, at the core of the Slumberland culture are the changeless values of: uncompromising integrity, the value and respect of person (including associates, customers, and vendors), good citizenship through community involvement and service, and profitable growth. The Mission and Values of Slumberland are living realities, not platitudes. In addition to community services and special training for each associate in the value of the person, Ken employs a remarkably creative and challenging process of ongoing outreach and communication with his associates.

The outreach process cannot be described in detail here. The important thing to understand is that people are better than ever, and they will respond to sincere efforts on your part to keep them informed and inspired. Associates will share your vision if you communicate it to them. They will buy-into your values if you live by them. And they will tell their family, friends, associates, and customers about your store and what makes it unique if you place importance on it.

If you are indeed a visionary CEO and you want to build a company that will last, your associates will willingly help you accomplish the task. Reach out to them, include them in planning, and share your vision with them. The next sales promotion you have will be an excellent time to set a program of outreach into motion. If average visionary entrepreneurs will dare to hold up their values and ideals for their associates, and follow through with continuous training, they will discover something important about human nature. Associates will respond to a mission and a vision that gives day-by-day meaning to what they are doing. As perhaps never before in history, people are hungry for a solid foundation of lasting core values to believe in, and for a daring and worthwhile mission to pursue.

In our next installment we will cover completely Lost Secret #3: How to Plan Wisely BEFORE Beginning Preparations for a Sale. If you hate to plan, this is the installment for you. You will learn the difference between strategy and tactics, and the five bedrock rules of "time framing" your way to a successful sale. You'll also learn (or re-learn) the Pareto Principle of 80-20, and how to spend your time doing the "twenty percent" tasks that produce the "eighty percent" returns rather than the other way around!

Visionary companies that are "Built to Last" are based upon a sound and unchanging set of core values and a continuously changing vision of a better and better company. Slumberland Furniture, originally out of Minnesota and now spanning several states, has enjoyed unequaled growth in the last decade. Slumberland not only excels at marketing furniture and operational systems, but works equally hard at People Media, and at "marketing" the Mission, Vision and Values of the company to each associate. "Sharing the Vision" is not a platitude at Slumberland, it is a living reality. Read more details in this article.

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.


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