"Are you kidding? You want us to do what?"
Gathered around a table discussing next month's advertising schedule is always a draining experience. Too often the people sitting around the table are taking sides regarding what they think is correct for the business next month. They don't necessarily look at what they did last year or what the results were. Usually, they have a "gut" feeling about how things went. Too often, that feeling is incorrect because we only tend to remember the good things...rarely the bad.
Which brings us to the monthly gathering around the table. On one side are the "Practicals". These are the people who always spout the tale of what is safe... what is comfortable... what is easy. They believe that because the other guy down the street advertises on Saturday, "we" should advertise on Saturday. Throw out the fact that Saturday's newspaper is the least read of the entire week. Throw out the fact that it costs less because it has a smaller audience than say Thursday or even Friday. These are the same people who will search for that perfect headline, like "The World's Greatest Sale", where customers can get 22% to 72% Off and make NO payments and pay NO interest for 12 full months. It's easy. Just put a different headline on the comfortable Saturday ad and complain the rest of the week about how the ad didn't work.
On the other side of the table is that one person, called the "Idealist", who suggests that we should give the customer a little respect and consider that we are not selling furniture the way we are advertising today. He or she suggests that we are only selling finance if we continue to pursue our customer like this. The crowd on the other side snickers and spurns such suggestions and denounces the new thought as "impractical" and brought by a messenger with "too little experience" selling furniture."ARE YOU KIDDING?"
"You want us to what... and stay in business?"
"Oh yeah. Now we've heard everything. The customer is really that smart."
These comments come from the group who spent their entire lives inside a furniture store, talking to other furniture people, about wood and upholstery and the manufacturers of North Carolina. The "Practicals" have all of the answers. And, they have it from experience.
You see, the "Practicals" have been brought up in the business. They started in the back room making sure the products were prepped for delivery. They worked their way up to the sales floor, became buyers and now are directing strategy for a company that is entering a new Century. They have the opportunity to take a company in a new direction but are afraid that if they suggest a new route to success, they will be judged by failure if the program doesn't work. The "Practicals" are based upon always taking the "SAFE" route. This puts them into a position of never having to make a mistake. And if they do not make mistakes, they will continue to be able to sit on the other side of the table each and every month.
The "Idealist", on the other hand, can only see that whatever they are doing at present is not working.
Sales are stagnant. People seem harder to please. They are so demanding when they have made the purchase. And all the "Idealist" can see is that everything is based on price...not product differentiation. All an "Idealist" can see is that they are not talking to the customer's wants and needs. They are shouting price, price and terms at the potential customer. And the biggest mistake that is being made, and seen clearly by the "Idealist" is that customers are staying away. They don't want to be shouted at any more.
The "Idealist" will never win until it is too late. As one of our Midwestern clients told us the other week, "Too often in this business, we don't change until it is too late. The barn door is already open and the horses have already left." You need to have a check-up every year so you can see other sides to the issues you face. And you can't get that from the manufacturer because that's not the manufacturer's job. You can't get that from your competition friends, because they are your competition. You can only get the new vision from an outsider. That's why you have to consult with someone outside of your business who can help you to "see again what you are looking at."
Can you imagine someone saying that... "to see again what you are looking at?" But how astute!
Here is a furniture dealer who invests in an annual check up to give him a better view of his industry, what he is doing and what others throughout the industry are doing. Here is a smart home furnishings dealer. He wants to know what is working and what is not working. He wants to know about "Eve-olution" and what it means in reaching the prospective customer today (see April 1998 issue of FURNITURE WORLD). He wants to know how cable is performing versus a year ago. He wants to know if there are any dealers who are using strictly cable and no broadcast television. He wants to know how successful dealers are presenting their product. He wants a report card on his store(s). He wants to know how he compares with the really good stores in the country. And he wants to know how to reach today's customers. He's both a "Practical" and an "Idealist". He understands the hazard's of not looking at the world around him. He understands the benefits of listening to outside professionals.
But as the New Yorker would say, "The guys from the Midwest. What would you expect?" Well, to Mr. Warmth we could say that it is better to know little and find out more than to know everything.
We have to begin to look inside ourselves and see that we are not reaching the customer through price off and gimmick terms. We have to begin to fess up with our tactics before the Attorney Generals of the world hammer us for trying to sell the mystic qualities of retail. Do you actually believe that we can buy furniture and then continuously offer it at savings of up to 72% Off and stay in business? Neither does the potential customer.
It's time to develop a conscience and examine the way we do business. We have to begin to offer furniture because of the qualities of the product. We have to begin to throw away the gimmicks of the trade. We have to do the one thing which is really hard in business... create advertising that works without gimmicks... create advertising that sells the product for full price because the product is that good. It can be done. Successful home furnishings dealers are doing it every day.
It's time to clean up our image and start winning over the potential customer who would rather buy a new car or take that cruise or buy a new watch. Remember this: new cars become old very quickly... a cruise only lasts a moment... and expensive watches break just like a Timex does. Now, wouldn't your customer rather buy a new sofa you can curl up on and take that much needed nap on a comfortable Sunday afternoon watching that old Cary Grant movie they have been dying to see again? Of course they would.
Paint the picture of the probable... not the impossible (save up to 72%). Draw her into your illusion of a great life. Bring her the atmosphere she wants. Deliver her dreams today.
So here we are, gathered around the table, once again, this month discussing what we should do in June. The kids are out of school. It's getting hot. The noise level seems to have gone up double decibels. The dog is barking and the cat needs some more milk. How about a seminar to take her away from all of this? How about an event in the store, which will bring some of her friends together with her... away from the kids? How about introducing that new collection which is THE fashion statement today? How about having an event where she can bring the kids along, be entertained, while she is looking for that perfect new sofa?
She's looking for a new sofa, you know. That is what the A.T.T.I.T.U.D.E.S. survey is telling us. She wants to buy a new sofa more than any other piece of furniture for her home... right now. Today.
So, why are you showing her dining room furniture in your ads? Why are you concentrating on that bedroom furniture? Is it because by showing the bedroom, you are doing someone a favor because they are giving us an extra 6% off this month? She is not interested in bedroom furniture right now, OK? She is looking for a new sofa. It can be a leather sofa. It can be a plaid sofa. It can be a tan sofa. SHE WANTS A SOFA right now. And does anyone know why?
For those of you who are hearing impaired, allow me to make the point in bold letters... She perceives a sofa purchase to fit into her budget better than a casegoods purchase at this time. she sometimes suffers from sticker shock. So, instead of hounding her with price off and terms, let's sell her a sofa. It can be a big sofa or a small sofa. It can be a green sofa or a blue sofa. Just let us all begin to show her a sofa. That's what she is looking for.
Hope we all have the message this month. It's all about offering product at full price. Give yourself a break and demand a bigger margin. You deserve it.
OK. All together now...It's time to stop selling used cars. Start selling home furnishings. It is a terrific time to sell home furnishings. Make sure you do it right this year.
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.