Discusses cooperative promotion with other retailers, demographics and growing through three generations in the same community.
It was at the Toronto August Market that we first spotted Carol Goudie with Lynn Woods, her Merchandising Manager. They were studying Coja and C.Style sofas, loveseats and chairs, looking for "smaller scale seating, sized to fit in condos, town houses and apartments". In Carol's neck of the woods, indeed all over North America, the population is aging. With retirement and nests newly empty, many people sell the family home and move to more efficient but less spacious quarters. Furniture collected over the years is suddenly too big, faded and outdated in color and styling. It's a growing opportunity for the home furnishings industry, one that demographers promise will remain with us for a good long time.
"People have more money to spend and there's definitely a demand for better quality, functional furniture. Our average sale has gone up about $400." Goudie's is arranged "in room settings, with lots of accessories to show the furniture as it would look in the customer's home plus, of course, we sell the accessories. More people are out looking for furniture, and I anticipate growth during this next year. I believe we will still be seeing gradual growth five years from now."
Goudie's Furniture is located in Strathroy, Ontario. "Our population is 12,000, but we also draw on London and Sarnia; we're halfway in between the two cities." Strathroy is experiencing great growth, "new family homes, we're a bedroom community. The Sydenham River runs through Strathroy. It's a safe town, people walk downtown." She laughed, "You garden with one hand and wave with the other! Because of our location, advertising is necessarily a little more expensive, but we must do it to broaden our scope."
Goudie's message appears regularly in The London Free Press, Strathroy's Age Dispatch, both London Magazine and Better Living Magazine, and coordinated radio designed to complement the theme of the print material. "We try to focus on product and value rather than the 70 percent off theme. We must be consistent with our message and just be there, be there, be there! We also do direct mail and customer appreciation sales to preferred customers, and some postcards which have been very effective."
A year ago, Carol and nine other retailers hailing from similar size communities in Ontario but "with no geographic conflict" joined forces. Last month the retailers congregated at Carol's 21,000 square foot store for a strategic planning session. They address service problems, advertising, marketing and sometimes the state of the nation. "We save money on both advertising and printing with volume discounts by working together." For the holiday season the group is producing "a little more upscale flyer focusing on product, not price. We'll feature six different manufacturers, eight pages, full color." Between meetings, the group keeps in technological touch with frequent conference calls.
A member of the Strathroy Downtown Business Association, Carol is collaborating in the creation of a catalogue called The Wish Book. "Almost all the downtown businesses are involved, last year 32 of them, and we had really good results. Hopefully, this year it will be a little bit bigger." The Wish Book provides an advertising vehicle for accessories and gifts, not included in the group's fall flyer.
Carol grew up in the business. Her grandfather, Alexander Goudie, a cabinetmaker from Loch Winnoch, near Edinburgh, Scotland, came to Canada and "worked for a couple of years in a furniture store in Hamilton. He liked Strathroy and founded Goudie's here in 1946. My grandfather died when my father, David, was in his fourth year of university; he came home and took over the store. As a child I was cleaning lady for $5 a week. My two sisters and I were responsible for dusting and vacuuming the store. I worked as an office clerk during two school summer holidays, filling in for people on maternity leave."
Carol holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. Immediately after graduation, she was recruited by a major Canadian utility, Union Gas, and was in executive training, first as Assistant to the General Sales Manager, then Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President. She married Ed Ogle, an engineer and mechanical contractor, CEO of his own company, and they have two children, David 13 and Emily, 10.
Carol's father, died more than a decade ago, and her mother, Mary, stepped into the breach and kept the store humming. Carol was on maternity leave herself when she went back to Goudie's to help out. "That was 13 years ago, and I never left." Mary retired from the business, and Carol became manager at the age of 25.
"In the past 13 years there have been many changes. The early '90s were not kind to the furniture industry. Most of the manufacturers we deal with today are either new suppliers or have significantly changed since the '80s. The recession altered the way they do business. The decade of the '80s was good for everybody and when the economy slowed down and FTA and NAFTA became factors, Canadian manufacturers had to become more competitive. The ones who succeeded have excellent products on the market; the others have gone. Canadian upholstery manufacturers have made great changes and are now extremely competitive. It used to be that we couldn't get the quality and designs we wanted and needed in Canada. Now I don't have to go to High Point. I can fulfill my needs right here.
"At Goudie's we have become much more professionally organized in our inventory management and in programmed buying to ensure that we always have a good variety. We have definitely not dropped our quality." Carol "doesn't like service problems, particularly difficult when you know a lot of the people you're dealing with. We've done the right thing in maintaining our quality standards." She smiled, "We're still here and we must be doing something right. We have a staff of 12 and more than half have been with us longer than 20 years. All are very proficient at their jobs. We're a team; it is their company as well as mine."
The growing number of women in the industry pleases her. "I think there's no prejudice now in attitudes towards women. The manufacturers' representatives I deal with tell me they think women tend to make better selections in furniture because we choose the furniture in our own homes. And customers do tend to take a woman's advice more readily. We know how to blend fabrics and patterns. Women are repping lines now, and are prominent in marketing and design. Certainly there are many women on the sales floor, and there are plenty of buyers and owners. And there are a lot more women at the shows. My 10 year old daughter, Emily, is already planning on coming into the business with me, and my sister's two daughters come to the store every day after school. The industry definitely offers careers for women."