We can distance ourselves from used car salesmen and lawyers.
For all of us, whether retailer, manufacturer or supplier, who have chosen the home furnishings arena as a chosen career, it's somewhat disheartening to have research indicate that the American consumer isn't all that pleased with what we do. We've all read enough articles and enough research to know that shopping for furniture, in the minds of the consumer, rates right up there with root canals or income tax audits on the pleasure scale and furniture salespeople are on a level with lawyers and used car salesmen. Consumers find the shopping experience painful and confusing. More often than not, they complain that the level of professionalism encountered was woefully inadequate. Be it unknowledgeable salespeople, broken delivery date promises or quality that does not meet their expectations, they tend to rate our collective effort not up to par.
By all counts it would seem that we all work hard to alienate the consumer instead of serve them, and yet as individual manufacturers or retailers, most of us would be hard pressed to paint ourselves with this negative brush. No retailer that has survived in this industry, could possibly be waking up each morning and asking themselves, "How can I come up with a new way to disappoint my customers today?" Yet if we listed to the consumer, we would have to believe that somehow that is their interpretation of all of our collective efforts. More importantly, many seem to continue to indicate their distaste for the whole furniture shopping process by avoiding it all together. Leaving the question of how we got ourselves in this mess to the historians... the more important question for us should be "how do we find our way out?".
In 1990, a small group of dedicated people decided it was time to reverse this trend. This early group of retailers, manufacturers and suppliers were not starry-eyed zealots, but rather practical business people who recognized that someone had to invest in our collective futures and that someone had to be all of us. Thus, the Home Furnishings Council was created for the sole purpose of reaching the American public and motivating them to improve their home and their home environments. Forty-one manufacturers pledged their initial support and without exception, the major retail and manufacturing associations pledged their support as well. After six years and a lot of hard work, the naysayers (and there were many) may have to finally admit that the HFC has beat the odds.
Today, over 140 manufacturers are listed as HFC members. Over 3500 home furnishings retailers proudly display the HFC logo. Fifty-six suppliers, whose company names are never heard by the end users, have contributed thousands to our industry's future. And while much progress has been made, there is still a long, long way to go.
As a home furnishings retailer, you have the power, through the HFC, to make a difference. First and foremost, there is a direct benefit to you as a member. By purchasing Haven Decorating Guides, you help fund the effort of the HFC. More importantly, you have a professionally produced resource to give to your customers to provide them the information they desperately need. And when consumers call the 800 number shown during the popular Haven TV show (produced by the HFC) they are directed to HFC member retailers. In fact, Joy Philbin, host of Haven, urges viewers to look for the Haven logo when shopping.
What's the catch? None. What's the downside? Nothing. Why isn't every company involved in home furnishings a member? Beats me.
The fact of the matter is that we all need to invest in our industry's future. For too long we've been like a 64 year old who decides they'd better "get serious" about saving for their retirement. Too little, too late. But it's not too late for this industry we call home. The hard work is beginning to pay off. With an even stronger effort we can continue to chip away at the consumers' negative perception and distance ourselves from the used car salesmen and the lawyers. Let's all hug them good-bye and move forward.
John Case of La-Z-Boy Chair Company is on the Board of Directors of the Home Furnishings Council. For more information on HFC research and programs, contact FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.