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Know How To Shop The Competition

Furniture World Magazine


Consultant and author Brian Tracy left a deep impression on me during one of his seminars in which he stated that “the competition gets up every morning to put you out of business.” Some might find that statement harsh and exaggerated and even reminiscent of the Macchiavelli’s caveats to his Prince whenever he warned him never to let his guard down against his political enemies.

Certainly, our competitors are not the villainous enemies the Prince faced, but who would deny our competitors are out to do their utmost to make every customer looking for furniture, one of theirs. Just as certainly, Brian Tracy did not imply that in besting our competitors, we should throw ethics to the winds. Who, in light of the severe penalties meted out to two of the major culprits of the Enron debacle, would counsel organizations to disregard the law of ethics?

In the most practical and ethical of terms, Brian Tracy was counseling all those at his seminar not to fall prey to naiveté, for while naiveté is not a vice, it is certainly not a virtue. Meanwhile, only the practice of business virtues can promote an organization’s success. And while we are on the subject of naiveté, I cannot imagine a greater and more insidious naiveté than that which lulls salespeople into ignoring the steady practice of visiting their competitors’ stores. How can salespeople hope to best competitors without knowing exactly how their merchandise is viewed by customers for whom comparison-shopping is the rule?

Let me cite an actual example I witnessed while doing some sales coaching in a Twin Cities mattress shop operated by a single salesperson – I’ll call him George. Words move us, a Latin saying goes, but examples sweep us along.

One day a customer walked into the store, and as they often do, he pointed to a mattress in a competitor’s ad, and asked the salesperson if he could match that very mattress he had seen in the competitor’s store. The mattress in that ad was priced at $300.00. The salesperson nodded and took him to one of his three hundred dollar sets.

Customer: “How does your mattress compare to the one I saw at XYX Furniture ?”

Sales Associate: “Ours is better,” the salesperson replied without hesitation.

Customer: “How do you know that? Have you been to XYX Furniture?”

Sales Associate: “No, but I know that price for price our mattresses are better.”

Well, the customer’s face revealed he was not convinced by the salesperson’s ingenuous explanation, and, in fact, he soon exited the store. As soon as the customer had left, I asked the salesperson to go to the competitor’s store to find out all he could about that three hundred dollar set.

About two hours later the salesperson called me. “Get this, Peter,” he said, “I had three more customers from XYZ Furniture. All three inquired into the same three hundred dollar set. I sold all three.” “Great, I replied.”

“Thank you, Pete,” he continued, “but there’s something much more important. Each of these customers spent more than $500 for their new mattress.”

I credited the salesperson for his performance, being careful not to ad the condescending “See how important it is to study the competition.”

How valid indeed, the Latin saying, “Words move us; examples sweep us along.” Roma locuta; causa finita. Rome has spoken; case closed.

Is it ethical to pretend to be a customer in your competitor’s store? Should you hire a “secret shopper”? What do you do if you are asked to leave? How should you treat competitors shopping in your store? In the next issue of FURNITURE WORLD, Dr. Marino will discuss some of the basic ways to “shop” in competitive stores, with an emphasis on ethics.

Trainer, educator and group leader Dr. Peter A. Marino writes extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He has deep experience as a top salesman, sales manager, corporate trainer and consultant. Dr. Marino has undergraduate degrees in English and philosophy and a Ph. D. in ancient Greek and Latin. His books include “The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding”, “Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales” and “It’s Buying, Silly!” available through FURNITURE WORLD. Questions can be sent to him at pmarino@furninfo.com.