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A Baker’s Dozen: Retail Ideas

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 143 NO.3 May/June


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The number 13-for many people is considered unlucky. Hotels in Las Vegas never have a Thirteenth Floor, The Detroit Airport jumps from Gate 12 to 14 with no stops in between, and you may remember what happened on Apollo 13 from history or the movie.

But it is a LUCKY DAY when you stop by a donut shop or bagel place that does things the old school style. Order a dozen treats and they give you one free. It’s called the Baker’s Dozen, that little extra bonus and reward for their customers. You may never promote “Buy 12 Sofas and Get One Free”, but you can still benefit from the Lucky 13 Baker’s Dozen of Business Improvement Opportunity tips below. Most will cost you nothing or a small investment of time.



#1 Your Store Display Starts on the Sidewalk:

The best store owners and managers make it a habit to walk their stores daily. They live by the rule “retail is detail” and check to make sure every item is tagged, and every lamp shade is straight. After all, shoppers make up their mind about your store within the first 20 feet of your showroom. That 20 feet starts outside your door! Make it a practice to conduct daily store walks starting on the outside. Stand a couple of yards outside your entrance and just look for 120 seconds. Chances are you will see overflowing trash cans, gum on the sidewalk, and fingerprints on the door. Look a little closer and check out the decals on your entryway. All you need are your store hours, bank cards accepted, and WELCOME. If you don’t take Discover or American Express, remove those decals. If you do take them, make sure they are posted once. Your shoppers won’t care if you were a Consumer’s Choice in 2006, and they may wonder what happened since then. Don’t use taped on signs. They look bad and most shoppers ignore them. Then walk out at night to check signs for burned-out or flickering lights and make sure they are replaced. I passed by the Hotel Adams in Phoenix one time, and they were down to Hot__ _ dam_.

#2 Just Say “No”:

Sales associates love to hear the word “YES”. Does your store reflect the word “NO”? Start with your entry signs. If you have “No Food or Drinks”, “No Photos” or “No Cell Phones” your shopper is thinking “No Sale”. Consider this, if the next couple of shoppers who enter your store are in their late 30’s, each with an I-phone and a Grande Starbucks, are you going to kick them out?
Listen to your sales teams’ presentations. Are they drilling “No Free Delivery, No Weekend Delivery, No Zero Deposit Orders, No Selling off Floor Samples” into their customer? Managers are in charge of managing the EXCEPTIONS. Read this paragraph again; if there would ever be a situation where you would say YES instead of NO, don’t let your team chase off shoppers. I am not advocating smashing the rules, but it’s good to remember that when your shopper wins, you win too. Besides, I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies.

#3 Nesting is for the Birds!

If you had a bunch of birds nesting right above your front entrance door it would look terrible to customers. I am not anti-aviary, and those nests don’t concern me as much as the Vulture’s Nest that you have right at the front of your showroom. It’s that sofa, or dining table, where the salespeople gather. You and I see them as people waiting to do their job (greet shoppers). Your shopper sees them as vultures, ready to swoop down on road kill. Your inside vultures leave a mess as well because they usually render their perch shopworn and unsaleable. Shoppers ignore that furniture group as a store fixture and not merchandise for sale. Further, your team probably sets their books, ads, pens, coffee cups, personal mail and bills, cell phones, and other droppings in that nest. Remember that 20 foot rule!

The solution is simple... no gathering, one sales associate on deck at a time.

#4 Play Eye-Spy:

Wars, the World Series, The Super Bowl, and NBA Championship are won with intelligence. Great generals and coaches review reports, maps and game films. If you heard of a general or a coach that refused to take time to learn about their opponent, you would question their dedication and ability. Yet most retail furniture stores have no comprehensive competitive shopping program, and others simply go through the motions. You are a few steps or even a few mouse clicks from learning how your competition is beating you every day.

A common excuse I hear is that “everyone at the other store knows me. I can’t shop there!” It’s ok if they know you, and chances are slim that they will ask you to leave if you check in upon entering to be sure it’s ok for you to just walk through. Here’s a tip-when you shop, don’t concentrate on their methods and displays that are inferior to yours, because you are already winning that battle! Look for the things they are doing BETTER than you. Look for ways that you can improve your shopper’s experience and meet or exceed your competition’s game plan.

Comp Shops need to be done on a scheduled basis at least a couple of times each month. Check out the stores that you may not consider your normal competition. Target, Pier 1, and wholesale clubs are a good start. If your store is a “popular price” provider, check out the displays at Thomasville and Drexel-Heritage. If your store model is for the Carriage Trade, check out the ways that those Poor Country Cousins down the street are closing shoppers the first time they shop without needing room measurements, swatches, or paint chips. Take what you learn and share it with your sales team. Better yet, get your entire sales team involved in the spy game.

#5 Sell Clean and New:

On delivery day, your customers expect to see nothing less than Clean and New. And, unless you are a second-hand store, that’s a small goal to achieve. Clean and new also applies to the way your sales team needs to appear to your shoppers. We are in the fashion business! There is no place for worn shirts, scuffed shoes, or ties stained by mustard! While Brooks Brothers’ suits would add a touch of professionalism to your team, you don’t need to go that far. Dress pants and shirts for men, pressed and clean-and yes, fashionable ties too. Even if that is not how the locals dress. When you look sharp, you sell sharp. Dress skirts, slacks, and fashion accents like scarves for women, and please, nothing too revealing.

Some male RSAs like to wear a one-day stubble. That’s great for a cologne commercial, but our business is different. Shaving is like writing sales. Do it every day, or else you look like a bum.

#6 Be New-Fashioned:

Furniture manufacturers put a lot of time and money into developing new products and styles that are something different from the “tried and true”. And during each market, retailers view these offerings and comment “That’s different, but it wouldn’t sell in my market!” New and Different is EXACTLY what our industry needs right now, and for the past 25 years, too! While auto and electronics companies get national press coverage to show the latest and greatest, when was the last time you saw network TV cover High Point’s new offerings? Manufacturers can drive design, but retailers need to drive distribution and sales. There is always a risk in new placements, but that risk comes with rewards.

Think about the “COOL” places to shop in your neighborhood. Chances are Target, the Apple Store, and Old Navy come to mind. Taco Bell drives traffic with new offerings monthly on their menu, albeit with the same 5 ingredients. When you show and promote cutting edge, you drive traffic to your store, and when you have a lot of people in your store, something good usually happens. Take the risk and place something WILD on your showroom floor. Put it in the front window and watch your shoppers’ reactions.

When you believe you really know what your shoppers want, take a look in the mirror. Unless you see a female 25 to 45 years old looking back at you, chances are that you are out of touch with today’s customer.

#7 Call Yourself:

If you hate calling the cable company, your medical insurance provider, or an airline because of the auto-answering systems and those darned prompts like “If you have a rotary phone…” then why do you have that same system for your stores? Do you believe this enhances your shopper’s experience? And what about hold times? Is 60 seconds reasonable?

If you want to get a true customer experience, take time today to call your store locations. Count the number of rings and prompts you have to go through to speak to a sales person. Listen to your choices. If the #1 choice is “If you need to schedule delivery”, or “If you need service on your product” you have taken your eye off of your organization’s mission. Furniture stores are SALES organizations, not delivery companies or repair companies. When you want to be the #1 choice for furniture in your market, make “If you would like learn more about our furniture” your Choice #1 on your phone system.

Having an actual human person answer the phone is a better option. Your receptionist has to answer the phone with an upbeat voice… every time. And they have to drop their attitude about qualifying calls. When you call your store-don’t identify yourself. Ask for the store manager-and if you hear “who can I say is calling”, or “what is this in regards to’, your receptionist has become a gatekeeper. In my stores, the gate was always wide open!

At your next staff meeting, start by having everyone sit quietly while you let your watch tick 60 times. See which staff members are fidgeting or off to another planet. Your new shopper won’t last that long, they hung up at 45 seconds.

#8 Thank The Best of the Best:

We have all dealt with them... the WORST CUSTOMER OF ALL TIME! We spend time and money on multiple deliveries, endless exchanges, costly price adjustments, and hours of phone calls with the goal of satisfying the un-satisfiable. That’s what happens when you open your doors to the public. On the other side are those great customers who spend thousands or tens-of-thousands with you and share their great experience with friends and neighbors.

Today is a great day to have your IT team run a report on which 10 customers spent the most with your store in 2012. Chances are those top ten may have purchased $100,000.00 or more from you. These are the Best of the Best and need to be treated like the royalty that they are.

As the owner or CEO of your organization, call your Best of the Best. Let them know how valuable they are to your company and ensure that they are 110% satisfied with their purchases. Then make their day by inviting them into your showroom to select an area rug or lamps, or even a recliner “on the house”. If you can afford to pay Mr. and Mrs. Complainer $200 or $300 for a small chip in a nightstand, you can afford to invest in your best ambassadors.

Don’t be tempted to pass this down to the store managers. The real impact comes when the call comes from the owner.

#9 No Problem is a Problem!:

It’s so common, that it IS a problem. Ask for a coffee refill at Denny’s and your server will say “No Problem”. Thank your mechanic for adjusting your fan belt and she’ll say “No Problem”. The thing is we never thought we were causing a problem. Train your team to trade in “No Problem” for “It’s My Pleasure.” When your sales team wraps accessories for your customer and she thanks them, the response should be “It’s My Pleasure”, or “I’m glad to do it”.

Would you rather spend money at a store that is a pleasure to shop, or a problem to shop?

#10 Everyone Sells:

Baseball players have a saying, “The closer you get to the field, the harder the game becomes”. It’s also true for personal retail selling. From the delivery office or advertising team, it looks like all your sales people do all day is drink coffee, and occasionally talk to shoppers and write a sale. I can tell you from personal experience, this is NOT true. Once in a while we drink tea too! Selling is hard work. Good sales associates work to get shoppers to tell them their needs, timeframes, budgets, and decorating concerns. They have to fit your policies into your shoppers’ lifestyles.

If you believe that your organization is a selling company, do you believe that everyone should sell? Many furniture stores were founded by sales people who believed they could do a better job running their own store than the company they previously worked for. If that sounds like you, make it a practice to get out onto the retail floor and find out what today’s customers are demanding. Chances are your CFO, IT Director, Advertising Manager, and Director of Operations could learn a lot about how to improve your business if they spent a weekend in the store taking overflow customers or working the cash counter. Subdue any reluctance by reminding them that no one gets paid until the sale gets made!

#11 Back to School:

I hope you and I never have to contract with an attorney, but if we do, we don’t want a lawyer who hasn’t read a law journal in the last 10 years. And, I want my doctor to attend as many medical conferences as she can. When recruiting, I make it a practice to ask applicants, “Tell me what you have done on your own to improve your performance skills.” True professionals stay on top by constantly learning their craft. This can include reading books and trade journals, factory tours, computer or design skill classes, or even watching HGTV. Turn that question to your team to keep track of associates that are stepping up on their own to improve skills. Start by making material available or a resource list of vendor reps, websites, industry magazines like the one you are holding, and other suggested reading materials. You may have to kick it off by forming a book of the month club, but keep outside training as volunteer as possible.

Don’t limit the opportunities to your sales team. Suppliers like Mohawk are able to provide repair training for your operations team and there are several online training sites for honing computer skills.

#12 Free Samples!

Sure, Baskin and Robbins makes a fortune by giving free ice cream every day. You may not think about it but the largest internet companies grew by giving their service away free to anyone who asked. Think Facebook, Netflix Free Trials, and MapQuest. If you want to win in the 21st Century you have to be willing to give something away to gain shoppers. And that something has to have a perceivable value.

If you want to sell dining rooms, why not give away dishes or serving utensils. Want to sell living and family rooms, give away accessory items or fleece throws. If you want to sell fashion and style, give your shoppers a decorating idea book. The easy one is bedding. Give away pillows! These give aways should not be “with purchase”. Make them a gift for just walking in to your store. Show your shoppers that you are the store that wants to enhance their life and furniture shopping experience.
If it seems like a big investment, consider the $30-120 or more you are paying per guest for advertising. If your team is closing less than 40%, than the $10 gift you give will be a wise investment toward capitalizing on your traffic.

Bonus #13 That Won’t Work:

You now have a dozen different opportunities and some solutions for improvement. The solutions you chose have to be right for your market, organization and shoppers. Be sure that every change you make is customer-focused and not commission-focused. A final FREE opportunity is to hold a brainstorming session for your team.

If your sales aren’t what you want them to be, it’s a strong indicator that whatever you are doing is not working as well as it used to. Group brainstorming is an effective way to develop new strategies. Generally the first 13 ideas mentioned in the session are re-runs... You need to get to Idea #14-25 to really have an impact. Most organizations never get past #10 - all because of those three little words - “THAT WON’T WORK”.

Have a successful brainstorming session by making every participant and idea count. Start the meeting by identifying the areas your team needs to improve on immediately. Write every suggestion down. I like to use large poster board sheets tacked to the wall. Make it clear that anyone can say anything - EXCEPT, “That Won’t Work”. Try charging a $1.00 fine to anyone who says these three words and donate the proceeds to your store’s coffee fund.

Once you have your list of 25 or more ideas per topic, have the team vote for the most creative ideas for each topic. Now you have a solid base to develop a plan. Take it further by assigning development of that idea into a workable practice to a team member. Reconvene in two weeks and finalize your plan and timeline. When you make the necessary changes outlined in this article, you’ll soon see that the number 13 can be lucky for you!

Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht