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How To Do The Impossible At Retail In 2015

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 144 NO.6 November/December


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If youare a furniture entrepreneur and are still standing after the economic downturn in home furnishings over the last few years, you have already achieved the impossible. You have likely seen many furniture stores go under. You have survived, and fewer competitors are out there to challenge you. You may not realize it, but there are fresh opportunities that lie before you to flourish as never before.
The question is, how do you identify and prioritize these opportunities? What course of action should you take to do the impossible?

A woman named Tracy Goss wrote a book that may be of help. It is titled: The Last Word on Power… Executive Re-Invention for Leaders Who Must Make the Impossible Happen. Her training has been praised by top executives in all phases of business. If you are game for managing a turn-around that everyone thinks is impossible, her ideas are worth examination.


First off, Goss challenges us with this counter-intuitive premise: The power that is the source of your success in the past is now preventing you from making the impossible happen in your life and work. I know there are those furniture entrepreneurs out there who believe they already have all the answers. They imagine that all they need to do, is do what they have always done, but do more of it, and maybe do it harder. Goss’s philosophy will not interest them. However, if you will grant that demands on furniture retailers have become so challenging that a revolutionary new approach is called for, this article could be a game-changer for you.

Goss then proposes an even more remarkable premise:

The pathway to new power is to dare to “re-invent” yourself, to put at risk all the success you have become known for in exchange for the power of making the impossible happen.

In other words, Good is the enemy of great. Make no mistake, though. This formula of Tracy Goss is not designed to achieve huge breakthroughs by ignoring the risks and attempting some colossal, audacious feat like Evel Kienevel. No, it is very different than that. It is rather predicated upon the courage to take baby steps, one at a time, toward an audacious vision, and never look down. That is, plan, prepare, and count the cost. However, once you are engaged in the process of doing the impossible, never pause to imagine the dangers and costs of failure. A parallel formula, and one I recommend, is the process used by an authentic daredevil, named Philippe Petit, who actually did what any rational person would deem impossible.

TAKE BABY STEPS TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE

Never heard of Philippe Petit? Neither had I, or so it seemed. He was recently asked to comment on the attribute of confidence. I read his response in the WSJ magazine. At that point I realized I had heard of him. Petit is best known for illegally walking between the roofs of Manhattan’s Twin Towers on a high wire in 1974. In the article Petit said:

“The confidence that I could walk between the Twin Towers never came. That it could actually be done never dawned on me from the moment I first got the idea to the moment I stepped out on the wire. I was preparing myself, but I knew from the beginning it was too big for a human being. But somehow I kept inching myself forward to make it happen. I never thought, ‘Should I address the impossible?’ No, because it was clearly impossible. If I had asked myself that question, I probably would not have done it. It would have slowed me down. But each time I realized it was impossible, I would shrug my shoulders like a poet, and say: ‘Well sure, but so what?’ I am a man who has done the impossible many times, but where the confidence comes to do it –– it’s a mysterious question to this day. I cannot answer it.”

How do we explain a guy who does the impossible, and then tells us that the “confidence that I could walk between the Twin Towers never came.” He had no confidence? He must have had something that nearly all of us lack. What was it? Petit also said: “I knew from the beginning it was too big for a human being. But somehow I kept inching myself forward to make it happen.”



What Petit is describing, and what I am advocating, is to take what Jeanna Gabelleini calls “baby steps” toward doing the impossible. Robert Schuller once described this as the “Laminating Principle.” The idea is the same as the way laminated wooden beams are built. They are stronger, and more fire resistant than steel. A laminated beam is made by gluing under pressure a layer of wood about one inch thick to another layer about the same thickness. Then, one by one, layers are added until the laminated beam is as much as three feet thick. Such a beam can span a space of about one hundred feet, and do this without supporting columns! In a like manner, seemingly insignificant baby steps, wisely orchestrated toward a prodigious vision, can eventually accumulate great synergy and power to accomplish the impossible.

Petit may never have heard of a psychologist by the name of Emile Coue. Yet the philosophy of his fellow Frenchman had somehow been assimilated in the heart and soul of Philippe Petit.

Emile Coue’s Observation

An observation by Emile Coue (1857 – 1926) may help us find the answer to the intriguing success of Philippe Petit. Coue once observed: “When imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always imagination that wins, without exception.” In other words, what we see in our mind’s eye will either inspire the human will towards achievement, or will paralyze it with possibly disastrous result. Take the example of Petit. He knew he had to prepare carefully. He counted the cost. He considered the wind factors, the distraction possibilities, and so on. For example, Petit was certain he would be arrested for attempting the electrifying stunt, and he was right. Minutes after he made the successful high wire walk between the Twin Towers, Petit was detained.

For his unauthorized exploit (1350 feet above the ground), Petit rigged a 450-pound cable and used a custom-made 26-foot long, 55-pound balancing pole. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire. All legal charges were dismissed in exchange for his doing a performance in Central Park for children.

Once he began his epic wire walk, Petit focused on his vision of success. He kept “inching” himself forward. Beyond a vision of success, he focused on baby steps. He did not imagine failure. If he had imagined the danger, if he had a vision of falling, he very likely would have failed. According to the theory of Coue, imagination will always triumph when in conflict with willpower.

Are you wondering, as I did, how Petit’s team managed to rig a 450 pound high wire cable over the 1350 foot chasm? They did it in baby steps. First they used a bow and arrow to send a small rope from one side to the other. Then they used that rope to pull a slightly larger one across. Larger and larger ropes were used, then cables, and finally the final steel cable.

The take-away from all the above is to plan, prepare, and realistically count the cost. But once you are in the execution stage, take baby steps with patience and fortitude, focus and hold onto your vision, and never look down.

HOW DO YOU APPLY THIS PHILOSOPHY?

I will admit that the goals of higher levels of traffic, sales and profit are considered impossible in these days of fragmented media. How can an independent furniture store be heard when no one is listening? How can you tell your story when the big box stores are dominating all the media?

You can turn the tide by revising some of your assumptions. There follows some things I recommend:
Do NOT copy the big boxes. You will not be able to get your price-item messages seen and heard in the red ocean of traditional media.

The medium that offers the greatest chances for you is the internet. Don’t put up a website and think you’ve done it. A poorly crafted website with inaccurate information is NOT better than none at all. However, there are blue oceans of opportunity through creative use of a well-designed website, one that is constantly updated and vibrant.



Define and Leverage your advantages. Tell the folks who you are. You are more than a corporate logo. You are the hometown boy. Your staff is composed of the community’s friends and neighbors who provide hometown service and who possess national buying power. You have family-friendly hours. Your store has accumulated years of faithful service to the community. You offer a large selection of famous brand furniture, don’t just tell them, show them. And on and on. Leverage these advantages by means of your staff (people media messages) and other means that those hastily produced price-item corporate flyers could never duplicate.

For the balance of this article I will also explain how to determine what baby steps you should be taking now toward achieving the impossible. Your personal next-steps are always lying around in plain sight and are much simpler to determine than you might think.

THE NEXT-STEP STRATEGY

The Next-Step Strategy is the process of movement, no matter how slight, in the direction you know you should be going.

Ideas are easy. Action is not. The “Next-Step Strategy” is about completing decisions with action. I have talked to countless furniture men and women, and few have defined, long-range goals. Yet, the vision, the big picture, is requisite and comes first. (“Without vision the people perish.”) Then the baby steps come easy.

In fact, the first baby step is often the need to sit down and put in writing where you want to be at this time next year. This action will automatically put you in the top ten percent of business people. (Only one business in ten has a written, long term vision or goal.) Bret Beemer tells us that when Fortune 500 CEOs were surveyed and asked if their companies had a defined, long range plan, 80 percent of them said “Yes.” So, here is the formula:

  • Take ten minutes off and relax. Think peacefully and comfortably about where you want to be this time next year. Keep it simple, something you can visualize.
  • Put it into a short, simple statement.
  • Share it with your staff. Ask them for feedback. Give them the option to make their own written declaration about where they want to be. Ask them to add to that statement what they will need from you to achieve their goal. Give them a week to complete the statement, no longer. Some folks will not be able to do this. Give them the option of meeting with you one-on-one to smoke them out.
  • Finally, check on progress at two month intervals.
Too corny? For some maybe. However, the above is a simplification of the very program that Ken Larson, the founder of Slumberland Furniture, and I developed. Ken has stated that this program helped him grow his furniture chain by a factor of eight in less than a decade. I must add that Ken executed the formula above with passion and verve.

MANTRAS AND CONCEPTS ARE POWERFUL––USE THEM

My first furniture job was with Curtis Bros. in Washington, D.C. At the time, Curtis Bros. was the largest furniture store under one roof in America. Young Charles Curtis was considered a marketing genius. Curtis Bros. was run like a well-oiled, disciplined machine. There was a strict dress code for sales consultants. If you were late for a morning sales meeting you did not work that day. Charles was a fan of Vince Lombardi.

Like Lombardi, though, if you made the team you enjoyed great benefits. (Lombardi created the first NFL carpeted locker room; Curtis provided each salesman with a small desk and their own telephone.) Curtis paid generous commissions and spiffs. But what I want to tell you about are the mantras that Charles Curtis drilled into our heads. I never forgot them. These were small, seemingly insignificant statements, baby steps if you will. But the accumulated, repetitive effect was important to the culture. Here are a few Curtis sayings:
  • “A promise is a promise.”
  • “Be in charge of the sales sequence. Never let a patron-clerk relationship develop between you and a customer.”
  • “There are always at least three lines of resistance in a sales sequence. Overcome these objections and you will make the sale.
  • “Never walk by anything you see that is wrong. Fix it.”
  • “Remember, as far as customers are concerned, YOU are Curtis Bros.”
Make up your own set of mantras to reflect your company’s core values. Use them repetitively and they will stick, believe me.

Concepts are also of extreme value. They can be contained in icons or symbols and used in your ads and on signs. These icons communicate lots of information in a heartbeat. Moreover, people tend to believe, trust and accept them more readily than the written word. These are also small, seemingly unimportant steps toward creating a brand or image, yet they are proven to have significant effect. A few copyrighted icons I have developed for clients are included in this article.

Keep in mind that mantras and symbols communicate information. If you want your staff to have your store’s values and services in the forefront of their minds, use these devices repetitively and tirelessly and you will impact your company’s culture favorably. Ken Larson has stated: “The culture of a company is the job of the CEO. It absolutely cannot be delegated.”

The challenge of the new millennium for the independent furniture entrepreneur is to do the seemingly impossible. Yet, as I wrote at the beginning of this article, there are opportunities that lie before you to flourish as never before.

You can identify and prioritize these opportunities by holding a worthy vision and taking baby steps toward achieving it. You can do the impossible one doable step at a time. And, never forget: “When imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always imagination that wins, without exception.” It’s true.

Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.
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