For this, the second installment in Furniture World’s “Trending Accessories” series, we asked a panel of accessories experts how retailers can do a better job of buying, merchandising, selling and profiting from the accessory items in their stores.
Choose The Right Accessories
In the May/June 2015 issue (see www.furninfo.com), trend expert Patti Carpenter, President + Creative Director for carpenter + company identified the major trends in accessory colors and palettes. When asked how retailers might incorporate these trends into their sales processes, she suggests that retailers, “start by focusing on each customer’s general overarching style, then consider how to move that person forward. Right now, trends are more evolutionary, more subtle. Huge revolutionary changes are not occurring every season. So, retailers need to help customers make simple and subtle changes that won’t break the bank, but that can help make their spaces look more refreshed, updated and contemporary.”
To do this effectively it’s obvious that salespeople must know more about each prospective customer. “Retailers,” she says, “should engage customers, find their preferences, become a partner. It’s not a one size fits all. That exchange, that interaction is what keeps brick and mortar retail relevant. If a store is not taking full advantage of the face time they have with each customer, they aren’t giving them much more than they could get by shopping online. The whole point of them coming in is to experience that interaction. So stores should definitely take this opportunity to engage in a very different way.”
“It’s very important
to understand how merchandise is performing, but once you get
this information, it’s just as important to discover the reason why.”
“You don’t have to be everything to everybody, adds accessory consultant Paul Thompson. “But given where your store is right now, you need to at least look innovative and current. I hate it when I visit furniture stores that make me feel like I just stepped back into 1989.”
Paul says that the sale should always start with great displays because, “if the dining room table isn’t accessorized with a lazy susan, and there isn’t a small sculpture above the hutch, or that large ceramic rooster with a cornucopia and some fake fruit coming out of it, plus small mirrors on the wall, hurricane candles, dishes and all the other accessories that evoke a French Country, American Classic or other lifestyle, the salesperson just can’t start talking about them.”
The good news, says Jason Phillips, Vice President of The Phillips Collection, Founder/President of Jason Phillips Design, and current President of the American Society of Furniture Designers is, “People in general are much more excited about their furniture purchasing decisions, due in part to all the home improvement TV shows. Husbands are getting involved, so it’s more of a fun process. Consumers are not just shopping because they need a new sofa to replace the one their dog chewed up. They’re changing a room, adding accents. Retailers need to make it fun.”
Ask The Right Questions
“When retailers sell a dining table they better sell eight dining chairs with it,” adds Phillips. “If they don’t, there’s a problem. It’s the same with accessories. That’s management 101. Managers need to ask associates, ‘who did you talk to today and what did you offer them?’
“Sales associates can do better by really listening to customers and seeing where their eyes go,” he observes. “If they say they are looking for a new coffee table, find out if it is for the living room. Then ask if they are happy with their sofa and lamps. Inquire if they are interested in looking for a large mirror or have thought about updating the look of their room with a new chandelier or some pendant lights.”
Trend expert Patti Carpenter agrees that asking the right questions sets the tone for the accessories shopping experience. “If a customer just purchased a couch, ask if they are looking to place something interesting above it. Perhaps they want you to show them what’s very popular now. If the couch is a neutral color, suggest they consider your new line of wall art that will bring color into their room. Help them to choose lamps to put on their side tables as well as other items you carry that add color and interesting shapes to make a nice statement.”
“Even if you don’t change
the furniture on the floor that much, the way you rotate products in and |out of the front of your store, in that seasonal set area, determines how shoppers feel about you.”
Get The Big Picture
When asked about the need for good qualifying questions, accessory consultant Paul Thompson observes, “The most important thing is to try to find out what their big picture is. And what they desire.” He also says that it’s prudent to get additional information such as, “Are you renovating or remodeling? Is there a style you want to move away from or go towards? If they just came in for a mirror or a lamp, and you’ve established some rapport, ask where that lamp is going to be placed, and if they have other plans for that room. Remember to also ask if there are other items that will be needed. Then, tell them that your store has the items they need that are new, or the latest style and color. Keep the conversation going. A lot of times shoppers think they don’t need direction, but they really do. And, remember to let them know that you are glad they came in, and to make them feel special when they first walk into the store. Then, try to figure out what they need, what they can afford and how this lamp, mirror, rug, pillow or large ceramic rooster is going to impact their lives. What they need and want are often two different things.
“If you ask what kind of budget a shopper is working with,” continues Thompson, “and they want something more than they can afford, remember that often price isn’t the problem, it’s finding the right thing, so try to get them to fall in love with your products.”
Best Merchandising Ideas
When asked about merchandising, ART’s Sharon Davis offers, “Some retailers go through their accounting system to identify and replace items that are low performing and decide to replace them, but that isn’t the best way to merchandise creatively. Just replacing low performing accessory items is not enough. The process has to start by paying attention to the trends of the day, including merchandising trends, color trends and product trends to keep things fresh on the floor. Without this focus, retailers miss out on a big opportunity. It’s very important to understand how merchandise is performing, but once you get this information, it’s just as important to discover the reason why. And, just maybe you need to take a long look and see what your mix is all about.
Consultant Paul Thompson observes, “many retailers miss the mark when replacing poor selling accessory items. “Let’s say a retailer gets rid of the bottom selling 20 percent of lamps, the dogs. Do they replace these items with something new and innovative? A lot of times the answer is ‘no’. They replace them with items that are not so distinctively different.
Rotate Them In & Out
How do retailers decide how to change up their accessories? Thompson says that there’s lots of information out there. “You just have to decide what looks you want to put on your floor. Then decide how to incorporate your inventory, making it look good. Just because a retailer is happy with how the big-ticket furniture items on their floor are selling, doesn’t mean they can’t profit from showing accessories to help support sales. I wouldn’t tell a furniture retailer to start showing a bunch of small candles and decorative items if they’re not comfortable selling small accessories. Instead, I might suggest showing oversized accessory items such as hurricanes for candles, and glass, resin or ceramic items on a wooden pedestal. Larger decorative elements that provide good retail margins, can nuance the displays, and create lifestyle settings.
“Perception is huge in retail, so your store should look fashion forward,” he continues. “Even if you don’t change the furniture on the floor that much, the way you rotate products in and out of the front of your store, in that seasonal set area, determines how shoppers feel about you. If they see the same old piece of furniture in a new way, it will be new to them. So give some thought to the front quarter of your store. How should it change seasonally? Also, think about your planned buys for the next 12 to 18 months and how you’re going to rotate new items in with old items to get attention.
“Consider the life cycle of the products you buy. How long do you plan to keep them in the store? Lots of retailers just show and sell items until they are sold. Others buy a collection and plan to sell it for just six months. This second group has a real plan to get accessories out the door. Then if it isn’t sold in six months, they just sell it at clearance or get rid of it. Another idea for getting rid of old merchandise is to feature items that have been on the floor for too long or are sitting in the warehouse in a digital or printed catalog.”
Dealing with accessories efficiently takes good planning. Paul observes, “Red accessories, such as red hearts, stockings and candles sell great at Christmas time, but where do they go when Christmas is over? Well, the red candles can go to Valentines Day, right? So you have to think about the lifestyle of each product from the moment it hits the floor. Just roll them into the next seasonal set and they will look different.
“I tell retailers all the time that the trend is what you’re showing. So, whether an item has been in your store a long time or not, that’s the trend that you have to work with! If you want to change displays to reflect more fashionable trends, then take pieces and parts already in inventory and use them as parts of new displays based on color and viability. If all your furniture is brown, then you’re going to have to add pops of color. The same leather sofa can look six different ways if you style displays to reflect six different trends. Accessories are jewelry to the store, they’re like earrings to a woman. It’s the accessories that make an outfit or a room pop and take it to another level.
We asked our experts to suggest practices Furniture World readers can incorporate to help salespeople sell more accessories. Patti Carpenter suggests, “for salespeople who don’t already have design experience, it’s important to start to make that a focus for them. There’s so much information available today. Retailers can do simple things such as getting reports from Pantone or from someone like me. Or, go online to see how other stores talk about their trends for the season.
“There’s certainly much to be learned by just being an avid reader of good home decor magazines that provide information about new colors and finishes. There is a lot of information on color in Better Homes and Gardens and Elle Decor’s color issues. Simple resources like magazines and Google searches can certainly give sales people talking points about upcoming trend and color directions.”
“Every single store ought to have a subscription to the good design magazines like House Beautiful, Luxe, El Decor and Veranda,” agrees ART’s Sharon Davis. “Every retailer should have a library of traditional as well as contemporary issues for salespeople to flip through during slow times so they can find out what’s trending in the design universe and the world of décor. There’s no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t be doing that. It’s an easy way for owners and managers see their salespeople become more knowledgeable about design and do better, period. Salespeople should be reading design blogs and following style spotters at the High Point show. There is a lot of downtime in retail, that’s for sure, so why not make the best of it.
“The same leather sofa
can look six different ways if you style displays to reflect six different trends. Accessories are jewelry to the store. It’s the accessories that make an outfit or a room pop and take it to another level.”
“And it can be fun. Other underused resources are accessories sales reps who will gladly provide all sorts or resources and educational presentations to help retail salespeople do a better job.
“Retailers are also welcome to join ART’s webinar series that includes training on trends, merchandising, sales training, lighting and social media. These are all listed on the accessoriesresourceteam.org website under events.
ACCESSORY DESIGN TRENDS (above)
Metallic + Mirrored:
Among the materials trends identified by Carpenter + Company is Metallic + Mirrored. Highly reflective shine is the direction for anything silver. Polished and bold silhouettes make for products you cannot take your eyes off of. They seem to say, “look at me looking at you”.
Pictured is the Silhouette DeLe Nymph table by Chad Jensen for Thomas Riley Studio, Urban Trend Face Garden stool, Water Pipe series by Drilling Lab, Zaha Hadid Cuff.
Among the Trendscope print/pattern/surface trends identified by Carpenter + Company, Irridescence or light play continues to be a key point this season with oily, slick reflective
surfaces. Colors dance across the surface of textiles and glass. CMYK light bulb in the collage above causes colored shadows.
Another Trendscope materials trend identified by Carpenter + Company, is Terracotta. Natural and simple, this humble material takes a chic turn into clean products with structure and solidity. The color is also important as it recalls the warming browns of the palette and is reminiscent of Masala from Pantone with its subtle red undertones. Included in the collage above is the Vitamin Product lamp.
Among the Trendscope print/pattern/ surface trends identified by Carpenter + Company is Kaleidescope. Repeating patterns of fractured fractals adorn everything from pillows, to tiles, and accessories. Kaleidescope colors are often bright and sporadic and the feeling of movement is key to this pattern play.
Another Trendscope print/pattern/surface trend identified by Carpenter + Company is Starburst. Shown are a variety of simple forms and complex interpretations. The Starburst trend is being incorporated into mirrors, table top, accent pieces and even textile patterns.
Traffic Building Events
How might retailers make accessories more important to consumers by promoting them as major and exciting elements of room design, along with lighting and paint colors?
Patti Carpenter thinks that consumer events and seminars are a great way to build traffic. “I’ve started to see more stores inviting in paint people, Benjamin Moore and the Sherwin Williams, to talk to customers about where paint colors are going, because it’s a foundation for starting to layer in furniture and accessories,” she says. Having a Saturday afternoon or Wednesday morning seminar allows retailers to make a case for how their accessory selection ties into what’s coming, and can help to lead customers to purchase.”
Today seminars and events are easier to promote through social media, comments Phillips Collection’s Jason Phillips, “It’s important for retailers to embrace social media. I don’t mean just posting Facebook updates, but using cutting edge social media such as Instagram hash tags, having contests for consumers, mobile to promote events and mixers, support charities, and work to engage customers with brands. It’s not just the chic-est brands that make the most noise these days. So, find your audience, embrace them, tap out to the local media, tap out to your vendors.”
Sharon Davis recalls, “Recently during one of our webinars a speaker suggested to retail participants that the word ‘sale’ needs to be dropped from the retail vocabulary. Instead retailers should create events that people want to come to. There may, of course, be some merchandise at an event that is on sale. The trick is to advertise an interesting seminar, demonstration or a charity event. There are a million different ideas that can be promoted through social media. For example, on the ART website under the refurbish section, there is a video from Global View that we produced showing three different, fresh looks that can be created by just changing accessories on three core pieces of furniture. Any store can, in a vignette area, create an in-store demonstration like this. It’s a great visual tool to show shoppers how they can freshen up the same furniture they’ve had for 20 years by adding accessories to create an entirely different look.”
Circling back to the topic of how retailers can figure out how to properly merchandise their stores, Paul Thompson suggests that store management needs to do some research to find out how people in their trading areas live; how they are furnishing their homes, apartments and town houses. Identifying these differences helps pinpoint the types of accessories they are likely to buy. “And maybe,” he says, “lifestyle settings in your store should be representative of that clientele. Perhaps it’s an urban look, a Country Home look, or a transitional dwelling for young married couples. Accessories are a big part of creating these lifestyles.”
Another hint he gives. “Ask salespeople why customers buy or don’t buy accessory items you sell. They may tell you that a certain lamp sells because it’s functional, or that you have an advantage because other stores in your trading area don’t have a decent selection of decorative mirrors. Define why things are selling. Salespeople often have a different take on why things aren’t selling. This exercise can be enlightening, especially for stores that don’t actually have regular store meetings.”
Another idea Thompson floats is to get sales and design associates to create a “visions” or ‘trend’ board. “Ask them,” he says, “to design rooms of furniture and accessories they would buy, using internet resources and magazines. One retailer, I worked with,” he recalls, “reviewed the layouts salespeople presented, picked the ones he liked and looked for the pictured items at the High Point Market. Doing this gave his store the added advantage of getting employees involved, and those sales associates whose designs were used, felt responsible for producing sales, because it was their idea.
“If your customers are reading Elle Decor and Architectural Digest,” he adds, “you need to know that, because that’s what’s informing them. If your town puts out a home and fashion magazine that’s part of a home tour, you need to know about that as well because it will let you know what designers are doing in your area. No retailer has any excuse for thinking they don’t know what to do about trends. Many retailers could improve displays by just taking pictures out of any magazine, then reproduce the color, the placement of the furniture, the styling of the floor, and placement of the decorative accessories. It’s not that hard. Architectural Digest features high-end furnishings, but there’s no reason this look can’t be translated to any price-point.
Manage The Process
Closing our discussion on accessories, Surya’s Vice President Sales Seth King stresses, “Retailers need to have somebody in charge. When customers walk into a Pottery Barn or a Crate and Barrel, displays look fresh and new every day. But many other furniture retailers don’t have people responsible for taking care of this, so their displays get picked apart and they just don’t look as good. There needs to be a constant, everyday discipline to make this happen. It’s not always the number one mindset for furniture store managers, but customers walking into a store on a first visit, need to be impressed. Furniture and accessories need to be nailed down which means keeping more backup inventory or working with suppliers that quick ship. When this doesn’t happen, customers will end up leaving to visit a Home Goods or a home decor discount type retailer.
“The issue for many furniture retailers is to figure out how to sell the full lifestyle to their consumers. A lot of the responsibility for this rests with sales people. If they’re used to selling big-ticket items, be it a rug or dining room table and chairs, there’s a tendency to just skip over the accessories. But, if they understand the value that accessory sales brings to retail, I think, it would change a lot of minds.
“A lot of times, managers don’t even measure how their sales people are doing in accessories. Retail managers need to measure sales performance before they can coach them on how to become more successful. They can say, ‘this month you made X-dollars selling sofas, and Y-dollars in accessories.’ They may have done a very good job or not, but until it’s measured and pointed out, salespeople are just going to continue to do what they’ve been doing. Positive change has to start with upper management. Store owners need to make a commitment to selling accessories if they want their sales teams to buy into the process and help sell more product.”
About Kathy Andersson: Kathy Andersson serves as manager of Color and Marketing for the Product Finishes division of Sherwin-Williams. Andersson is a chairholder and has been a member of The Color Marketing Group (CMG) since 1996.
With over 22 years experience researching trends in interiors and consumer markets, Andersson successfully leverages her knowledge of formulating and application to guide manufacturers through their color and finish strategies process. Andersson is responsible for the division’s global color strategies, design and marketing efforts including color trend research and analysis as well as societal and lifestyle trend monitoring for industry segments consisting of furniture, kitchen cabinets, electronics, wood building products and general finishes for various substrates. To get information on additional trends from Carpenter + Company contact email@example.com.
Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada. In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.