If you are a retail owner or manager you probably don't have a lot of down time. What about your retail sales associates?
Do your retail sales associates ever have down time? If they are like most RSAs, the answer is yes, and it probably drives you and them crazy. What do I mean by “down time?”
- They are in the store.
- There are no customers on the floor.
- No sales meetings are happening.
- No rearranging of pillows is in progress.
- No re-tagging of merchandise is being forced upon them.
- No other retail housekeeping is interfering with their free time.
In other words, they have nothing to do. You suspect this dreaded (or occasionally welcome) time on their hands has great value. But, it’s valuable only if you have programs in place to help them use it efficiently and intelligently.
RSAs who use this time for social media to follow up with customers and prospective customers in a highly focused way deserve a round of applause. But, be honest, how often do they do something useful during their down time? I’m not knocking smart phones; I’m just suggesting they can use it for something besides posting how much they are now savoring their Vente Caramel Macchiato!
Follow Up – Old Customers & New Prospects
There is an entire article on Follow Up in the March/April 2018 issue of Furniture World (www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37), so I’m not going to spend too much time discussing it here. Following up is probably the best use of an RSAs (free) time. But, after follow up is done, and they still have extra time, there are a host of other useful activities they can do to boost their ability to make sales and more money.
In the following paragraphs, I will try to bring some of these to your attention.
Down time, or free time, is a great time to continue sales training. Let me say this. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is the perfect retail sales associate. Anybody and everybody needs to study and practice to enhance sales skills and maintain the skills they already have. Without practice and continual analysis of sales techniques, skills will erode. RSAs will find themselves omitting steps or questions that were once part of their repertoire last year or last month. When they study the principles of their profession, which is retail sales, even if they are old pros, they will sharpen and hone their skills even more. Down time at the store is the perfect time for this self-review, analysis and further study.
Where does one find sales material to read, watch and review? We’ll mention some here, but there are many more. Let’s start with print material.
Books: Although there are literally thousands of books in print covering every facet of sales, there aren’t very many dealing with furniture retail sales. Listed in the following paragraph are books with which I am personally familiar. Reading and re-reading these books over and over will help advance any sales career. You’ll probably find, as I have, something new and helpful each time you read them.
•How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual. My book, of course, is, modestly, first on the list. The web-site address to order is in the biographical information at the end of this article. I've been told by bedding sales associates that it's an excellent use of their down time.
•Selling Retail by John F. Lawhon. This book, by the late John F. Lawhon, is revered for its focused advice about selling furniture at retail. It is a big book, well organized and easy to read. It defines ideas and concepts, such as his Five Groups of Knowledge and the Steps of the Sale better than any other book I’ve read. I cite his work frequently in my book and articles. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with all of his comments on mattress sales, specifically where he suggests the RSA should convince the customer that a firm bed is better, even if the customer does not like the feel of the bed.
•The Selling Bible by John F. Lawhon. This book is more about the selling profession than it is about retail sales. It uses the old IBM training method of “repeat everything three times, maybe then they’ll get it.” I’ve only read this book once. Once was enough for me. However, there may be those on your sales team who find this stimulating reading. Either of Mr. Lawhon’s books can be ordered on Amazon.
•Spring Training by Gerry Morris. Gerry is an old friend who has actually been in the bedding business longer than I have. Gerry’s book is not only informative, it’s fun to read. It’s strong on certain psychological aspects of the sale, specifically converting the customer’s “needs” into “desires.”
•Sell More Beds, Guaranteed! By Gerry Morris. This book is a collection of many of the articles Gerry has written for a host of home furnishings publications.
•Mattress Matters! By Gerry Morris. This new book, a collection of his Sleep Savvy articles, has recently come out. I don’t have a copy, but since I read all his Sleep Savvy articles, perhaps, in a way, I’ve read the book. All of Gerry Morris’s books can be ordered on Amazon or on his website: www.sellmorebeds.com.
•The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding by Peter Marino. Each of the books of Dr. Marino, a former RSA, consultant and professor of Greek and Latin, contain potent ideas for approaching sales and selling techniques. I cite him frequently in my articles and my book.
•Winning Bragging Rights by Peter Marino. One of these Marino books was probably the first book ever written specifically on how to sell bedding. I’m not sure which came first, but both should be essential reading for any would-be professional bedding RSA. Marino’s books can still be ordered by contacting Furniture World at firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Money in the Mattress by Steven King. There are some useful ideas contained within. Available on Amazon.
The above-mentioned books deal primarily with retail and mattress sales, but I have found some interesting and exciting ideas in other sales training books, in everything from insurance to fertilizer sales.
Periodicals: I realize that I run the risk of promoting competitive magazines, but each of the following periodicals will, periodically, publish an article that contains interesting sales and marketing ideas. Reading these publications can help keep sales associates abreast of industry information. And, every professional RSA should be found with a wealth of industry information.
•Furniture World. The oldest continuously published trade publication in North America also has a sharp focus on sales and management education. In existence for almost 150 years, Furniture World is a bi-monthly seminar on any and all subjects pertaining to the home furnishings business. It should be read cover to cover by all furniture professionals. If you aren’t already a subscriber, become one.
•Furniture Today. A weekly news magazine that does a great job informing its readers of the latest happenings in the home furnishings business. I occasionally find basic sales training material printed here, but this is mostly a news publication.
•Sleep Savvy. Published by ISPA, there are ten issues per year. It has some useful training material (Gerry Morris’s articles), and most features are interviews, store profiles and furniture news.
•Consumer Reports. We are seeing their mattress ratings a lot more often than we used to. Every bedding specialist should read the bedding articles and keep copies on hand. These articles are not written by bedding professionals, therefore some of the conclusions drawn from their tests are questionable at best. I know that I, and others, often disagree with their observations and opinions. They are supposed to be objective, but I sometimes wonder. All that being said, however, many customers read and believe this magazine. Don’t let your strong opinion, even if it is correct, kill a chance for a sale.
•Retailer Now. This is a publication of the Home Furnishings Association, who we will mention in the Professional Organizations section. There’s a lot of useful information, including articles on basic sales training, in most issues.
•Home Furnishings Business. This publication is similar in format to Retailer Now, which is news and business information. There are occasional articles on basic sales training.
There are a lot of other publications in print that are specifically about selling. Google “printed periodicals about sales and marketing” and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of hits.
Video: Not everybody likes to read. If reading bores some of your salespeople, you will find a great many sales videos available on the internet - for starters, Google “videos on how to sell retail.” Quite a few YouTube videos will come up. Most of them are really advertisements to sell training programs, but even if you don’t want to pay for anything, you can still get several minutes of good ideas from the presentation video. In fact, I just watched one and got a new idea for handling those folks who are “just looking.” And, it didn’t cost me anything.
If a training program looks like it will help you increase your sales, then buy it if you can justify the price. One extra sale from what you learn might just pay for the whole program.
Role Playing: I, personally, despise “role playing” as a sales training method. But, don’t let my prejudice influence you. I am told that role playing can be very helpful when done properly.
The whole point of role playing is to anticipate certain sales situations and practice how to handle them. It helps to have at least one partner so that you have someone to interact with, just as you would with a customer. One judge or monitor might be handy to evaluate performance. But, don’t invite a crowd. You may wonder why I don’t like role playing. The role plays I’ve experienced were always done as part of a sales meeting, where an audience of some dozen or more onlookers watched and snickered waiting for some hapless RSA to make a fool out of him or herself. The monitor of the role play, naturally, can be seen as a sadistic sales manager who wants to look clever in front of all the other RSAs. Of course, if the sales meeting is long enough, every fish gets his turn in the barrel (except for the evil sales manager). This is not the right way to do role playing as sales training!
One advantage of role playing is that, even though the situations are artificial, they mimic real situations. Reading and watching videos are passive activities. They allow RSAs with time on their hands to stop, think and reflect on ideas as they go along. Role playing is more active, requiring quick decisions and quick responses to customer objections. Any real analysis or afterthought must take place after the sales collision is over.
Since this is a general discussion of the many ways to utilize down time, I won’t get into much more detail on the importance of role playing. Correct and effective use of role playing as a sales training device is almost an art form, and needs much more discussion than a couple of paragraphs. Again, consult your smart phone for much more information.
Group Discussions: Group discussion of sales ideas is a good use of down time. Most RSAs have a lot of questions about how to handle certain situations. It is often hard to find specific answers in sales books, and especially in videos. A round table discussion is a great way to bring up and examine fresh ideas on how to handle old problems.
More About The Business: Many RSAs, particularly beginners, suffer from a serious lack of perspective about the furniture and mattress industry. I have found that the RSA with an exhaustive command of industry information is more likely to impress a customer as an expert (Provided the RSA doesn’t overdo it). And, an expert is what most people are looking for when making an important purchase decision on a large, expensive home furnishings item.
So, how do we learn about the mattress and furniture industry, quickly? Here is a list of some important industry web-sites with an emphasis on bedding. This is a partial list, but it is a good start.
•American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) From their website, “the only professional society dedicated exclusively to the medical sub specialty of sleep medicine… sets standards and promotes excellence in sleep medicine health care, education, and research.” Their membership is primarily health-care professionals such as doctors, nurses, scientists and others in the field. The information may be too technical for most RSAs. Their web address is www.aasmnet.org.
•American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA). The membership of this organization is primarily home furnishings manufacturers and executives. They lobby for better governmental access and relations within the furniture industry.
•Better Sleep Council (BSC). A nonprofit organization, the Better Sleep Council is the consumer education arm of the ISPA (International Sleep Products Association). Per its website, it is “devoted to educating the general public about the importance of sleep to good health…” Even though this organization was developed to help consumers with mattress purchase decisions, it can also be helpful as a basic training tool for RSAs. Their website is http://www.sleepproducts.org.
•Consumer Product Safety Commission. From their website, “CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.” The CPSC now claims, as of this writing, the nation suffers over $1 trillion losses annually from consumer product accidents and incidents. That’s a lot of money! Home furnishings are included in these “consumer products.”
•International Sleep Products Association (ISPA). ISPA is a non-profit organization. Members include mattress manufacturers and suppliers. They sponsor the Better Sleep Council.
•National Sleep Foundation (NSF). They offer information about various sleep disorders. They sponsor Sleep.org, which discusses different ways to improve sleep.
•Home Furnishings Association (HFA). This is the retailer’s organization. They publish Retailer Now magazine and have numerous programs for furniture retailers. Get more information on HFA programs at https://myhfa.org.
Sleep Products Safety Council (SPSC). This is the safety division of ISPA. Its mission is “devoted to advancing the safety of sleep products. Topics include mattress odors, disposal of old mattresses, bunk bed safety, bedroom air quality and several others.
My descriptions of these organizations has been brief and cursory. The information that is contained in their websites is anything but. Each site contains virtually encyclopedic information on almost every subject that concerns the home furnishings industry. The only subject they don’t cover well is sales training.
Explore The “Five Groups"
How familiar are your RSAs with your store? Sure, they know their way to the break room, the restroom, and the back door. But, do they know everything about your store’s products, policies, advertising, inventory finance plans and competition?
Unless they are intimately familiar with each of these subjects, I’d like to suggest that you encourage them to use their free time to learn more about the Five Groups of Knowledge.
Of course, RSAs can do what they want with their down time. I understand that the job of retail sales is stressful. Taking time to relax between ups and sudden rushes is important. But, time once spent, cannot be recovered. Time management is critical to success in any endeavor, even relaxing and playing. All the subjects we discussed are important. They don’t have to take it home with them but I’ve been in retail a long time and know that there is enough slack time on the sales floor to get a PhD in retail sales, if you work on it.