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From Home Furnishing Business

What is the Next Point of Vulnerability?

Another element of the Home Furnishings Business vision is to establish a future perspective. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “to win you need to know where the puck is going, not where the puck has been.” In that light, we should consider the beginning of the buying process before the consumer starts shopping.

Recent research from FurnitureCore, the marketing arm of Home Furnishings Business, provided the insight that 68% of consumers anticipate purchasing furniture this year. Research also tells us that 73% visit the internet to conduct research before beginning the serious buying process. Additionally, 40% scout the store before committing to shopping the 2+/- retailers they want to include in the buying journey. These are the facts.

Unfortunately, many of the planned shoppers do not follow through with their intent. What are their barriers? For the most part it’s the time strapped consumer. However, it is also the fear of beginning. The typical consumer is challenged with the subject of style — what is in style and what is my style? The emergence of eclectic styling where anything goes has not helped the situation.

The next barrier is the layout. As the room sizes decrease or the new open floor plan concepts gain popularity, the consumer is even more design challenged.

This is an opportunity that traditional retailers must seize. It is an accepted fact that with a “home plan” created by a visit of the sales associate to the home, the ticket is four times larger and the probability of closing the sale is 80+%. I am not referring to high-end designer stores but the more mainstream retailers.

Several high preforming retailers, such as Steinhafels and City Furniture, have robust designer programs that generate a significant percentage of their transactions, and yes, they really charge for the process. Again, this is accomplished by trained sales associates, not just interior designers on staff. Many retailers offer the service “free design consultation,” but do they “sell” the process? What impact would having 30-40% of your tickets being generated by home visits? You do the math.

The challenge for traditional retailers is to execute the next strategic change before the other distribution channels. Assisting consumers with in-home design will be the next frontier. The online decorating services, such as, are launching major television campaigns offering design service with price guarantees for all products recommended. Wayfair has a special site dedicated to interior design.

Traditional retailers, let’s get there first instead of playing catch-up.

Last Mile – Last Chance to Make a Lasting Impression

Now the last mile is under intense focus as the ecommerce boom makes delivery an important strategic focus. In all industry sectors, the last mile has become the highest growth sector in the logistics industry, as well as the most expensive.

Now logistics is becoming the front line of the customer experience as retailing takes a step back. In essence, can logistics effectively provide a great customer experience at an affordable price? Retailers are challenged to maintain control of the customer experience while losing in store contact.

Simply put, the consumer’s perspective is what I want – while I want – when I want. As recently quoted in a study on logistics, we are now in the age of the individual economy, “Iconomy,” for short. In the latest consumer survey by FurnitureCore, Consumer Intelligence, the demand for immediate satisfaction is evident with more than 24% receiving delivery of their order the same day and more than 65% receiving within a week.

The ability to achieve this objective is driven by the fact that most retailers strive to maintain an in stock position of the majority of their merchandise. From a consumer perspective this was achieved more than 70% of the time.

It should be noted that one of the largest retailers, Ashley with its 800 stores, has achieved that success by not promising same day delivery, but by fulfilling orders from its national network of distribution centers. They are able to accomplish this because Ashley is the manufacturer and can control both the production and logistics. One of the major strategic discussions in logistics across all industries is the DTC (direct to consumer) concept. Currently 52% of all last mile service providers offer DTC as a service. Will logistics providers begin to leverage their expertise with ecommerce customers to enable seamless DTC roll-outs for manufacturers?

The possibility of a manufacturer delivering directly to consumers for their retail partners could address several of the major furniture retailing issues: low inventory turns and obsolescence.

Any discussion of this leads to the fear that suppliers could skip the retailers entirely and sell directly to the consumer. For manufacturers it is a strategy worth considering because of the inability to achieve distribution in all of the 400+ markets (MSAS), especially in the upper/premium price points. Retailers with inventory turns of 3.3x (industry average) produces a poor return on investment.

Ashley is not the only manufacturer/retailer providing last mile services to their retail partners. La-Z-Boy, as well as several accessory and rug suppliers have implemented this model. One of the issues that brought last mile services to the industry’s attention is the ecommerce suppliers offering “free delivery.” But the truth lies in the detail with free delivery meaning to the garage/curbside. The perception is still there, however. The fact is, according to FurnitureCore’s most recent survey, the majority of all purchases were not charged a delivery fee.

Patrick Cory, president of home delivery powerhouse Cory Home Delivery, said white-glove delivery services can be a competitive advantage for brick-and-mortar stores, but it’s critical for them to make consumers understand the differences between white glove service and other types of delivery.

“If you’re taking a box and putting it in the (consumer’s) driveway or taking it to the front door of their house, that’s not delivery. That’s drop-off,” Cory said. “Delivery is when you bring the box – or multiple boxes – inside the home, inspect the product, assemble it in the room of choice, and remove all the trash and packing materials so the consumer can use it immediately.”

And he said it’s also important for consumers to understand that type of delivery can cost an additional $100 to $200.

“If you just have furniture in one small box, or maybe a couple boxes, drop-off could be okay,” said Cory. “But that doesn’t work for someone who just bought a $2,000 sofa or a $6,000 leather sectional.”

While Cory said 99% of his company’s deliveries are white-glove service, Schneider and a number of other last-mile carriers offer multiple levels of service from curbside to threshold to white glove.

“I think there’s some opportunity for misunderstanding (about the type of delivery service), but there’s also a lot of opportunity for the consumer to call for clarification before the delivery takes place,” said Bob Elkins, senior vice president and general manager of Schneider Dedicated Services. “I think it’s driven more by consumer choice.”

Schneider instantly became a major player in last-mile delivery when the company acquired last-mile major Watkins Shepard in June 2016, and Elkins said it continues to be one of fastest-growing segments of Schneider’s business.

What used to be a profit center for traditional retailers has become a loss of about a point on the bottom line. The graphic below presents the results of a recent survey of traditional retailers conducted by Impact Consulting, parent company of Home Furnishings Business.

Traditional retailers have responded to the ecommerce challenge by changing their delivery options. Customer pick-up has been a standard along with white glove installed. Now, many retailers are offering variations from threshold to inside the room of choice. A survey of furniture retailers conducted by Impact Consulting provides an adoption percentage.

What Type of Delivery Provided?

If the consumer was charged for delivery, what was the charge? In the same Impact Consulting survey, the majority of retailers were charging $75-125 for white glove/installed. It should be noted that the variance between markets were substantial. Obviously from the results, it is a competitive element.

There was some variation in how the delivery charge was determined. However, the majority focused on distance.

Interestingly from a consumer’s perspective of delivery fees from all distribution channels, the fee was determined by purchase amount. Traditional retailers may want to consider this perception. In our experience, the consumer is often confused by a charge for a single piece versus a total room.

The most expensive type of delivery is white-glove service that is done same-day or next day. Delivery executives say it’s a popular option in a few hyper-competitive markets, but most don’t believe it will catch on nationwide.

Why? It adds 20 percent to 30 percent to the cost of the delivery, and also results in a higher percentage of mistakes in filling orders.

I think urgency is important up to a certain point. The majority aren’t willing to wait three weeks … but somewhere between same day and three days is the magic number,” said Rob Davis, vice president of client solutions at Diakon Logistics.

Davis said he understands that part of the retailer’s motivation for pushing same day or next-day delivery is that is takes the consumer out of the market for furniture purchases almost immediately, and doesn’t give them a chance to develop buyer’s remorse. However, he said he encourages retailers to impress the consumer “with a high-value delivery experience” that doesn’t necessarily include same day or next-day service.

“We don’t believe Mrs. Jones has a hard time waiting three days,” said Davis.

Elkins agreed, but said there’s still no question that transit times are contracting and consumers “are wanting things sooner rather than later.”

“We used to deliver Monday through Friday. It’s now ‘I want it delivered after Mass on Sunday’,” he quipped.

The use of third party delivery services has grown exponentially in recent years. But, it is still below 50%.

However, there is significant opportunity for growth. When we asked traditional retailers if they would consider outside delivery, it was a positive response.

Would You Consider an Outside Delivery Service?

Those results weren’t surprising to last-mile delivery executives who spoke with Home Furnishings Business. All said their businesses were growing rapidly, and they believe the market for their services is nowhere near a peak.

“It’s still consistently growing,” said Davis. “Our business has seen about a 15 percent increase, year-over-year, for the last three years.”

Obviously, one of the drivers to using outside delivery is the retailer’s strategy as it concerns ecommerce. In the same Impact Consulting survey, it was obvious that ecommerce is on the minds of the senior executives with over 63% responding yes to the question, “If you do not have an ecommerce channel will you execute in the next 12 months?”

Cory, among others, thinks that strategy might work for a larger regional retailer, but said smaller retailers, especially those who operate in a single market, still have a tough time competing even with a vibrant ecommerce site. He believes the only way for these retailers to survive and thrive is to offer products not available from larger competitors and combine that with top-of-the-line personal service and heavy involvement in the local community. 

“If you’re a small retailer and you try to go head-to-head with Bob’s or Rooms To Go, you’re out of business,” Cory said.

Cory and other delivery executives said mattress deliveries – whether the product was purchased in-store or via an online “bed-in-a-box” company – also are becoming more complicated. In-store purchases take more time to deliver because as many as half of new mattresses are purchased with an adjustable bed base, while online merchants are often flummoxed by returns, which average 7 percent, according to recent research by Consumer Reports magazine.

“Adjustable bed bases are heavy, they’re more complex, they take programming, and sometimes they don’t work right,” said Davis. “We may have to cost out our mattress deliveries differently in the future because of all the adjustable bases.”

And for the bed-in-a-box retailers, it’s not only returns that cause headaches. Even the satisfied bed-in-a-box purchaser frequently doesn’t know what to do with the old mattress it is replacing.

“In most states, you can’t just set a mattress at the curb or take it to a landfill anymore,” said Cory.

As a result, he said some online mattress companies have shown interest in retaining a delivery service to pick up old mattresses or new ones the consumer doesn’t like. Some bed-in-a-box companies tell a dissatisfied customer to donate the mattress to a local charity, but it’s increasingly difficult to find charities that will accept used mattresses, he pointed out.

But after the delivery is complete, the need for a third-party provider may not end. There’s also increasing demand for third parties that handle service calls for retailers, and that plays into the wheelhouse of companies such as ServeCo., an Atlanta-based conglomerate of home furnishings-related entities.

ServeCo President Chris Schall, in fact, said third-party service contracts are the fastest-growing part of his business. That’s because retailers easily can become overwhelmed with all the details involved with executing a service call.

“We’re about protecting brick and mortar. They can have the service element that’s necessary for their success, but without expending too many resources,” Schall said. “We tell retailers they should be focused on merchandising, marketing and sales. Too many retailers get lost in service.”

He said ServeCo can handle damage claims, warranty issues, on-site repairs, and even process the paperwork for vendor chargebacks. Plus, the company operates call centers in Woodstock, Ga., and Somerset, Ky., that can handle service questions and dispatch technicians when necessary.

He said that relieves a retailer of the burden of, for example, managing a group of independent technicians and keeping track of billing them individually.

According to Schall, ServeCo clients typically experience a 20% increase in vendor chargebacks, but he stressed they’re not abusing the chargeback process. Retailers who try to do it for themselves often find the process too time consuming and fail to follow up properly, he insisted.

“That’s money that they were already owed, but it was falling through the cracks,” Schall said. “So in a lot of cases, our program pays for itself.”

The Labor Force 2026: Can Shifting Demographics Meet Industry Workforce Needs

Couple these demographic shifts with industry workforce needs in a changing e-commerce environment, and the U.S. workforce could be in for a wild ride in the not so distant future, according to projected data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in the fourth quarter of last year.

In addition to slow growth in the labor force, changes in the way consumers purchase products via e-commerce will dramatically shift the need and type of workers in many industries, especially retail.  Not since the exodus of consumer goods manufacturing from the U.S. will the need for workers be so impacted.

Industries are changing and growing alongside the population. As shown in Table A, the retail industry is adapting to a changing economic structure and many brick and mortar stores are forecasted to decline in employment over the 10-year period 2016 to 2026. Among these are traditional furniture stores, as well as electronic, department and clothing stores. Furniture Stores are expected to take a 10.2 percent negative hit in employment over the 10 years to 2026. Meanwhile the success of Home Furnishings Stores is expected to boost this channel’s employment 7.4 percent. In the same time period, Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses are expected to gain 23.4 percent more employees.

The Labor Force 2026

How will the Labor Force look by 2026? And will there be enough workers to meet the specific needs of American industry? In 1996 all Baby Boomers were within the prime 25 to 54 age segment – roughly 72 percent of the total labor force. Thirty years later, projected in 2026, Baby Boomers will be 62 to 80 years of age and many will have exited the job market – leaving just 63.5 percent of the labor force between 25 to 54 years old (Table B). Between 2016 and 2026, the other significant change to the workforce will be among 35 to 44 year olds as the Millennials dominate this age group, growing from 20.6 percent of the workforce in 2016 to 22.2 percent by 2026. They will be the only age group under 65 to gain share of the workforce.

Figure 1 shows the percent change of the workforce by age group. Of particular note is the continual decline in workers ages 45 to 54, tempered by the growth in the 35 to 44 group.

The growth of both men and women in the labor force plummeted after 2006, due to both the recession and a slowing population growth. Although not the fast rise seen between 1996 and 2006, labor force growth is expected to increase for both sexes between 2016 and 2026, 5.3 percent and 8.0 percent respectively (Table C). The forecasted boost of women in the labor force brings their percent distribution up to 47.4 percent in 2026, but men remain in the majority at 52.6 percent (Table D).

Due to the influence of immigration on population growth and the projected rise of participation rates among Asians and Hispanic immigrants, the labor force is expected to become more diverse.  As the current population ages, the growth of White non-Hispanics in the labor force will decline further after falling 3.6 percent from 2006 to 2016 with an additional projected drop of 2.4 percent over another decade (Figure 2). As shown in Table E, both the Hispanic and Asian groups will increase their share of the labor force to 20.6 percent and 7.2 percent by a projected 2026.

Figure 2 shows the percent change in the labor force by race for the 10-year segments. Note the large Hispanic growth that occurred between 1996 and 2006.

As the younger generation’s participation in the labor force declines, and the workers over 65 increases, the median age of the Civilian Labor Force is projected to continue upward. Regardless of race, the median age of the labor force has climbed since 1996 and by 2026 all races are expected to have a median age above 40 with the exception of Hispanics at age 39.3 (Table F).

Labor Force Participation

Civilian Noninstitutional Population

Refers to people 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 states and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

Labor Force

Labor force is the sum of employed and unemployed persons (actively looking for work).

Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate

The labor force participation rate is the labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population over age 16.

The labor force participation rate is the percent of the people working or looking for employment, divided by the total number of people over age 16. There are many reasons adults do not work. Some are too old or ill. Others chose to stay at home with children. Some have dropped out of the workforce and are no longer looking for employment. Others are unemployable for various reasons. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the fourth quarter of last year paints a picture of varied growth patterns in labor force participation rates among different age, gender, race and ethnic groups. These participation rates highlight some the economic and social frustrations in America today as government entities, education leaders and communities struggle to find solutions. 

While growth continues in both the adult civilian population and labor force, as discussed earlier, the rate has slowed and is projected to continue to slow (Table G). In the 20-year period between 1996 and 2006, both grew at about the same rate – 1.3 percent average per year for the population over age 16 versus 1.2 percent labor force growth. However, during the 10-year period of the Great Recession and subsequent recovery 2006 to 2016, the rates got out of whack, with the civilian population over 16 years of age growing on average 1 percent annually while the labor force grew only half that rate. The gap between the civilian population over 16 and the labor force population (those working or looking for work) will narrow only slightly in the years ahead to 2026 (Table G).

Depicted in Table H the large 65 plus older total population is on course to grow exponentially from 2016 to 2026 with most leaving the workforce. And while age segments 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 show growth during this decade, the number of 16 to 24 year olds is expected to decrease alongside 45 to 54 year olds. Those ages 55 to 64, many still choosing to stay longer in the workforce, projects a flat population growth.

As the labor force gets older, the overall labor force participation rate is projected to decrease – down to 61 percent by 2026 (Table I). But the individual age groups are of particular interest.  For the youngest age group 16 to 24, participation in the workforce declined steadily each 10-year span – from 66 percent in 1996 to a projected 53 percent in 2026. This decline in workforce participation is associated in part with a lower high school dropout rate and increased attendance at colleges, all positive factors. In fact, in many retail labor markets, senior citizens are filling the slots once held by teens and young adults.

Most worrisome, however, is that labor force participation rates among 25 to 54 year olds have trickled down, but all still expected to be above 80 percent in 2026. And while population numbers for 55 to 64 year olds are projected to hold at 41.3 million over 10 years, the labor force participation rate is expected to increase by 3 percent with more people working longer. For seniors 65 to 74, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 30 percent will still be working in 2026.

The labor force is taking a huge hit with men leaving or not returning to the workforce. At a 74.9 percent labor force participation rate in 1996, the rate for men is projected to fall 11.6 percentage points to 66.2 percent by 2026 (Table J). However, contrary to strides being made by women in the workforce, just 56.1 percent of adult women 16 and over are expected to be in the labor force by 2026 – down 5.4 percentage points since 1996.

The workforce participation decline among women is only in two age groups – 16 to 24 and 35 to 44 year old women. Many in the 16 to 24 year old group are among the population staying in high school and then attending college. The 35 to 44 age group in part reflects women who have delayed marriage and child birth and who have exited the workforce to stay at home. The declining participation in this age group is expected to stabilize to 2026. Interestingly, these women are projected to return to the workforce by 2026 as demonstrated by the 45 to 54 year age group which will have the highest labor participation rate of any female age group at 76.4 percent.

Workforce participation rates were highest in 2006 just prior to the Great Recession in all race and ethnic groups, except White, non Hispanics (Table K). Rates in 2016 are projected to continue to decline among all race and ethnic groups from 2016 to 2026 as the population ages with the exception of Hispanics. Hispanics have more of its adult population under the age of 65 than any other race or ethnic group and are less impacted by the aging workforce. Hispanics have the largest percentage of its adult population ready to work at 65.9 percent, with Hispanic men having the highest participation rate of any sex or race at 74.4 percent.

In its purest form, full employment implies that any person wanting a job has one. The issue with employment data is that the Civilian Labor Force definition leaves out the number of people not looking for employment. These are the hidden numbers that are a challenge to economic growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the Economic Dependency Ratio to highlight the impact of the non-employed which they define as the ratio of the number of people in the total population who are not in the labor force, per 100 of those who are. This is the portion of the population “dependent” on the working population. The BLS projections for 2026 highlight the growing economic pressure of the aging population on those in the workforce. Figure 3 shows that growth in the dependency of ages 65 and over will increase from 24.9 people per 100 workers to 30.9 older Americans. Even so, seniors still have the lowest dependency ratio. The dependency ratio of 16 to 64 year olds not in the labor force increased steadily to 2016, but is projected to lessen slightly by 2026. In 2026 there will be an estimated 35 Americans between the ages of 16 and 64 who are not working per 100 American in the labor force. Children under 16 still have the highest dependency ratio, but it has declined from 45.4 per 100 to a projected 2025 ratio of 38.9.

A high dependency ratio can exacerbate the problems a government faces in health, social security & education costs, which are most used by the youngest and the oldest in a population.

Words Matter, So Be Careful Which Ones You Choose to Use

An example of this is the recently announced re-naming of their highly successful in-store clearance centers to Outlets. Their research told them that to millennials, their primary targeted consumer, the word “clearance” had a relatively negative connotation. while the name “outlets” carried a much more positive and exciting message. So, they are investing a lot of money to convert all of these areas to Outlets, all because of one word.

This made me think about how important the words we choose to use are in everything we do, both personally and professionally. That caused me to remember the famous standup routine the late George Carlin did in 1972. Yes, I am talking about his “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit. It was hilarious and very provocative at the time, but it was always his message about words themselves that stuck with me.

For those that have never heard it or don’t recall it, here is what I am talking about:

He starts out by saying that he loves words; they are his work, his play and his passion. Then he says he wants to tell us something about words that he thinks is important. As a writer and coach, these statements also apply to me. In fact, I think they are valid for every person that uses words to communicate ideas and sell products – which is most of us. Here in his own words, is his core message about words:

Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that yeah, the same words that hurt can heal, it's a matter of how you pick them.

There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7 of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is! 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you 7, baaad words!

That's what they told us they were, remember? "That's a bad word!" No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words!

Today we can probably hear many of his original seven words on TV and depending on where we go, the others will most certainly jump out at us occasionally. In recent years our society has probably added hundreds of words to the list of things we can’t say because they are not considered “politically correct”. My thoughts always seem to come back to that last line: “No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words!”

No matter where you stand on Carlin’s list or the PC additions, I think we can all agree the most important thing about the words we choose is what they mean to the person we are saying them to. As Art Van found, some words carry stronger, more positive messages and create better reactions than others. Therefore, in order to get the best results from each interaction we have, we need to constantly analyze and assess which words are best to use in every situation.

To that end, I have put together my “Seven Words Choices You Should Say in a Home Furnishing Store” when talking with targeted consumers and staff members.

  • Words to Use in the Greeting – We all know how important the greeting is in the selling process, at least if you read this column often you do. It is your first chance to break through most consumers “I’m just looking” defense. Research and experience have shown us that the first words you say when approaching a potential customer are absolutely critical to your chances of connecting to them and having a meaningful conversation about what brought them into your store. They expect to hear the worn-out phrases like “can I help you” or “how are you” when they enter the store. We have found that the same words you use to greet someone visiting your home also work best in the store. Therefore, we recommend you use the words “Welcome” and “Thank You” in your greeting. A simple “Welcome to our store, thank you for coming in today” can put you on your way to connecting to more people.
  • Words for Needs Analysis – Once there is a willingness from the consumer to share her reasons for the store visit, one of the best things to do is ask what room she is working on. Once you know that, something like, “Please tell me about your room” tends to work well. Most people will want to discuss their problem with you once they perceive that you are there to help them and we find that talking about the room, what they like and what they don’t like about it, is a great way to move the process forward in a positive direction.
  • Words for Products – Sales people historically spend too much time and effort talking about the nuts and bolts of a product as opposed to the things a consumer really wants to know. Most often it is the aesthetics and function of an item that are their main priority. The proof is that the vast majority of people will not buy a product for their home, that they do not like the look or feel of no matter how much you discount it! Therefore, we need to “romance” the product and discuss what it does for the emotional wants of the customer, along with satisfying the practical needs they have. Words like: gentle flowing lines, softly contoured back, generously padded arms and luxurious pleated English arm, make you sound professional and add value to the product. In addition, we do not recommend you use the words “Special order” or “Custom order” when referring to pieces you order specifically for a customer. While we understand what they mean, those are not necessarily positive terms for them. We suggest that you tell customers you will “have one made for them”. This creates emotional ownership of it when you write the order and is much more positive as a concept to most consumers.
  • Words to Use for Delivery – There are many ways to refer to the process of getting the product to the customer. Internally it is fine to call it “Delivery”, but we do not find that to be a great word to use with the customer. The simple reason is that it tends to diminish the impression of what you are actually doing in their minds. As a result, they don’t think it is a value when you tell them the cost. To most consumers, delivery means throwing it on a truck and bringing it to their house. They have no idea what goes into getting that done properly. We understand that the delivery process includes: picking, assembling, prepping, repackaging, staging, loading, driving, unloading, moving old furniture, taking in new furniture, setting it up and removing packaging. You need to sell the value of what you do, so we recommend you create a new name such as White Glove Fulfillment Plan or Total In-Home Order Completion. Anything but just plain “Delivery”!
  • Words to Call Consumers – Our habit is to call everyone that enters our stores a customer. That is incorrect because most of them are not yet customers. They do not become a customer until they actually buy something from us. Until then they are only potential customers. In reality, they are just visitors the first time they come in. Many stores now refer to them as Guests, which we prefer because it reflects how they should be treated. Many of us also like to call everyone that enters “Clients”. That is an even greater misnomer since a client is a customer that has returned and bought from you again. It is the salesperson’s role to turn visitors/guests into customers and hopefully in doing so, please them enough that they return and buy again to become clients. It may be just words, but the better your staff understands these distinctions, the better they will be at creating sales.
  • Words to Call Your Traffic – This is perhaps a minor point, but we also find some issues with the way sales staffs look at the people coming into the store. Historically most of us have referred to those that come into our stores as “Traffic”. We then subdivide traffic into individual Ups, because like in Baseball, each time they wait on a potential customer, they are “Up to Bat”. While I really don’t have a huge problem with this, I think it is a bit dehumanizing and perhaps devalues what we are talking about. The real word to describe what people coming in our store create for us is “Opportunities”. Therefore, I would much rather ask how many Opportunities to create a customer/client a sales person had today, than how many Ups they took. Small issue but I hope you get my drift because words have a lot to do with what we think we are doing, so let’s be as specific and positive as we can be!
  • Words to Add Value - One of the best sales professionals I have experienced uses one phrase over and over during his presentations. He prefaces some of his statements with: “one of the reasons I love working here is” and then adds on something he wants to talk to about. So you might hear, “one of the reasons I love working here is our fantastic white glove delivery service” or “another reason I love working here is our vast product selection in such a wide range of price points” or “another reason I love working here is that I can sell with confidence because our Product Protection Plan really allows us to take great care of our clients”. It is just a very positive way to introduce an add-on service or reinforce reasons to buy at the store. Psychologically, if he likes working there so much, I am probably going to subconsciously be much more inclined to buy there!

This is most certainly not the be-all end-all, but perhaps it will get you thinking about not just what you say, but how to say it better! Sorry it wasn’t as funny as George’s seven were, but my hope is that you will get plenty of smiles from the results improving your word choices will deliver!

A Frequent Occurrence Expanded Offerings Shine Brighter Light on Occasional Category

Retailers who sell the category more than just occasionally are likely to find their average tickets regularly increasing, and the number of walk-offs and be-backs regularly decreasing. When sold as part of a seating group, a set of end tables or a coffee table can round out that perfect room package. Or when sold individually, occasional pieces can be effective cash-and-carry items for the consumer who is reluctant to pull the trigger on a whole room of furniture, or isn’t in the market for that.

Not only are there styles, shapes and sizes for virtually every taste and budget, but the occasional category has come to mean a lot more than end tables and coffee tables in recent years. Of course, the three-pack table group isn’t going anywhere, but the category today also includes sofa tables, console tables, benches, magazine racks, bar cabinets, and even small writing desks.

And if the recent Las Vegas Market is any indication, many vendors of occasional furniture are becoming more aggressive with their product roll-outs. Many are adding significantly to their SKU count, expanding their assortments and devoting more showroom space to the category.

Zuo, for example, opened a new Las Vegas showroom that is dominated by offerings from its new Zuo Décor division, which includes occasional furniture and home décor products such as wall hangings and knick-knacks.

And Coaster, long a powerhouse in the occasional category, doubled down on its successful licensed collection with the Scott Brothers of HGTV fame by adding 250 SKUs to the Scott Living lineup, including dozens of new occasional pieces.

The Scott Living collection, in particular, includes a variety of styles and has no single style theme, particularly in occasional. And that’s consistent with research conducted recently by Impact Consulting Services, parent company of Home Furnishings Business.

The survey of recent purchasers of occasional tables showed that almost one-third (32.47%) purchased a table with traditional styling, and the identical number purchased contemporary.

No other style category came close. Country/rustic was the third highest at 15.58%, while country/European was purchased by 9.1%. Mission/shaker were each purchased by 5.19%, while cottage styling wasn’t named by any survey respondents.

And when it came to the type of table purchased, end tables led the way, being purchased by 54.55%. A coffee table was purchased by 38.96% of respondents, and a sofa or console table was acquired by 23.38%. (Multiple answers were allowed.)

The only other type mentioned was nesting tables, which were purchased by just 5.19% or respondents.

When asked how much they would expect to pay for an occasional table group if purchasing today, 44.16% of respondents said $250 or less. Another 32.47% said $250 to $499, while 18.18% said $500 to $999. Only 5.19% said they would expect to pay $1,000 or more.

Survey respondents weren’t too sold on the importance of packaged offers when purchasing occasional tables, such as bundling a coffee table and two end tables for a single price. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being “very important” and 1 being “not at all important,” the average response was a meager 3.61. In fact, nearly one-quarter (23.38%) of respondents rated it a 1.

An equally lukewarm response was given when respondents were asked the likelihood of buying a coffee table with extra seating, such as a model with stools that tuck under it. On a scale of 1 to 7 with 1 being “not at all likely” and 7 being “very likely,” the average response was only 2.87. More than one-third (36.36%) rated it a 1.

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