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From Home Furnishing Business

Publisher's Letter: Slowing Down

By: Bob George

A common lament today is the rapid pace of our lives. In our 24/7 world with the multiple ways we have to communicate and keep in touch, life becomes a blur.

Today, a text message substitutes for a phone call; an e-mail, for a conversation; a PowerPoint presentation, for a detailed study. And the pace continues to accelerate. A recent news clip presented research that Millennials are rejecting voice mails, refusing to listen to them, much less return the call.

Our paradigm in the traditional furniture channel is centered on the concept of an up. In this scenario, consumers visit a store excited about the prospect of redecorating their home. They establish a relationship with an experienced sales associate who provides them with decorating ideas taking into account style preferences and current home furnishings trends. The relationship strengthens as consumers make subsequent return visits to create an amazing room. Thus a satisfied consumer becomes a long-term store customer who will return for future home furnishings purchases.

Unfortunately, that model is disappearing. Seventy-six percent of consumers are doing research on the Internet before visiting the store or simply buying from the Internet. We now find a significantly shorter shopping period. For 45 percent of consumers the shopping process is completed in two weeks or less. What constitutes an up today is like a conversation I have with my kids. We exchange words via text or e-mail, but is it really a conversation?

So what’s the problem with the pace of today’s purchasing process?

Simply put, it changes our product into a commodity. One can drink a glass of wine in a gulp or leisurely savor the experience appreciating the bouquet. How do we slow down the consumer enough to appreciate our product?

I can go back to a memory of conducting focus groups for Henredon with Mike Dugan, who was president at the time. As we led consumers through the product groupings, we watched their reactions. We knew the product was a winner within the first minutes by observing how they caressed the products. Later they shared statements like “I enjoy my furniture every day when I walk through my room.” We find these consumer sentiments not only in upper-end brands, but also for brands like Broyhill and Hooker.

What can we do to slow down the process?

Give the consumer something to read – not an e-mail or a 20-second TV spot that flickers quickly by only to disappear from the surface of their minds. You may counter with “no one ever reads”. That may be so, but have we stopped giving them the opportunity to dream about their homes? Look at the latest 600 plus-page Restoration Hardware catalog or Art Van’s inspiring fall catalog or even the magalogs that retailers are producing with our sister company, FurnitureCore.

The consumer still appreciates a well-designed environment. Just go on a delivery and watch the excitement the customer has about the new furniture. At one time, sales associates took the time to visit after the delivery to share in the consumer’s excitement.

Are we too busy to do anything more than send an e-mail, much less a hand-written note? Our challenge at retail is to do something in the store that consumers cannot do online. And what is the manufacturer’s role in this? It is to create product the consumer can appreciate, product based on design, not on bargain pricing.

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