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From Home Furnishing Business

Blueprint to Success


As a teacher and trainer I have learned over the years that breaking a targeted result down to its basic ingredients is a great way to teach a complicated subject.

For example, in a previous column I discussed ensuring the sales team understands their sales success is tied to a combination of three factors: the number of people they see; the number they sell something to and the amount they sell to each one. Traffic multiplied by the closing rate multiplied by average sale gives you total sales.

By starting out this way you can study each component and help sales associates maximize their results. You can help them understand the relationship between all three they need to develop in order to connect to the highest percentage of the people they see and create the rooms they want with all the products they need to do so.

As owners and management of retail furniture stores, there are basic relationships that we also to understand in order to give sales people the best opportunity to be successful. In most stores, management uses sales reports to analyze and judge the performance of sales associates, when in reality there are three that have an almost equal influence on sales results. They are: advertising, merchandising and in-store experience from display, point-of-sale and sales associate interaction. That said, we might praise or blame the sales staff too heavily for our results. Granted, it is their job to sell what the product to the consumers enticed to the store through advertising and marketing. However, they could be more successful if the product consumers come into the store to see is what they are actually looking for.

Most retailers I have worked with do a good job of flooring saleable products and bringing in consumers. Lifestyle specialists like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have rewritten the retail book and are delivering the in-store visual and buying experience their targeted customers desire netting tremendous success with today’s consumers. Manufacturing verticals from our industry like La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries and Ashley HomeStores are constantly analyzing and updating their stores’ product mix, floor display and sales experience to maximize success.

These retailers realize product truly drives the engine at retail. Consumers come in search of new furnishings, and how retailers treat product is critical to success. The way a store is laid out, the price points available and the product knowledge that sales associates provide is a major component in the process. You could, and probably do, have the products available to satisfy most customers who enter your store. Problems arise if they can’t find what they want; if a sales associate can’t lead them to what they want or answer their questions; or, if the store neglects to showcase product to in a manner worthy of the asking price. Many consumers will leave the store and go elsewhere to make their purchase, despite the fact they would prefer to get it done with you.

The marriage of merchandising and selling effort is key to success. A key issue that threatens this marriage is the same thing that ends up hurting other unions, a lack of communications between the parties.

Buyers buy, and sales people sell. Unfortunately, they seldom share vital information to help both sides succeed. Don’t make the assumption that the best designers and sales people totally understand what they have to sell and why you bought it. The merchandising team needs to share their wisdom about selected products to the sale team. The sales associates can then turn around and share it with customers. Here are some thoughts about how to do that and fire up your team:

  •          Have buyers lead the product training effort.

When I was a department store buyer, it was my responsibility to make sure sales associates in 18 stores knew how to use the products and why someone would want to own them. I was required to sell the sales people my products, and it should be your merchandising team’s responsibility to do so in your store. Some questions you need to give them the answers to:

o   Why is it there? Why did you add it to your product assortment?

o   Who is it for? Who is the target consumer?

o   What makes it a value? Outline the price versus quality versus the competition model.

o   How should they romance the products? What are the magic words to use when talking with consumers? Highlight new color names, style terms and lifestyle descriptions.

  •         Things to do to create excitement and understanding of your product assortment with the sales associates:

o   Create an information sheet for each new product and/or vignette on the floor with answers to the above questions along with specifications for main products.

o   Present and promote a good, better, best sales process throughout the lineup and across vendors. Be sure to discuss other options for customers to consider. Build a solid step-up program on the floor by positioning every vendor and major product within your quality and price point range.

o   Celebrate the product. It should be the star of the show.

  •  Provide a slide show from market trips to generate excitement and anticipation by sharing discoveries with the team when you come home. Previewing trends and new items will not only educate the staff, it will help them better understand the store and its product mission.
  •  New product preview and rollout to generate excitement. If you are old enough, you will remember the buzz automobile makers generated each year prior to model introductions. It helped create a great deal of excitement and caused people to come into the showrooms even if they did not need a new car. Try to do that with new product. As an example, cover them with sheets and have a product introduction party with your team. Consider doing the same thing for consumers with a private sale.
  • Vendor sales meetings for new product. Bring in vendor sales representatives and others to talk about the new products. Outside people tend to be listened to and will provide additional perspective. Be selective though, since some presenters are better than others. Remember it is your show, not theirs.
  •  Have your sales/design members participate to give their views, key words and selling tips to the rest of the team. Don’t leave your people out of this process. In many of the best stores, there is a sense of pride in the store and the sales team reflects it. They enjoy sharing what they know with each other and helping everyone succeed. Have them sell new products to each other to really get them involved.
  •  Featured vignette each month. Many retailers, including Nebraska Furniture Mart, have a special spot on the showroom floor where to highlight an exciting new look or lifestyle statement. They change it every month and it becomes a part of most customer visits.

The other critical connection between merchandising and the selling effort is the floor display.

While sales people provide answers and auditory stimulation, product display visually tells the story and answers consumers’ question about whether or not a store can provide the products and expertise to make their home look and feel the way they want it to. As a result, a sales team must understand how and why the floor is laid out and the best ways to use it to work with customers. It is after all their office and the most important selling tool available.

No matter how the showroom floor is laid out—lifestyle, product category or brand galleries—the merchandising and display team should take a role to ensure sales associates understand what has been done and why. They lead the discussion and provide the training on how to use it to sell. The most successful teams have great support people, and they win through communication with each other toward the same goal—making more consumers happy in their homes.


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