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From Home Furnishing Business

“Making Friends in Your Market - Who are You and What Do You Stand For?”

By: Tom Zollar

The April issue of Home Furnishings Business is aimed at helping you compete in retail’s highly competitive battleground. It really comes down to one of the most basic challenges every retailer faces – getting people in your market to want to do business with you instead of others or “Selling your Store”. That may sound simple, but accomplishing it has become much harder as the number of options the consumer has to purchase from has grown.  Even though you very likely have fewer actual brick and mortar home furnishings retailers physically in your area, competition for the consumer located within your market has actually increased dramatically.

So how do we maximize our ability to compete? It really comes down to having a very clear vision of what our customers want from us and what we can offer them that truly differentiates us from all of those competitors chasing their business. Once we have that, we must translate it to the three areas that most impact our sales success: Advertising, Merchandising and In-Store Experience! 

Last April’s Coach’s Corner addressed the importance of using the in-store experience to separate yourself from the competition. Obviously, your ability to provide it is certainly an advantage over the internet only retailers. But not every consumer realizes that they need or might even want to have that face-to-face interaction. In this year’s article, we are going to touch on some of the other areas of consideration that may help you define your store to the potential customers in your market and perhaps attract some of those that are on the fence about visiting a brick and mortar store. Below are a few approaches to consider.

 Promote Your In-Store Experience and Services

Most of today’s retail advertising and much of the space on our store website, talks about items we sell, not services we provide. We are so steeped in our traditional approach to driving traffic by using product and pricing, that we have lost focus on what is really our difference - the in-store experience. We assume that consumers know about what we can do for them to help create the home of their dreams, when in fact, most do not. Instead of trying to add value to developing a relationship with us by visiting the store, we tell them how much we will save them if they buy from us. Rather than creating the impression that their results will be better by working with our staff, we tell them we are cheaper than the competitors. 

We should be spending at least equal time helping potential customers understand the process and how visiting our store can help them through it. Even though they do research to find what they think they want and where to get it before buying, most don’t have a clue how to put it all together and create the look or feel they really want for their home. What better way to differentiate ourselves than by creating the perception in the public’s mind that we are problem solvers and creative assistants they can use to augment their abilities and improve the end result of their efforts? So, take a look at your marketing programs and make sure you are selling and adding value to having an in-store experience with your store as much as you are with its products and prices. If indeed what we offer when they come in is a benefit to them, then be proud of it and make it known in your market!

Create Strategic Alliances

Understand that our biggest competitors are not the other businesses selling furniture products. They are the businesses selling cars, travel, TVs, hot tubs, appliances, movies, massages and more. Indeed, anyone in our market who provides a service or product to the consumers that is paid for out of discretionary income is a competitor of ours day-in and day-out. Obviously, those that sell things for the home are our most direct competitors, but the fact that the average household only spends between 5% – 6% of its income on the home means there is not a lot to go around. We all fight over the scraps so to speak. Perhaps there might be some way to join forces or piggy back our efforts so that we can reach out to common customer groups and maximize our effectiveness together?

The key is to find businesses in your area that market to the same target customers as you and create a partnership with them. These strategic alliances can help both parties get their message to potential customers, in many cases at a very opportune time in their purchasing cycle. We all know that people tend to buy home furnishings soon after purchasing a new or pre-owned home, so the smart ones have already partnered with real estate professionals to reach out to their customers after a sale is complete. But can we go further? Sure, what about moving companies and title service providers? 

There are many other partners to look for. Just ask yourself, when do people need our products? When someone buys a new TV they may need a place to sit, so talk to appliance stores. Just like when a family has a new baby, they may need a youth bedroom, so talk to local doctors or hospitals. Some businesses are letting their employees work from home and perhaps they need home office furniture. Great partners we often neglect are local insurance agents. They totally understand partnerships and usually know when people need new furniture because of a disaster or a divorce. Why not have them referring their clients to you? 

These are obviously “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” situations, but have you really looked out into your business community to find all the opportunities available? If not, now is a great time to start!

Maximize Your Community Visibility

Participating and being a positive contributor to your local community has always been of major importance to any business, but particularly a small local one. As the Millennials and younger generations take control of the spending power it is becoming critical. They expect it and indeed demand it of anyone trying to solicit their business. Having a positive reputation for community involvement is not just a plus, today it is part of the price of admittance to the retail game in every market. Therefore, you need to look at what you are doing and how you are actively supporting your employees’ efforts too. Sponsoring events, contributing products, money and labor to charities are only the beginning today. You must be perceived as being a doer that has a visible role in as many common good processes as they can support. 

A side benefit of community participation is the networking opportunities it provides you and your staff. Often, we see owners joining the Chamber or other organizations, which is great. However, it is much stronger to be seen as someone that is a real leader who walks-the-walk and talks-the-talk by getting their employees out of the store and encouraging them to be involved in local support efforts. There are plenty of groups in which they can participate, that will further impact your company’s community involvement. Several clients have sent out their delivery trucks and crews to help people move their belongings after a disaster. What better advertising could you get then people in need seeing your name on the side of a vehicle coming to their rescue? Sponsoring soup kitchens, delivering food to the needy, it is all good! 

If You Have Local Roots, Make Them Known 

My last point is a very simple one that most small businesses do take advantage of often. It is the fact that they are from the place where they do business and they are part of the local heritage. While this has always had some traction with the American public, we are seeing a resurgence in its power. As the next generations evolve they are beginning to put more value on doing business locally with people that are part of their community. The better job you do with my previous point, the more important this one becomes!

In summary, who and what you are is not only the products you supply to your market, it is the services and benefit you provide the people in your community. It may sound self-serving, but the better you are at being a good neighbor, the more successful you will most certainly be as a retailer!

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