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From Home Furnishing Business

Editor's Letter: Is It Time To Let Go?

By Bob George,

In retailing, as in life, it is difficult to let go of certain processes and methods which have proven successful over the years.  I realize it is difficult to change.  When self-service gas stations appeared, the public was upset.  In many cases, they did go down the street to the gas station which “appreciated” their business.  Without a doubt, there was a competitive disruption with short-term gains and losses to individual retailers.  What was the consumers complaint?  Not the physical exertion because many people stood and watched the attendant pump the gas.  It was the human exchange of pleasantries, commonly called community gossip.

Today, if someone approached you at a gas station, your reaction would be fear; it must be a car-jacking.  This human interaction has left the retail experience.  Is gas less expensive?  Probably not.

We should not dismiss the cost in that selling expenses currently average 9.38% of sales for traditional retailers, a significant amount compared to other consumer goods retailers.

Traditional department stores are struggling to survive.  The Bon-Ton stores are in liquidation and the other major department stores are on deathwatch.  Many things contributed to their demise and it was not their home furnishings category.  The appearance of the discount department stores, with less service, but the appearance of lower prices, shifted the consumer traffic.  Some will argue the service left first and the consumer followed.  There is some truth in that, as the department stores struggled with finding competent sales associates, so service did deteriorate.  This struggle is there today (see Statistically Speaking in this issue).

The home furnishings stores are growing faster than their cousins, the furniture stores, for many reasons.  However, the retail sales associates in the home furnishing stores do not have the same job descriptions as their counterpart in furniture stores.  Whether we want to recognize it or not, the discount department stores, such as Target and Big Lots, are becoming the strategic threat.

It may be time to let go of our most treasured concept of the retail sales associate and the UPs system.

We should take it slowly and first, begin with the UPs system.  Today, retailers are spending thousands of dollars each month to make the system fair and measurable.  Facial recognition cannot tell the retailer how the consumer wants to be sold.  It can only tell them it’s the mailman.

Let’s focus the attention on the consumer and let a “natural selection” process happen, as our retail sales associates approach the customer.  From Impact Consulting research, certain retail sales associates sell older/younger lifestyle, and so forth better than others.  Forcing the matches can be detrimental.


Analyze how successful your sales associate is with different consumer characteristics and coach improvement. While you are doing that, I am working on the ultimate solution.







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