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From Home Furnishing Business

Editor's Letter: When Do We Make it Personal?

By Bob George,

Some time ago, a friend of mine made a statement that has stuck in my mind, like that song that keeps popping up during the day, except this has lasted for months. What is this nugget of thought? Simply:

We have lost the merchant class.

Reflecting on this, it was true. A generation ago, there was a personal relationship between the consumer and the supplier of goods and services. When the need for or budget for furniture occurred, the thought process was a visit to the local store to discuss the pending acquisition. Yes, price was a consideration, but trust was the reason. How long has it been since we heard the comment, “my parents and grandparents bought their furniture from x retailer?” What we, the consumer, and us, the industry, have lost is personal.

The merchant, at one time, was the arbitrator of taste when it came to furniture within the community. Yes, many will argue that the consumer has changed and wants to make their own personal style. It’s hard to argue with that until you see the results of that approach to decorating.

However, whether the consumer will admit it or not, they need help to define their style. In our technology age, we are using artificial intelligence to match consumer desire with product attributes. We provide virtual reality to allow consumers to visualize the products within their environment. However, we still have over 30% of consumers leaving the store or the e-commerce site without purchasing and agreeing with this statement: could not find what I was looking for.

If we recognize that this is the barrier consumers have to acting on their desire to purchase furniture, isn’t that what the message should be in our advertising?

While the decline of brick and mortar retailers has been well documented, the number of designers has increased significantly. The majority of this increase is not with design firms employing more than 5 designers, but with individual practices. I hate to use the term “kitchen table designers” because they are as well trained as graduates of major schools. What they are can be best described as personal shoppers. Willing to do the “needs analysis” with the consumer and shop for the time-starved two household income family.

Today with furniture retailers struggling to maintain retail sales associate staffing levels, this is the opportunity to join forces within the industry instead of spending our advertising voice shouting price and financing. Let’s attract this cadre of talented individuals that have figured out how to make it personal.

As can be seen from the statistics below, we are not exciting the customer either with our advertising message or our retail experience.

We are just a commodity product for the prime furniture buyer—Generation X.

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