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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Are You Harvesting ALL the Low Hanging Fruit?

By Tom Zollar,

I came up with this title when I first thought about this month's “After the Sale” theme. The reason it clicked with me, is the fact that previous customers and those that have become clients, present a much greater potential to buy things from us again than new shoppers or first-time lookers. We already have developed a relationship with them that had enough trust in it to cause them to buy something from us, so common sense and research both dictate that our chances of selling them more are pretty good. The key factor to make this happen is whether or not we did the right things after the sale to maintain and build our relationship with them, instead of forgetting them and moving on to new targets. Long time clients are the product of doing things right during our first sale and its follow up, then staying in contact with them over time so when they think again about something for their home, we are the first place that comes to mind. In that way, they are indeed the “low hanging fruit” on our tree of sales success!

One of the first things that we should do when we try to assess our performance and determine where growth can come from is to make sure that we are capturing as much of our “low hanging fruit” as possible. However, I have found that businesses sometimes end up taking these opportunities for granted. They assume that they are getting the most from them, when in fact, they are not. We all know what happens when we assume or take things for granted, we usually end up forgetting about or neglecting them, thus failing to maximize our potential. So, I thought this month we would take a look at some of our “low hanging fruit”, to make sure we are doing all we can to harvest it, beginning with the biggest one, which is building a client base with after sale follow up and communication.

Build Your Client Base

As we wrote a few years ago: A customer is someone who purchases merchandise from your store.  The salesperson acts as a facilitator in the process, handling the details of the transaction. If no relationship has been established, the next time the customer needs furniture the odds are that she will not seek out that same salesperson. There is, in fact, substantial research to indicate that more than 75% of these people will not even shop your store.

A client, on the other hand, has established a relationship with a salesperson based on the customer’s belief that the salesperson truly cares about her need to create a beautiful home environment and about her level of satisfaction with what she buys.  These relationships take time to develop and involve active participation by both parties but mostly by the salesperson. When this customer is ready to make another purchase, she returns to that particular salesperson. It would not matter where the salesperson worked. People do not build relationships with stores -- they build them with people.

While the initial sales experience is critical, it is after the sale follow-up that really builds the trust necessary for the relationship to flourish. Customers want you to track and follow up on their orders after delivery. One of the issues that comes into play in all of the research we see, is that customers don’t think a sales person cares about them at all after the sale is made. For most furniture salespeople, there is ample evidence that this is true. Few send thank you notes, even to their biggest customers. Even fewer maintain contact with customers prior to delivery. In cases where there is contact, it is usually initiated by the customer. Professional salespeople act differently, and the results show in higher incomes and more satisfied, repeat customers. For them, following up with the client after the sale is the critical point where the relationship is cemented, and the consumer’s trust is verified.

Returning customers have a two to three times better chance of purchasing from you, than first time visitors. So, getting those that purchase from you to come back and do it again, presents arguably the greatest potential for business that we have. Are your sales people doing all they can to get the most out of everyone they sell?

Maximize Your Sales from Inquiries

Many sales people do not like handling phone or internet inquiries because they think they are a waste of their time. That could not be further from the truth. These customer contacts actually represent some of the most qualified leads your store receives and because of that qualify as low hanging fruit. However, managers need to make sure their staff members are on the same page and understand what a great potential source of business internet inquiries present. Here are the issues they will want to discuss:

  1. These are not just “tire-kickers” or “price-shoppers”. They are legitimate Ups and need to be treated as such. They have decided to buy something, done research online to narrow it down and now they are looking for a place to buy it. What better chance can you get? Research shows that those inquiries your staff gets have an extremely high purchasing rate when they do visit.
  2. For the most part these “inquiries” represent the best selling opportunities a sales person in a retail store will have on any given day because the customer is actually looking at a product and willing to tell you what they are interested in. How many of the people the salesperson approaches in the store each day do they even get that information from?
  3. These potential customers are normally in the final stages of making a purchase decision and are at a point where they are narrowing down what product they want, how much to pay for it and where to buy it. Therefore, if they ask for a price and you just give it to them, you have only addressed one part of their need and they may very well shop around and go elsewhere to buy, based solely on price. Your response must address all their needs and in doing so, give them a reason to buy from you.
  4. It is critical that sales management understands that most retail sales people are more comfortable working face-to-face with a customer so they can read body language and relate better to that person’s communication needs. Working with someone online is far different and might not be something every sales person is good at doing. The main point is that some sales people will be better at handling online inquiries. Find out which ones can do it and make sure they get the majority of these precious opportunities.


Use Referrals to Build Your Business

It is estimated that potential customers who are referred to a retailer or service provider by someone they know are highly likely to make a purchase at that store. If your staff is doing things right and building a client base, then one of the ways they can grow it even more, is to ask their clients to refer people they know to them. It is not hard to do, but for many reasons a lot of capable sales people do not bother to do it. Managers need to make sure their client development training program includes dialogs and coaching on how to properly request referrals from everyone they sell.

Partner with Outside Designers

I am going to steal the words to describe this opportunity from our editor’s note as it appeared in the February issue: “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.”

Why not reach out to these service providers in your community and get them on your team by offering an easy way for them to use your store as their main product resource? It might not be the lowest hanging fruit, but it is sure ripe and available!

New and Existing Home Buyers and Apartment Renters

We all know that in general, people who have moved into a home or apartment recently are more likely to purchase home furnishing in the next few months than those that are staying put. Many retailers in our industry have a program to encourage real estate agents to refer clients. Some provide products for staging in rental units, in order to make a connection with those potential buyers. Unfortunately, I often see that over time these efforts are not always as robust or consistent as they should be. It takes energy and discipline to maintain these programs and make sure you are getting the most out of them, so sometimes they fall by the wayside. Owners need to make sure they hold management accountable for keeping customer recruitment processes like this rolling along. Monthly reports, weekly discussions and a reasonable goal process are ways to keep them top of mind.

I am certain that none of the above items are new to the reader. It is very possible you may not think of them as “low hanging fruit”, but in reality, they are just that. All it takes is a solid plan and a consistent effort to grow your business substantially. Even if you think you are doing all you can, I highly recommend you revisit your programs in these areas to make sure they are giving you the bountiful harvest you deserve.

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