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From Home Furnishing Business

People Savvy : Retaining the Right People

The boss!

The relationship usually begins with fair pay and adequate benefits that are the cornerstone of a successful company in recruiting and retaining committed workers. If you provide a living wage for your staff, you then have the luxury to implement additional motivation tools. Without the competitive compensation, you risk losing your top talent.

Once you have pay and benefits in place, then it all falls under the manager. People normally don’t quit the company … they quit the boss. In the past, managers predicted the most vital motivational aspect of work for people was money, although personal time and attention from the supervisor has been cited recently as most rewarding and motivational for them at work.

Feeling valued by a supervisor at work is essential to employee motivation and positive morale. Your words, body language, expression on your face telegraph your opinion of your staff’s value.
Your arrival at work sets the mood daily. Smile. Walk tall and confidently. Walk around your workplace and greet people with sincere good mornings. Mornings can be the hardest part of the employee’s day. They are fighting off fatigue, have trouble focusing and getting excited. Offer fresh brewed coffee to help start the day. Not only will they be grateful for the caffeine, they’ll be more productive throughout the day.
Ordering pizza or taking the staff out to lunch occasionally keeps spirits high. Socializing without worrying about the bill puts them in a good mood and helps them enjoy their work environment and colleagues. Get to know them. Ask about families, hobbies and interests. They will appreciate it. People are often motivated by camaraderie. People don’t want to come to work to fight. It is important to understand employees’ basic desire to work collaboratively … a fundamental goodwill.
Treat them with respect. Use simple, genuine, powerful, motivational words such as please, thank you (and hand-written thank you notes), you’re doing a good job … ask about their day off … recognize birthdays, anniversaries and personal accomplishments to demonstrate caring and value.
Always remember a satisfied employee knows clearly what is expected from them daily. No surprises. Hold individual weekly meetings with staff to discuss progress and upcoming expectations. Consistent communication is the key. Establish employee recognition programs to acknowledge notable contributions and to incentivize others to improve.

Challenge them. Whenever you task an employee with a project, you want them to succeed. Be aware that if you only give assignments/goals where success is assured, you’re hurting yourself in the long run. If your associate is not going to learn something, the assignment/expectation you gave likely wasn’t robust enough. Pushing people out of their comfort zones allows them to develop new skills. Control, creativity and challenges in their work inspires motivation.
Continue training them to stay up-to-date with trends in their field. Enroll them in seminars, have them read relevant books/articles and discuss the content. Keep them fresh and inspired.
The ability of the employee to speak their mind is another key retention factor. Do you solicit ideas and provide a comfortable environment for honest feedback? Ensure that your open-door policy is meaningful. Conduct periodic employee satisfaction surveys. Be sure to address any issues you uncover promptly and thoroughly to avoid losing staff for good. The perception of fairness and equitable treatment is imperative for morale.
In short, when word of your company culture gets around, it will significantly improve retention and make it much easier to recruit the most talented workers in the job pool. 

Manning the Boat

If it’s the latter, read on: We’re taking a look this month at ways to retain the talent—and personalities—that benefit your operation; and how to keep them fired up about selling home furnishings. Some of it might seem plain common sense, but some messages bear repeating.

Got a problem with your best people leaving for another opportunity? The first place to look for a solution is in the mirror, according to Joe Milevsky, CEO of JRM Sales & Management, Acworth, Ga.
“It starts with the owner and goes down to managers,” he said. “If the sky is always falling, if anything employees do that’s good is ‘just part of doing their job,’ it won’t be a place where people want to work.
“I preach positive feedback—a 10 to 1 ratio of praise to criticism. It depends on the individual so that might be 5 to 1, but the point is I’m always looking for good things. I want to create an environment where it’s going to be enjoyable to work.”

MORE THAN MONEY
Keeping good people on board is more than money and benefits, agreed Taylor Ganz, vice president of finance, planning & administration for Atlanta-based furniture retail consultancy Profitability Consulting Group.
“You want to know the number one reason people leave a business or a company? They hate their supervisor,” Ganz said. “It’s not the money, it’s not opportunity elsewhere, not retirement. They feel unappreciated, and they hate not the company, but the guy the work for.”
During his days at furniture retailer McMahon’s, Ganz remembered a number of people who said they liked working for the store but absolutely couldn’t work under their supervisor.

“It was my fault for not dealing with the supervisor, and I let both sides down,” he said.

Another non-monetary link between employees and their jobs is knowing their contributions are valued, added Ganz’s colleague, Rene Johnston-Gingrich, vice president of training and development at PCG.

“You show that appreciation in action and in words,” she said. “Customize how you show that appreciation to the individual.”

For example, one employee might enjoy recognition before the entire staff with a lot of hoopla—another might prefer a quiet pat on the back away from the spotlight.
Morris Furniture, Fairborn, Ohio, is big on setting a positive tone from the top, said Dan W. Little, human resources manager. That helped maintain retention and morale during the recession.

“Lead by example—if managers and leaders are upbeat and positive it is contagious,” he said.  “Be positive.  During a management meeting in 2008 our CEO, Larry Klaben, stated we have some of the best associates in the industry, and we will come out stronger when the economy improves.  He repeated this message consistently during full staff meetings.  It was a very effective message.  And he was right.”
COMPENSATION/BENEFITS ISSUES
Setting the right tone and atmosphere in the workplace is key, but after all, people do work for money and the security of employee benefits. The strongest compensation and benefits packages incorporate performance motivators.
“I like bonuses,” PCG’s Ganz said. “Bonuses have to be benchmarked and tied to ambitious, but achievable, goals. You have to reach those goals, and that takes favoritism out of the picture. Bonuses aren’t occurring if achievement’s not occurring.

“People think they’re entitled to raises—it’s like an annuity.”
Don’t allow any discussion of salary among employees, and make sure that’s in writing.

“I’ve fired people for discussing salary,” Ganz noted.

“What we find is there are many ways to compensate salespeople,” said Milevsky at JRM. “If I had my choice, I’d go 100 percent commission versus 100 percent salary.

“That said, if I get into a company with a great environment and accountability, in theory commissions aren’t needed, but in practice that rarely happens.”
He added that, during the hiring process, the prospect’s pay preference can speak volumes.

“In the interview, if they say they want a salary versus commission, what does that tell me?” Milevsky said. “It tells me they aren’t confident in their abilities, or they just want a pay check.”

On the other hand, if a prospective salesperson wants commission only, make sure they understand “customer opportunity” rules and don’t run roughshod over other employees.

Brashears Furniture typically offers salespeople a base around 70 percent of their potential earnings plus commission, said Susan Brashears, an owner at the Berryville, Ark., store.

“This protects a salesperson during a slow month so they don’t get panicky and pushy; and still provides for a commission incentive,” she explained.
In addition to a strong benefits package from a retail standpoint—health coverage, 401k, etc.—Thomasville stores are big on performance incentives and recognition.

“We recognize top writers each month,” Beth Sweetman, senior senior vice president of human resources at Thomasville’s parent company, Furniture Brands International, St. Louis. “We’re also in the process of developing a President’s Club where we’ll celebrate the top writers and top stores for the year.”

Don’t forget the holistic side of the benefits you offer. Wellness programs are good your employees and can be good for your business. Morris Furniture, for example, has motivational incentives such as “Raving Fan” recognition programs for superior customer service, but also gives employees a chance to stay in shape.

“We have a state of the art fitness center available to all associates at no charge,” Little noted.

Jill Benson is an attorney specializing in employment issues in the Greensboro, N.C., office of Womble Carlyle. Her clients have seen measurable benefits especially in the last two years from wellness programs including cholesterol screens, exercise in the work place, and weight loss programs.

“The research shows that employees are missing work less and that it makes them feel more valued,” she said. “I know it’s helped several of my clients retain employees.”

THE RIGHT ATMOSPHERE

An attractive showroom that creates a great environment for shopping keeps customers coming back. And a working atmosphere of open communication, clearly outlined responsibilities and team spirit keeps the employees serving your customers on board. And again, it starts with you.

“Creating a fun, positive environment, that has to be a top-down value,” said PCG’s Johnston-Gingrich. “It’s not about warm and fuzzy, it’s good business. … There’s an old cliché that happy employees equal happy customers, and happy customers equal good business.

“Customers pick up on it immediately—they’re hugely sensitive to a store’s energy.”
Thomasville relies on store and district management to set the tone.

“My view is everyone wants the same things from work: Feedback, whether good or bad, on performance; understanding the strategy of the company; and people want to know when they’re doing a good job,” Sweetman said. “That comes from the store manager and the district manager.”

“We can tell which stores have the best managers. They’re the ones with the most satisfied, productive employees,” added Christine Bonnell, human resources lead at Furniture Brands. “I think it’s up to the store managers and district managers to continually teach people to do their jobs better.”

For example, Thomasville stores hold morning gatherings that cover some component of customer service to give associates new tools to improve their performance.

At San Diego-based Jerome’s, quarterly, one-hour roundtables take place in various departments and stores.

“Small groups of six to eight—a mix of associates with senior management—meet to discuss openly their thoughts on the company and solicit their ideas and suggestions for improvement,” said Vice President of Human Resources David Markowicz.
Make sure you’re meeting one-on-one as well, suggested Milevsky at JRM.

“Have one-on-one meetings and not just to talk but also to listen to what they have to say,” he said. “I had a meeting with a larger company—10 to 12 managers with the owner—and we were talking about this subject. A manager asked how they could possibly find the time for all these meetings. The owner responded, ‘How can we not find the time?’

“We think we’re in the furniture business, but in fact we’re in the people business.”
Encouraging a sense of friendly competition helps build teamwork—and keep everybody on their toes.

“We have some kind of competition or game almost every month for our salespeople,” Brashears said. “We frequently put them on teams—sometimes with salespeople in other stores. They have fun with the friendly competitions. It may sound silly, but it is good for morale and keeps them focused on sales as a group.  They watch everyone’s sales closely and encourage each other throughout the month.”

It’s all about building a company that’s customer-centric, Milevsky said.

“Mom and Pop build a great company, where they’re doing everything. They grow and need help so they hire people to do some of those things—but those people don’t own the company,” he said. “Those people need job descriptions, they need performance measurements, and they need to be trained properly to that job description. They need regular periodic evaluation.

“Create a policy to make that happen. That way it’s not just about the money, the incentives, it’s that people understand what’s expected of them. The only thing worse than having no rules is having them but not holding people accountable to them.”

That means a clear, professionally done policy manual; and a process for resolving conflicts in the store.

“Develop your skill sets to confront and resolve conflict,” Milevesky said, adding that conflict can’t be avoided. “If you sweep the snake under the rug, it will bite you at the worst possible time.

“Celebrate successes, celebrate victories,” he added. “We’re trying to create an environment where we breed success.” 

Publisher's Letter : Merchandising Can Set Stores Apart

Consumers have more choice than ever before, and everyone is trying to get their money.

Most retailers are quick to say the ecommerce business models are difficult to compete against. They have lower overheads and in most case, fewer employees, both which allow them to offer the same products at lower prices. So what is a brick–and-mortar retailer to do?

When I did my holiday shopping last month, I bought no gifts online, not even one. Yes, it would have been easier to sit on my sofa, watch TV in my warm house and shop online. No crowds to deal with, no worries about parking, no strollers getting in my way, just me and an iPad knocking out my list of gifts.

Instead, I ventured out to the mall and small retail locations to shop. Why you ask? Because I wanted to see what was new, and what retailers were doing to promote these items.

I needed to learn the latest kid friendly items, so I could get those gifts for my nieces and nephews. Not having (or wanting) kids of my own, I needed to find out what was available. I needed help because the kid’s department is not a familiar stop.

While shopping, knowing this retail merchandising was coming up this month, I looked at things a bit differently. How were these stores merchandising? I began my “surveying” as I approached every store. What did the outside of the building look like? Were the windows clean so I could see in them? Were the aisles clean and passable? Was the presentation of products appealing to me? Could I find an associate to help me with questions? (Remember I’m in the children’s section.)

These are the differences between a retail location and shopping online. This is where you have the advantage. You have the opportunity to have grand displays, whether it is seasonal or not. You have the chance to create an ambience that can’t be duplicated on a Web site.
You invested in the premium location, now you need to offer a premium shopping experience, that’s how you separate yourself from other retailers and Web sites. Merchandising is more than placing your products on a shelf, it’s about the image you want your business to have. The businesses I like to shop are clean, neat, well-maintained and always ask me to please come back again. These are the things that will get shoppers in your door and back again.

This month’s issue covers the merchandising angle and is a great read to gain a better handle on store merchandising. Learn from your peers about what they are doing to create an environment that attracts customers and helps get products moving out your doors. I’m sure many of you believe you are hitting all the right buttons to make this happen. If you feel this way, walk out your door and do your own “survey” with your location and then go to your largest competitor’s store. If you are so busy you can’t find the time, just ask a customer on the showroom floor for an honest opinion, that could be interesting.
Hope to see you around market!

Sell Your Story

If you’re tired of hearing about how the online world impacts your business, turn to the next article, because like it or not the focus of this month’s issue—merchandising—leads us once again to cyberspace.

We hope the following will encourage you to take a hard look at your store’s Web presence and how well it integrates into the merchandising philosophy customers see when they walk in your door.

You have a store, you have a sign out front, and you advertise, but when your customer decides to shop for furniture, guess where they’re going and what they see first in most cases?

If your answers aren’t “the Internet” and “my Web site,” think again. You might spend a lot of time making displays with strong visual appeal. You might have a special area of focus—be it brands, “green” furnishings or Made-in-America—but if your Web site doesn’t tell that tale, you’ll likely tell your story on your actual showroom floor to fewer than might be possible.

Read on for thoughts from retail observers and service providers, and examples of your colleagues who are working to better match online and in-store customer experiences.

WORLDS COLLIDE
In a consumer’s mind, there’s no difference between your store’s Web site and the brick-and-mortar—it’s all what Paco Underhill calls retail “convergence.

“The better integration of the online world and brick-and-mortar—particularly in home furnishings, when someone might come to a store once a quarter, maybe once a year—is very important, their use of (online) to pre-shop,” said Underhill, CEO and president of New York City-based global research and consulting firm Envirosell.

“And when someone is in the store, encourage them to visit the Web site.

“It’s all ‘convergence’—the meeting of brick-and-mortar, smartphones and the Internet. Retailers are scared of it because of showrooming—afraid they’ll come to the store, look around, go online and buy it somewhere else—and some of that’s because many haven’t effectively utilized the available tools to this point.”
In his consulting with retailers, Underhill likes to show a series of pictures of a store’s online presence, and then compare those to pictures from inside the store. The process can frequently reveal disconnects.

“There (are) often inconsistencies in the language used online versus in the store—the product terms themselves are often different,” Underhill said. “Retailers have to remember that to customers, the Internet site and the store aren’t silos, but one integrated brand.”

FINDING SOLUTIONS
With consumers hitting the Web first in many cases when shopping for furniture, how do retailers build merchandising excitement online for what shoppers can anticipate seeing in the store? And how do they create a more seamless experience between their online and physical presence in terms of presentation and attitude?
Merchandising issues were front-and-center this past year for FurnitureDealer.net; the Minneapolis furniture Internet consultant created four new client merchandising positions—one each for mattresses and appliances, and two for furniture.
“We’ve been super-focused on customizing our basic template for merchandising,” said FurnitureDealer.net Founder Andy Bernstein. “A year or two ago, it was basically a giant product catalog, but now we’re building tools to make it super-easy for consumers to find a needle in a haystack.”
That led to FurnitureDealer.net’s development of “sites within a site” that communicate what Bernstein called “the businesses within the businesses” of its retail clients.

“We’re trying to go deep and understand our clients and their merchandising and business strategies,” he said. “We’re creating microsites that create a shopping environment for what the consumer is seeking. Unless a person’s building a new home, they’re shopping more specifically, say, for their daughter’s bedroom.”

And since that shopper will more likely search for “girl’s bedroom furniture” than a specific retailer, a store’s youth bedroom microsite popping up on the search benefits the retailer from a search-engine-optimization (SEO) standpoint.

“It’s a section of the Web site that talks about those merchandising terms,” Bernstein said.

BRAND SYNCHRONICITY

In addition to SEO optimization, microsites tied to specific brands can better ride the promotional wave generated by vendors around their products.

“There are advertising resources being spent to communicate these brands, and this allows our retailers to reinforce that,” Bernstein noted. “People go out and Google these in brand terms.”

Retailers are reacting, too. FurnitureDealer.net provided examples.

“I just did a program with Pilgrim Furniture City (in Connecticut) on Ashley’s iKidz, Bardini and Livin Den,” said Kayla Robb, one of FurnitureDealer.net’s furniture merchandising consultant. “Pilgrim wanted to call attention on their home page to each.

“For the new HGTV Collection, we’ve created a microsite page for multiple retailers.”

From the home page, a link takes browsers to a brand-specific microsite with art and/or video that creates an online atmosphere more like that in the store.

“We can also feature (microsites) by category—contemporary, mountain living, casual living, French laundry,” Robb said. “The pages link from their home page; and we use smart links to take the shopper directly to product. But before that, we can show customization available like wood finish and hardware.”

MERCHANDISING CATEGORIES ONLINE

Carolyn Mann, FurnitureDealer.net’s other furniture merchandising consultant, also has received requests for work on brands, but more as part of umbrella microsites than brand-specific pages.

“Specific brands are something I’ve been addressing lately,” she said. “I’ve been asked about Amish lines or Made in America, for example, so there are certain vendors clients want to feature.”

(See accompanying “Online Merchandising: Microsites” in these pages to find examples such as Upstate New York retailer Old Brick’s Amish Furniture microsite, or Florida retailer Hudson’s Furniture’s Made-In-America page.)

“Our goal is to reflect on line as best we can how they sell in the store,” Robb said.

“And it’s not just brands. Knight Furniture wanted to emphasize their baby business, so they made a microsite for it.”

ONLINE ‘CURB APPEAL’

The microsite approach, Bernstein believes, is a better way to set online shoppers up for finding what they want than presenting page after page of beds, sofas, etc. Of course, all that product information still resides on the Web site, and is accessible from the microsites via links once the consumer has a better idea of exactly what she’s looking for.

Microsites can be tailored to specific goals: Pilgrim’s Bardini site, for instance, is more about the collection and contemporary lifestyle; while Old Brick’s Amish furniture page highlights manufacturer attributes such as the hand-craftsmanship consumers would expect from the category.

“Instead of having a whole similar template they’re looking at, consumers now can explore a site within a site,” Bernstein said. “This is a translation on the Web of what they’ll see in the store.”

Vendors are excited about the idea. Take HGTV.

“In this case, it was relationship-driven with the manufacturer,” Bernstein said. “Our clients are committing serious floor space to that line.”

Mann said the HGTV microsite stands out as a visually appealing brand page.

“All our clients who see this who are carrying HGTV want this right away,” she noted. “You get a real vibe from the page.”

Mann added that Belfort Furniture’s Sealy Optimum microsite incorporates a lot of video: “That’s something we’ve been adding to a lot of pages.”
Video is especially useful in bedding, said Bernstein.

“Typically, a mattress offerings page on a Web site looks like all the same product,” he pointed out. “This allows you to really tell that Sealy Optimum story. It helps our clients create visibility around their brand message. … We’re working with manufacturers more on video to tell the story online.”

Other online merchandising developments Bernstein highlighted include tabbed browsing that emphasizes in-stock versus special order.

“Some retailers want to highlight their inventory position,” he said. “And we now have the ability to let the retailer control the sort order on product pages. They might have ordered a container, so they want to have that up front.”

Fresh Thinking

Each new year, we at Home Furnishings Business like to tip our hat to the National Retail Federation, which compiles a list of “Ideas Worth Stealing” for the organization’s Stores magazine.

Following is a condensed version that we hope will inspire some creative thinking in your business.

OFFER MORE OPTIONS
New York-based intimate apparel specialist Freshpair is offering customers an “entirely new way to shop.”

Its Freshpair At Home Bra Fitting Program gives each customer what it calls “access to the largest selection of brands and sizes found anywhere and the opportunity to try them on at home, totally free.”

Freshpair carries more than 50 brands of bras in a variety of price ranges and styles. Those include maternity, strapless, sports and traditional bras.

Consumers speak via phone with a bra-fit specialist to determine preferences, fit issues and size. The specialist chooses a selection of bras that might work, sending as many as 15 to the customer, allowing her to try them out for a week. 
The customer then returns what she doesn’t want and pays for what she does. Shipping is free both ways, and there’s no upfront charge.

PHYSICAL MEETS VIRTUAL
Netherlands-based security, management and information systems solutions specialist Nedap Retail has developed a tool to help retailers meld the physical and online shopping worlds.

Shoppers visiting a store to try on apparel can use Nedap’s “Tweet Mirror” to take snapshots of the outfits and send the images via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail to friends, family and acquaintances to get their feedback on their choices.
The Tweet Mirror is a natural for the merging of social networks’ influence into the retail experience.

“Every time a customer posts a photo, your company logo and items from your collection are beamed across the world,” says the Neda retail Web site.

Clothing stores in Europe with Tweet Mirrors include WE fashion stores in Belgium; and the Netherlands and Cache-Cache boutiques in Italy.

HEALTHY CHOICES
“Fast food” and “healthy meals” aren’t always paired in the same sentence, but the My Wendy’s App is making it easier for the burger chain’s customers to count their calories.
The free mobile nutrition app, developed with Resource Interactive, allows Wendy’s customers to personalize meals based on the amount of calories they want to consume.

Customers can either select from a list of options based on their calorie range, or choose items to reach a specified calorie goal. The app allows personalization, such as adding pickles or opting for a lower-calorie salad dressing, and gives customers the option to store their creations in a “Favorites” section.
The app had more than 26,000 downloads within a month of its launch.
THE RIGHT FOOTPRINT
Coffee giant Starbucks wants its customers to associate its name with sustainability.
In addition to recycling and reducing water and lighting, Starbuck’s is generating buzz with a new drive-thru and walk-up-only store format.
These new 600-square-foot, or less, mini-stores, eschew Wi-Fi and sofas—they’re for moving product in an efficient, cost-effective way.
Starbucks has a modular, LEED-certified drive-thru in Colorado made from recycled snow. Other LEED-certified concept shops are springing up in Japan and the Netherlands.
SPICING UP REWARDS
The Dynamics ePlate, which bills itself as the first fully card-programable magnetic stripe, is looking to enhance a shoppers’ point-of-sale experience.
ePlate, a battery-powered rewards credit card device, features two buttons. At the POS, shoppers can press one of the buttons to select a reward, which can range from digital songs and charitable donations to points for vacations, plane tickets or electronics, for purchases.
ePlate is designed to be read at any existing POS magnetic stripe reader. ePlate provider partners include Upper Deck and its digital trading card system; Dark Horse, which allows users to earn points toward exclusive digital comic books; and Evil Genius Designs, an iPhone/Android game developer.
SOCIAL CROWD SOURCING
Outdoor outfitter Gander Mountain held a crowd-sourcing promotion called Camo Thursday for five consecutive Thursdays during the holiday season.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 29, five Gander Mountain items—including apparel, footwear and accessories—were posted on the Camo Thursday microsite. Shoppers could share items via Facebook and/or Twitter in hope of reducing the price. The higher the number of shares, the more the price dropped.
Shoppers could purchase at specific percentage-off intervals during the price drop, or wait until the number of shares drove prices to the lowest point— the amount of inventory was unknown, adding a gaming element.
During the first week every item was shared often enough to cut the price in half; and Gander Mountain reported 20 percent bump in unique Web site visitors.
WINKING AT INNOVATION
AG Interactive, the maker of American Greetings cards, is using justWink to combine traditional paper greeting cards with the flexibility and innovation of digital processes.
justWink is an on-demand greeting card platform that lets users send custom greeting cards when they don’t have time to buy a paper card

Users can customize digital cards with personal messages, a photo and digital signature. The free app also takes users through the process of finding appropriate cards for certain moods and occasions. Seasonal holiday themes are also available.

After creating a card, users can forward it to the recipient electronically; or send it to a vendor who will put the card together and mail it to the recipient for $2.99 including postage.

SeamBI, short for “seamless brand integration,” is an advertising technology innovator that turns “digital brand integration into a scalable business that benefits both local and national advertisers.”

The SeamBI Web site gallery offers examples: a billboard that’s now behind a car stopped on the road, an open pizza box placed next to a main character, a screenshot added to a phone, or a new car model replacing another on the street.

Starting in January, SeamBI also offers its trademarked Underlay, which involves inserting standard/rich media ads behind the main action of a video—but still in front of the background, making the message central to the viewer’s attention field.
SeamBI works directly with broadcasters on the placement of both national and localized ads; and as those ads are part of the show, they’re not as likely to be skipped.

FOCUS ON SENIORS
Japanese mall and supermarket chain AEON Co. has created a hypermarket shopping center dedicated to older lifestyles.
With people aged 65 or older representing almost one-third of the Japanese population within 20 years, AEON’s new facility in a Tokyo suburb has products and services geared toward seniors.

Retail offerings include an optical store that can produce bifocals on the day of the order; and slower escalators are more senior-friendly.

AEON has more than 12,000 stores in Japan and 2,315 other locations in South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

QUALITY FACEBOOK TIME
Fashion bag and luggage designer Vera Bradley and social networking platform Brickfish teamed in August to allay dorm-room grunginess.

Their 30-day “Dress Your Dorm” Facebook campaign generated more than 222,000 engagements, more than 200,000 views, 3,807 entries and 12,075 votes.

The campaign took a simple idea to a targeted audience—college students—and asked them to perform an inviting task. Participants went online and signed up to dress their dorm with Vera Bradley products, and then posted the information to the company’s Facebook page in hopes of winning the grand prize of a dorm room makeover. Users submitted their creations for viewing by others to signal their popularity.

Brickfish, which developed and led the campaign, created a viral map that let participants see how many people viewed their submissions.

FLEXIBLE FORMAT
Adapting store designs to their space, neighborhood and unique customer base is key for brick-and-mortar’s future.

British retailer John Lewis’ flexible-format, 65,000-square-foot department store in the U.K.’s Exeter City Centre is a move in the right direction.
While it has a traditional full-line store’s range of departments—apparel, home and electronics—it pulls back on the assortment’s breadth.

The design team used digital technology to highlight multi-channel retailing. Interactive information screens provide product information and quick access to online ordering.

In some instances the technology engages shoppers differently; some screens are equipped with a series of questions intended to help shoppers find the best product to match their needs. Some departments feature wall displays near the screen where samples of items like towels and bedding can be seen and touched before ordering.

ENGAGE WELLNESS
Mercy Health System now has an ambulatory medical facility at Plymouth Meeting Mall in suburban Philadelphia. The two-story, 23,500-square-foot satellite location has offices for primary care physicians and specialists; suites for physical therapy and non-invasive procedures; imaging facilities; and a walk-in clinic.

The facility is said to be the Northeast’s first full-scale medical health and wellness center in an enclosed mall. Mercy Health System also promoted the idea with fresh marketing; its Web site teases a “healthier shopping experience” with phrases such as “Jewelry, Shoes, MRIs,” and “Good Health is Always in Fashion.”

PINS TO PURCHASES
Shoe and apparel retailer Zappos wants to convert Pinterest enthusiasts into e-commerce shoppers.

To wit, Zappos Labs created PinPointing, a service that recommends Zappos products based on Pinterest pins and boards. The Web page suggests compatible items such as shoes, dresses and accessories that are available from Zappos.

So far, exact matches of the items “pinned” are rare; and it’s sometimes difficult to connect the dots between an image pinned and the suggestions offered.

While Zappo’s online store got approval from Pinterest for the PinPointing site, there’s no formal partnership.

BRING A CATALOG TO LIFE
Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea is looking to digital technology to bring its 2013 catalog—which goes to 211 million consumers each year—to life.

To leverage the power of digital and social platforms, Ikea added augmented reality to its 2013 catalog.

The videogame industry has used augmented reality, which overlays computer graphics and displays on real-world media.

Ikea’s catalog readers now can download an Ikea app to their mobile device and scan catalog pages with digital content so they can access additional embedded information on products—turning printed catalog pages into 3D views, videos and how-to information.

Special symbols that resemble smartphones printed throughout the catalog invite readers to use their devices to receive the augmented images.

MAKING SMART CHOICES PAY
Health foods company Zipongo Life’s Healthy Deals program is offering consumers discounts for health-friendly purchases.

Zipongo Life users receive deals tailored to their diet, sleep habits and exercise routines. Subscribers pre-purchase featured brands online and redeem deals at area grocery stores, with discounts ranging from 50 to 90 percent.

The platform assesses potential food deals using generally accepted nutrition principles from the Institute of Medicine and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Participating brands include Newman’s Own, Evol Burritos, Stonyfield Farms, Zico Coconut Water and Clover Organic Farms.

COMMUNITY CHEST
Schoola helps cash-starved schools create fresh fundraisers, and it’s worth a closer look from retailers.

The online fundraising platform from Savvy Source connects schools to businesses of all sizes, but unlike other daily deal sites, Schoola does not require 50 percent discounts on products or services. Businesses have greater control over the deals they offer and can work directly with school parents to negotiate prices.

In November, Schoola deals included brands such as Omaha Steaks, clothing retailer zulily and 1-800-Flowers.

Last September, Forbes reported that businesses lined up with Schoola could see $25 million in sales before the fall’s end.

HELPING HANDS
eBay’s “Help Me Shop” bookmarklet is a social-media friendly tool that allows consumers to get help from their friends when deciding what to buy.

Once the Help Me Shop bookmarklet is installed, consumers can shop from any Web site, saving favorite items and sharing them with Facebook friends.

From the bookmarklet they can select up to six items to poll their friends about. The program tallies up poll responses, giving the consumer impetus to make a purchase that has received the endorsement of friends.

eBay calls this approach “social shopping,” counting on the fact that selections can be made beyond products and services sold on eBay gives the approach added appeal.

A key to Help Me Shop: eBay’s use of a bookmarklet, which places a small dialog box on the side of users’ browser windows.

FASHION FORWARD
Moda Operandi a way to bring the fashion runway to the consumer, offering shoppers access to designer fashions immediately after they appear on the runway versus waiting six months or more.

Exclusive online trunk shows of just-debuted items are available for three to seven days, then designers produce the pieces based on pre-orders, and Moda Operandi delivers them to shoppers.

Founded by Àslaug Magnúsdóttir and former Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo, Moda Operandi features designers such as Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez. Membership perks include recommendations from top stylists, access to a personal shopping assistant, and online tools that allow shoppers to view items from every angle.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
With existing and new home sales expected to rise this year, realtors are showing more listings to more potential residential and commercial consumers. Agents, buyers and sellers are finding that apps provide more power to see photos and videos and access demographic and mapping information.

Leasing agents from Simon Property Group use an iPad app that provides access to the company’s entire portfolio, including a sales presentation, photos, video and 3D walk-throughs of properties. Simon credits the app with helping its agents close deals.

The National Association of Realtors also is into smart applications. Its mobile app offers agents “anytime, anywhere access” to listings information.

Consumers can use apps to see recently sold properties near homes for sale, search out foreclosure properties, receive updates on listings, find reduced property prices, access general news and information and calculate payment.

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