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From Home Furnishing Business

Take 5: Leib Oehmig

 

Home Furnishings Business: The outdoor segment in 2017 was a $4.4b segment growing at 7.6 percent through Q2 2017. What do you believe is driving this?

  • We are seeing two major factors driving this. It’s consumers who want to spend more quality time outdoors with family and friends. That is supported by designers and architects, who are creating spaces to spend more time outdoors. At Sunbrella, our passion is to add beauty without adding stress. The whole idea of an outdoor room continues to resonate with consumers. Another factor we are seeing is an expansion of retailers for all of these outdoor products. This includes an increase in bricks and mortar all the way to ecommerce, providing great access. Interest in outdoor products comes from the areas you would expect to associate with year-round outdoor living like coastal regions, the Southeast, and the Southwest, but we are seeing interest across North America. We have been pleasantly surprised with the level of interest in some areas you might not associate with outdoor living. While historically our products have been more prevalent in the higher end of the market, we are seeing consumers across all ages. There are more new consumers, Millennials who are embracing the idea that purchasing a better product is an investment. It’s an investment in a lifestyle. We are always trying to understand our audience, and think generationally about our business, and therefore want to create products that resonate with this next generation of consumers.

HFB: Obviously, Sunbrella is a recognized manufacturing brand and growing consumer brand. How important is that and what is Glen Raven’s commitment to building it?

  • For all of our 138 years, we have remained committed to working with our customers. We want to offer them something different, and so it has motivated us to push the limits of technology, utilizing our Sunbrella fibers’ texture and fashion forward design while retaining its performance characteristics. We’ve been on this journey almost 60 years, and the product has evolved, and we’ve expanded the markets we serve. It’s part of our brand’s promise to be able to deliver on all of this. Glen Raven has always sought to invest in and build the Sunbrella brand and our whole family of products, wherever we see growth opportunities. We have a global footprint. If the opportunity is in North America, we will expand here. We have a significant presence in Europe and we continue to invest in Europe. We have followed our customers to Asia, and now we have a significant business along the Pacific Rim, catering to current and prospective customers.  When I joined Glen Raven, we were heavily focused on shade, boating and automotives. We were just beginning to take these performance fabrics into outdoor furniture. I don’t know if 30 years ago we could have envisioned the evolution in fabric design. We were also beginning this journey of becoming a marketing-oriented company. We’re still a manufacturing company that has great, unique products, but now we understand a lot more about how to help our customers, the furniture manufacturers, reach consumers and move them to invest more into outdoor and indoor living spaces.

HFB: While the outdoor product category is significant, the total upholstery fabric market at retail is $28.1B. Is there a need for performance fabrics indoors?

  • Absolutely. For more than a decade now, we have been asking ourselves the same question. If Sunbrella’s attributes such as spill resistance, fade resistance and ease of cleaning, are important outdoors, why would those same qualities not be important to active families for indoor living? I use Sunbrella indoors in my home, and most of my colleagues are using Sunbrella indoors. It has the same attributes, and also importantly delivers a soft, supple hand and ease of drape. These characteristics are important to both manufacturers and residential designers.

When we first introduced it to the market, we had some questions. Our research found that having these attributes indoors is certainly desirable. More than a decade later, we see the product category is one of the fastest growing segments in a broader category. Other companies have done this, but we get there a little bit differently. What you see a lot of coming into the marketplace are fabrics that have essentially been used for indoor fabrics for years with topical treatments to achieve some of those attributes. The difference is, we engineer Sunbrella from the fiber all the way through the manufacturing process to fabrics finishing. It’s embedded into the DNA of the fabric as opposed to being added on. That’s a differentiator for us. We have designers using our fabrics in most every application you can think of for indoor furnishings. It’s not only for seating, but for window treatments too. Young families have kids who are rough on furniture. Pets are rough on furniture, too. Why have a room in your house full of beautiful furniture if it creates stress when people use it? We are creating products that allow you to have beautifully designed furniture and to encourage people to use it.

HFB: Obviously, some of fabric upholstery is imported, but not as much as leather. How much of Glen Raven’s production is domestic?

The vast majority of all of our fabrics are produced in the U.S., including all of our Sunbrella fabrics. We do have major business hubs in Europe and Asia. Our goal is to produce close to our customers and where our customers want to source. We sell into more than 100 countries. We are scaling our Burnsville (N.C.) plant with significant investment in support of the growth of Sunbrella. We have five plants in the U.S. dedicated to Sunbrella, if you include Sunbury Mills and our yarn plants in Burlington and Norlina, N.C.

HFB: While 10 percent tariffs are an issue, at 25 percent they become a problem. What impact do you foresee for the furniture industry?What are Glen Raven’s views on the reworking of NAFTA?

For most everyone, it comes down to not knowing. That’s what is creating the biggest concern. Tariffs are going to impact everyone, but what we are hearing from our customers is the not knowing is the toughest part. It’s difficult for them to plan in terms of financial modeling and their sourcing strategies. It’s hard for them to have a high level of confidence in those strategies when things are so fluid. It’s too soon to tell about the reworking of NAFTA. We were heavily involved in negotiating the NAFTA agreement and we have given input as it relates to this new agreement. While we supported NAFTA, it’s a 24-year-old agreement and we recognize it needs modernization. The business climate has changed, but we did not advocate for wholesale changes to NAFTA. The reality is that it’s a global economy and decisions that are made anywhere in the world have ramifications in our parts of the world. The best way for us to have the greatest chance for success is to embrace globalization and look for opportunities around the world. We get concerned when we start seeing these trade issues come forward. It creates uncertainty. But we adapt to changes and try to make them work in our favor.

Editor's Letter: Innovate or React?

Currently, the industry is doing well. Last quarter the industry was up 4.42% compared to the 1st quarter of 2017. The 2nd quarter appears to be better. Of course, better assurance is if you can drill this down to your specific market. In that, growth for Midland, Texas was 14.4% for Q1 while growth for Peoria was 0%. See if your market was listed below. Therefore, if your business grew accordingly, hold the till steady.

I know traffic is down. It is for the industry as a whole because the consumer is shopping less stores. What is your close rate? It should be going up along with your average ticket. The consumer coming through the door is ready to buy and confident in what they want. A loss of 7% of traffic can be offset by increasing close rate by 2 points or average ticket of 8% or a combination of both. Don’t overreact. Know all sales management key performance indicators.

The consumer is changing. Yes, we are in the midst of a generation shift. 2017 was the first year that Generation X (65.72M) purchased more than the Baby Boomers (75.5M). What is your Consumer Segmentation (% sold by units and dollars)? Understand your trends.

There is a lot of noise around the future of traditional furniture retailing. This month, the feature Innovation or Disruption makes the point that the industry is competing for the same dollars. Price has become the major competitive element. Is the furniture product such a commodity that design or functionality innovation will not capture the imagination of the consumer?

Has creating beautiful homes for the consumer by knowledgeable retail sales associates been lost to more efficient ways to create a transaction?

The musical chairs we play every day for every decreasing share of the consumers’ disposable income needs to stop.

Your question is, “How?” The answer lies within ourselves, both manufacturers and retailers.

President, CEO, owners set a new course. Call if you want new coordinates.

Cover Story: Innovation … or Disruption?

Home furnishings isn’t in the first tier of essentials for us—that space is reserved for the basics of food, shelter, and safety—but once those needs are satisfied, we can turn to the second tier of making our surroundings comfortable.

While most established countries have the basic necessities covered, some segments of the population still struggle with obtaining the most basic element, safety; safety is, for all of us, an increasing concern. But this article is about the furniture industry, not the challenges of society.

It’s within the second tier that the furniture industry struggles for the attention of consumers. What’s included in this tier has changed over the decades, but for centuries, making our home environment more comfortable and entertaining was a high priority.

Could the key be that, as consumers spent less time in their homes, with working spouses spending much of the day in the workplace, the perceived need for home décor also diminished?

After the first tier of essentials, on what do consumers plan to spend their disposable income? According to FurnitureCore research, their next travel destination tops the list.

As the data shows, furniture has moved down the list—but at least the latest widescreen television has lost its attraction.

The furniture industry for the past four decades, has grown from $19B to $110B, weathering financial downturns with a major disruption during the Great Recession.

The recession in 2008 and 2009 was a major disruptor, resulting in a significant loss of furniture retailers.

The furniture industry has grown; but compared to other consumer products, furniture has been a deal for the consumer. The graphic illustrates that in terms of 2009 a $1,000 furniture purchase would be $899. However, for all other products excluding food and energy it would be $2,710.

While the industry has grown, the growth has not been as significant when adjusted for the CPI:

In fact, if the CPI had kept pace with all products, furniture/bedding would be a $211B industry.

The fact is that the expenditure for furniture/bedding at $924 per household annually has not kept pace with the cost of housing.

The fact is that the consumer’s expenditure for furniture has declined as compared to overall total consumer price indicies (CPI).

Even though furniture has been a good value for consumers, their expenditure has not significantly increased.

The major question is why. An often-touted reason is lack of innovation; there could be a case for that. Take food, for example—it has exploded in terms of choices. Just go to a grocery store and take a look at its endless aisles.

Innovation can be more than product, but the buying process—transferring product to a consumer—can be innovative as well.

Innovation in Product

For a discussion of innovation in product, we need to separate aesthetic design from functional design.

Without a doubt, the introduction of the farmhouse style (and its many iterations) was fueled by Bob Timberlake’s introduction and how it caught the imagination of the consumer.

“In upholstery, I think the introduction of the first close-to-the-wall recliner by Berkline in the mid-1970s was extremely important,” says Jerry Epperson, managing director of Richmond, Va.-based investment banking and research firm Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd. “Not just for letting recliners go into more rooms, but because it allowed, in the 1980s, great advances in motion sofas and sectionals that would not have been possible without Berkline’s innovation. More recently, the addition of the second stage of power to motion has been extremely important (the first stage was in 1986-88 and failed).”

Innovation in mattresses has been the introduction (or reintroduction) of more complex foam mattresses, which led the way for gels, inflatables, hybrids, and now, the reintroduction of waterbeds, notes Epperson. “Change and innovation are critical in the mattress sector or we run the risk of it being a commodity,” he adds.

 “In wood furniture, we have seen great modifications to adapt to the new technological wonders of our age, whether huge flat screen televisions, desks specially made for laptop or desktop computers, or the addition of plugs for power or USB ports,” says Epperson. He adds that finishes are more durable and attractive, the addition of engineered wood has given flexibility and saved costs, and RTA has made advances to keep up with the demands created by internet retailers.

“I believe logistics will play an increasingly important role in furniture and mattresses, and that the requirements of shipping may have a much larger impact on wood furniture of the future,” he says. “Our industry is in a race to see who can transport the merchandise from the factory where it is made to inside the consumers’ homes with the fewest intermediate steps, all of which cost time and money. In many ways, we believe logistics may prove who are the winners, and may be a major factor in profitability in the future.”

Innovation in Disruption

Before the 1980s, there were fewer distribution channels. Better goods were the go-to source for the upper end and mass merchants—such as the almost-forgotten Montgomery Ward—and the struggling JCPenney and Sears served the growing middle market.

In the shadow of these giants were the mom-and-pop retailers suffering through being referred to as “dirty window stores” to become regional and national powerhouses.

There have been challenges in the past four decades. The Levitz stores conveyed value with their warehouse environment—product stored above the display. Within a decade, Levitz was a national threat in every market.

A significant local retailer in New York created the concept of Rooms To Go, appealing to the insecure consumer who wanted a complete room, decorated, at a great value. It expanded nationally and is still a dominant presence in the market.

From the hills of North Carolina appeared the 1-800 retailer. Blackwelders was followed by Roses Furniture and Furnitureland South.

Growth was fueled with small ads in shelter magazines such as Southern Living, but more importantly through word of mouth by satisfied customers. Many have gone by the wayside, but not before capturing 20% of industry sales. There are some survivors, such as Furnitureland South, a significant furniture retailer.

The manufacturer-direct store was an important innovation that disrupted the furniture industry. Furniture brands expanding upon the concept but failed. Only Ashley Home has successfully executed the concept and is now the number one retailer and manufacturer of furniture.

Advances in internet retailing are most visible with the creation of viable brands, with Wayfair topping the list for creating brand recognition, says Epperson. “Also, constant improvement in both communications and logistics have allowed the internet retailers to experience rapid growth without having stores, or even carrying inventory,” he adds. 

The growth in imports has allowed larger retailers to leverage their size to their advantage by purchasing globally and in huge quantities at the most efficient sources, says Epperson. “Consumers have never had more choices of where to purchase home furnishings and how to finance the items bought,” he says.

Reaching the Consumer

Do retailers today have too many methods to reach the consumer?

In the large view, messages can be broadcast to a huge audience via newspapers, television, and radio, in the hopes that the people who have an interest receive the message; on the other hand, having data on each household in your territory and targeting specific individuals with certain promotions might work best.

                  “Social media by itself is both an opportunity and a confusing mess,” says Epperson. “The brick-and-mortar furniture and mattress retailers have an advantage in name recognition, stability, and high visibility over long periods of time, whereas, generally speaking, few consumers know anything about most of the internet vendors, who could disappear overnight.”

All retailers have three important customer bases to appeal to:  baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials (with Generation Z right behind).

 

Statistically Speaking: The 10-Year Millennial Economic Slump

Numerous contradictory studies have attempted to profile this very diverse generation. Some data identifies them as big spenders adding to their debt with lifestyle products and so-called life experiences. Other studies suggest they are one of the best savers of any generation at this age. But like all generations, it’s inaccurate to place blanket labels on a generation that spans almost 20 years.

 

Where most researchers and studies do concur is that many Millennials have been dealt an increasingly difficult economic hand. And a recent research paper by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis (the St. Louis Fed) titled “A Lost Generation?  Long-Lasting Wealth Impacts of the Great Recession on Young Families” paints at times a rather bleak picture. Those entering the workforce in and after the Great Recession, found a tight job market. Most entered colleges and many stayed for post degrees as the poor economy continued. Many also racked up mountains of student loan debt. Millennials tended to delay life events, like marriage and childbirth, and flocked to the inner city urban areas closer to the jobs they took but did not really choose. Tight credit and high debt made home buying out of reach and rents were high and apartments small. Many do in fact value life experiences over material possessions. All of this has left the home furnishings industry perplexed in its efforts to attract this mass of consumers.

Financial data is emerging which suggests there are three distinct segments to the Millennials based on their proximity to the Great Recession – (1) those that graduated college or entered the job market prior to the Great Recession, (2) those that entered the job market during the recession or during the post-recession high-unemployment recovery period, and (3) those entering after the economy was on its way to recovery (Figure 1).

Education

Those that entered the job market early, prior to the Recession, have definitely fared better than their younger Millennials. The second group hit a job market wall during the Great Recession and many have yet to recover as they took jobs unrelated to their college education at lower salaries. With the tightening of the job market, Millennials turned to colleges, becoming the most educated generation in history.

As Table A shows, 29 percent of Millennial men and 36 percent of Millennial women completed at least a bachelor’s degree compared to just 15 percent of men and 9 percent of women 50 years ago. While the percentage has increased for both sexes with each generation, women now exceed men as college graduates by 7 percent.

Some Millennials aren’t sure how much that education has helped them.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) tracks starting salaries by year of graduation and finds that 2004 through 2007, those early graduates averaged starting salaries of $42,619. Salaries in the second group graduating during the Great Recession and partial recovery, 2008 to 2011, averaged $41,607.  But as the recovery has moved forward, 2012 to 2016 (most current data), starting salaries jumped to an average of $48,169.

The Financial Picture

Income in all generations was negatively impacted by the Recession, especially among Millennials and Gen Xers. The overall population of 25 to 34 year olds has not fared as well as the college graduates nor have they fared as well as the older Gen Xers aged 35 to 44 in terms of salary loss (Table C). At $34,067, median income for Millennials has yet to surpass 25 to 34 year olds in 1974 ($34,601 in real adjusted 2016 dollars). Meanwhile 35 to 44-year-old’s median income was not hit quite as hard in the Recession and at $42,012 in 2016 is nearly back to the median income in 2000.

The increasing salaries don’t look too bad one would think, but that’s only part of the picture. Millennials are overwhelmed by debt. According to the Federal Reserve, the average student loan debt for Class of 2017 graduates was $39,400, up six percent from the previous year.

Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt spread out among about 44 million borrowers. That’s about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

The real financial picture of Millennials and student debt lies in their net worth defined as assets minus liabilities. As shown in Table D, the average net worth for a Millennial just out of college at age 23 is negative $33,984. Even with an average starting salary of $52,569 it takes many millennials a long time to crawl out of student loan debt.

Despite their lack of disposable income, data suggests that Millennials do save more than other generations at the same ages. Most likely due to years of economic instability, Millennials coming into the workforce during the Great Recession and post-recession high unemployment years 2008 to 2012 are the biggest savers among the generations reaching a 6.1% average annual savings rate for 2009 graduates and peaking at 7.6% for those graduating college in 2012. Those graduated prior to the recession show the lowest savings rates, while Millennials starting job employment in 2013 or later range in savings between 4.8 percent and 5.1 percent (Table E).

Employment

Being such a large generation Millennials are starting to make their imprint on the workforce. Employed Millennial workers ages 25 to 34 are growing in number and now surpass the number of employed 35 to 44 Gen Xers. At 34.4 million post-college employed workers in 2017, Millennials are now 7.8 percent higher than Generation X in the amount of people in the workforce (Figure 2).

Although Millennials now have the most employees in the workforce, they still lead the way with higher unemployment rates (Figure 3). 4.6 million 25 to 34 year olds are unemployed compared to 3.5 million 35 to 44 year olds and 3.2 million 45 to 54 year olds.

Table F shows the impact and importance of education for the Millennials as it pertains to employment. While each category felt the effects of the Great Recession on the unemployment rate, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher spiked up to 4.9 percent in January of 2010 before leveling out to 2.5 percent in 2017 – just 0.4 percentage points shy of the rate in January 2007.

The percent of Millennials 25 to 34 who are “not in the labor force”, mostly

students and others who are neither working nor seeking work past college age, is in line with Generation X (Figure 4). At 21.8 percent, the older Millennials not in the labor force are only slightly higher then the 20.9 percent designated to 35 to 44 year olds (younger Gen Xers). However, keep in mind that many more Gen Xers are couples where one has chosen to stay at home to care for children while the other is employed.

It’s no secret that Millennials are delaying marriage and children.  And the majority of Millennials are not yet married. The estimated median age at first marriage has climbed up each year for both men and women. As shown in Figure 5, the median age of men getting married for the first time has moved from 26.8 in 2000 to 29.5 in 2017 – an increase of 10.1 percent, while the median age for women has increased 9.1 percent over the same time period, up to 27.4.

It’s often difficult for most people to keep in their heads just exactly where the generations will be in their life cycles over time. The table below shows that even with all of the hype about Millennials, the glut of this generation won’t be fully felt within the home furnishings industry for possibly 10 years as they balloon into their prime furniture purchasing years of 35 to 54 (Figure 6). The leading edge is coming in now.  Meanwhile, the here and now are the Gen Xers.

Many families suffered severe setbacks as a result of the Great Recession especially in their prime earning years. Gen Xers have been able to regain most of that financial loss, but it seems Millennials have fallen further behind. In fact, the Millennials of the 1980s was the only 10-year cohort studied by the St. Louis Fed to worsen from 2010 to 2016. And the outlook going forward is not rosy.

One explanation by the earlier referenced St. Louis Fed’s “Lost Generation” essay is that individuals and families whose heads were born in the 1980s (Millennials) are different. “They generally were too young to be homeowners during the housing bubble. The predominant type of debt they owe is non-mortgage debt, including student loans, auto loans and credit card debt. Because none of these types of debt finance assets that have appreciated rapidly during the last few years—such as stocks and real estate—they have received no leveraged wealth boost like that enjoyed by older cohorts.”

But three factors are on the side of Millennials – time, education, and numbers.  Time implies that these Millennials have many years to garner wealth and may not follow the same path as other generations. The second is that they are the most educated generation, and while expensive, can be extremely important going forward to wealth collection. And the third is sheer numbers.  The Millennials (and Gen Xers) are now the largest voting bloc compared to the Baby Boomers, yet they have historically had low turnout at the polls. But as they mature, this trend will likely reverse and they will begin to politically chart their own course. One thing is certain, Generation Z right behind them is very politically confident and may give the Millennials the push they need.

Coach's Corner: What Opportunities for Innovation Might We Be Missing?

Here is how Wikipedia sums up Innovation: “Innovation can be defined simply as a ‘new idea, device or method’. However, innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” Therefore, it is the process of adapting and growing to meet the challenges we meet as we go through life.

At the core of Innovation is change, because it involves changing the things we use, how we use them and how we think. The old adage “change or die” comes to mind. Without change we don’t grow and without growth in our business, we could die. So “Innovate or die” would also be an accurate statement. That makes this month’s theme of “Retail Innovation” an important one.

Often when we think about retail innovation, we have a tendency to look only at the big and exciting ones. New technological advances, state-of-the-art devices and revolutionary thought processes seem to be the focus. Sometimes that causes us to miss many of the “little things” that can have a big impact on our businesses and lives. It is after all, the process of doing the little things better that causes us to experience the biggest results.

So, for this column, I thought I would provide you with a simple list of some of the “little things” I have seen people do in our industry that have helped their businesses, but are not necessarily wide spread in their usage. Most will be familiar to many of you and some may be more innovative than others. None will be earth shaking, but as defined above, all of them are just good ideas, processes or systems you might want to consider trying in your company.

There is not room in this short article for in-depth explanations or instructions for each one, so if you see something that sounds interesting, I recommend you do some research to find someone with experience and learn from them. Performance groups, buying groups, business organizations, consultants and even Google are all great resources for obtaining information to help you get started with an innovative project in your business.

I have organized them loosely under the headings of devices, systems and internet.

Devices

  • Smart Phones – These are possibly the most underutilized devices available to every retailer. They have the potential to be a powerful tool, that can connect your staff to their current clients and potential customers. While some stores encourage staff to carry phones, many stores do not let them have them on the floor. The fear being that they will use it for personal communication and social reasons, wasting company time. That is certainly a possibility, but consider all the possibilities for improved customer connection properly used smart phones could provide:
    • Enhanced, Real Time Customer communication – Today’s customer want answers and information NOW, and those salespersons that can react quickly will have an advantage over those that make customers wait until the they get back to their desk to respond. Of course, you don’t want sales people being interrupted during presentations, but there are ways to keep it discreet and professional. Auto dealers and other big-ticket businesses have policies and procedures that work. So can you!
    • Internet Inquiry Follow Up/Response – Staff should respond to all web generated inquiries. We recommend that sales people go out on the floor with their smart phones in-hand to send back actual pictures of the furniture on the floor in your store. What better way is there to interact with customers interested in your product? “Here it is, come and get it!” is a great way to get them into the store virtually.
    • Gathering Contact Info for Those We Don’t Sell – All stores struggle to get contact info from customers they do not sell. We have found that if a sales person provides a potential customer with a good reason to give them contact info, they have a much better chance of getting it than if they just ask for it. As an example, if the customer is ready to leave the store after they’ve stated what they are looking for, the sales person should say something like “it’s been great working with you and I’m pretty sure I know what you are looking for. I have some more research I want to do for you, so how should I get back to you, text or email?” Many customers will appreciate the offer and give their contact information and you might be surprised at how many want the response by text.
    • In-store Staff Communication - Customers and sales people hate paging systems! Having each person carry a smart phone is a great way to contact staff that is out on the floor. Have the phones on vibrate and use text messages so they only have to glance at the phone to see what is up. Apple watches are great for this too!
    • Anniversary/Birthday Calls/Texts/E-mails from the Owner – My wife just got a voice message on her cell phone from the owner of the dealership where we purchased her last car. No sales pitch, just a nice happy call to congratulate her on the first anniversary of her new car purchase. She loved it and guess where we will go first when this lease is up?
    • Education/Training Is Key – Of course there is always the possibility that a salesperson might abuse the right to have their cell phone with them. The answer to that is proper rules, training and enforcement. If done correctly, the advantages far outweigh the risks in my book.

Systems

  • Traffic Counting Systems -  Many stores are now using camera-based systems to help count and track the opportunities coming through their doors. These range from those that simply record the activities so someone can regularly review the files and count bodies, to extremely high-tech systems that feature facial recognition and actually notify you when an existing client re-enters the store. The bottom line is that the more accurate your count is, the more you can use this critical number to make decisions about your advertising and sale efforts. If you have not upgraded your traffic counting with one of the newer systems, I strongly recommend you do. There have been many innovations in this area that can help you better manage the floor and your business.

Internet

  • Website Upgrades – Your website is the first showroom you have that the vast majority of your potential customers visit. With most of them using this experience to narrow their list of stores to visit down to less than two, how important does that make it? The words “the most critical thing we do” come to mind. This is probably the fastest changing element and thus the most innovative opportunity you deal with in your business. Have you kept up? Here is a very short list of a few functions and features you should consider for your site:
    • Chat Function – There have recently been several innovative products made available that allow you to put this highly desired, consumer focused function on your site. The biggest issue you will face is providing the staff support to respond to Chat requests. It is basically a full-time effort, so plan it accordingly.
    • Cart Functionality/eCommerce – Many of your potential customers want to buy when they visit your site. Can they? Enough said.
    • Video (other than ads) – Educational and fun videos keep people on your site and enhance the experience. This is much more effective than just putting your TV ads on your site.
    • Website Accessibility in Store - This is a must in your store. Both for your staff and your customers. Big monitors and fast computers are a must if you want to get the most from your website.
    • Compare Function - Every major eCommerce sight I have seen has a compare function built into it and research says that visitors love it. Yet I have not seen it on many of our sites. Be the first, now that is innovation!
    • Product Reviews – Another thing we see used by shoppers extensively on Amazon and others is the product review function. I know we struggle to get positive store reviews on our sites, but shouldn’t we be trying to find ways to entice existing customers to give us reviews of the products they buy from us too?
  • Guest WiFi in Store – Many stores do have guest WiFi available on the selling floor, but some have resisted this move for various reasons. However, I think the pluses outweigh the minuses. Here are just a few of them:
    • It keeps them there longer – Many customers will leave your store to get emails or check websites and never come back. At least if you keep them in the store you still have a chance to sell them.
    • Something for kids to do – Today’s kids keep busy on their parents (or their own) smart phones/tablets. If you can keep them happy you will have more time with their parents.
    • Allows them to share ideas with family/friends while shopping – Most of today’s customers want to share ideas with family and friends before making a decision. Many will tell you they have to “go home and think about it” so they can do this. Why not give them the opportunity in the store?
    • Visit websites and see other products without leaving a vignette -  What is better than sitting in a vignette and reviewing additional products with your sales person on the store or manufacturer’s site?

This is just a short list of some suggestions you can consider. If it is a new idea that changes the way you do something, then for you it is innovation. My hope is that a couple of these ideas might jump out at you, to help make your life and your customers’ lives just a little better.

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