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From Home Furnishing Business

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.” 

Bound For Furniture

The Sigesmunds Have a Good Thing Going at Pittsburgh Furniture Retailer
By Powell Slaughter

How many of our readers had their first date with their future spouse at High Point Furniture Market?

We don’t expect a lot of affirmative answers to that question, but High Point is where contemporary home furnishings retailer PerLora’s founders, Perry and Lora Sigesmund, first started hanging out with each other.

“Both our parents were in the industry, mine from a small town (Steubenville, Ohio); and her family had a small store in Pittsburgh,” said Perry Sigesmund , who owns PerLora with wife, Lora.

Perry had worked for a year at his parents’ store in Steubenville before going out on his own to open a storefront carrying traditional lines such as Drexel Heritage and Pennsylvania House. Lora’s parents had a store in Pittsburgh.

“I went to open an interior design studio in Pittsburgh,” Perry said, and that’s where the couple’s paths crossed.

“Our first date was in High Point,” Lora said. “We’d opened another store in Florida, so I was going to the market with another furniture retailer from Pittsburgh.”

As luck would have it, Perry and Lora ended up spending time after hours in High Point, and the rest of their personal history is, well, history. The couple dated for five years and got married in 1990. Four years later they opened the first PerLora store on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Now the couple own and operate the original PerLora –for Perry and Lora, of course—on Pittsburgh’s South Side, which has a decidedly contemporary ambience; and PerLora Leather, located in a former leather retail store and which has transitional looks to round out contemporary offerings.

DEVELOPING A NICHE
The vision consumers see in PerLora’s stores developed over time.
“When we first opened, PerLora, believe it or not, was funky contemporary—all the velvets and contrasting welts—we had clothing, candles, all sorts of stuff,” Perry said. “As the industry changed, we got out of that funky mode and moved to cleaner lines.

“It took us a while to get away from that (funky) style. It was like when Ethan Allen started to sell contemporary furniture. It was hard to shake off that original image and change direction.”

How does that clean, contemporary vision translate on PerLora’s showroom floors?

“We want it to look, smell and feel like no other store,” Lora said. “Now the contemporary style is chic and trendy, but at the time we started it wasn’t. Originally we wanted to have something for everyone, from jewelry to food to furniture. And many of our employees have been with us from the beginning.”

Perry said the store segued away from some of those ancillary items for a long time, but has brought back in more home accents in recent years.

“In the last year-and-a-half we’ve been reading articles about some stores that are even carrying clothing, so we’ve moved back into some candles, accessories and jewelry—we’ve definitely gotten back into some of that.

“There are certain lines you know you won’t do huge volume with, but they make the store an inviting place—though we do concentrate most of the space on what moves.”

BEST FOOT FORWARD
The Sigesmunds leave no doubt as to the strongest way to communicate to consumers the clean, contemporary lifestyle projected on their floors.

“Your Web site is gold,” Perry said. “Right now it’s the most important thing for bringing people into your store, and your Web site had better reflect what’s in your store.

“The worst thing you can do is make your Web site very cool, very inviting, and have people not get that same feeling once they get into your store.”
PerLora concentrates hard on making customers who find the store online have an experience in the showroom that matches up to the promise made on the Web.

“The experience they have on your Web site should match the experience they have in your store,” Lora said.

DON’T BACK DOWN
PerLora also has been very consistent in keeping its promotional budget to between 5 percent and 6 percent of sales, and that paid off during the recession and furniture retailing’s slow recovery from a nosedive overall in 2009.

“We didn’t back off advertising,” Perry said. “We didn’t want to fall off people’s radar.”

In fact, 2011 ended up the store’s best year yet, and 2012 beat the previous year’s performance, Lora noted.

There was another key to PerLora’s continuing to thrive in a tough retail environment for home furnishings—the store’s membership in the Contemporary Furnishings Group retail buying and networking association.

“When you’re in a group like that, there are commonalities, even though we’re all different stores,” Lora noted. “We’re contemporary, Circle (in Boston) has traditional, but we all are trying to reach the same people.”

“That networking helped us find ways to save money,” Perry said. “We feel it’s kept us alive through those difficult times.” HFB

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!

On Bedding : A Few Minutes with ‘The Sleep Doctor’

 Known as “The Sleep Doctor,” Dr. Michael Breus , Ph.D. certainly has substantial cred to justify that title. A clinical psychologist who has specialized in sleep disorders, Dr. Breus is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. His 2011 book, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, details the connections between sleep and metabolism, and he has appeared on a variety of TV talk shows, including “Oprah” and “Dr. Oz.”


Dr. Breus has applied his expertise to a mattress collection, The Dr. Breus Bed, now at retail. He recently spoke with Home Furnishings Business about his beds, their benefits, and their retail potential.

HFB: Let’s say I’m a new customer walking into a store.  You’re a retail sales associate. How do you guide me to your beds?

Dr. Breus: I would say that probably the most salient points of the beds are, warm people sleep cool and cool people sleep warm. So one of the first questions that I teach RSAs about, is to ask people ,“How did you sleep last night?” Not what price they want to pay or what size—we’ll get to those questions later. I really want them to get into a conversation about health. And there are some easy questions to ask:

“How many times did you hit the snooze button?” That’s actually a telltale sign of how sleep-deprived somebody is. If you hit the snooze button more than once, your body doesn’t want to get out of bed, which means you haven’t gotten enough sleep yet.

I ask people questions like, “How long did it take you to fall asleep?” Somebody will say, “Oh, less than five minutes.” That’s actually not a good scenario. Your body should take somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. So if it’s not taking that long, again it means you’re sleep-deprived and your body’s forcing you into sleep very quickly.

We ask consumers if temperature is a problem for them. Also, “Do have any pain when you sleep?” So again, we’re talking about physiology-based questions. “How old is your mattress?” sometimes is a very interesting sign. I don’t believe there’s a particular number of years a mattress should be held onto by a consumer. I think your body tells you when you need a new bed. So when you wake up with aches and pains, it’s probably time to think about a new bed. I will say, I think there’s an upper-level limit, but I don’t like people holding onto their beds more than seven years.

HFB: Price is going to be a part of this conversation, especially in a tough economy.

So how do RSAs get past that and sell the benefits you’re trying to bring to this industry?

Dr. Breus: One of the things that I always talk to with RSAs is that we have to give people an understanding of what the value of sleep really is. For me, I think it is immeasurable, but I’m a sleep doctor, right? I understand that people have a fiscal responsibility that they have to know and understand. These products were designed to help you sleep better and sleep longer and deeper for an extended period of time.

This is not a product that you’re going to buy again in two years, three years, four years. It’s really an investment in sleep, so that’s how we have people talk about it. Price is really the last thing that they come to. It’s really about, “How important is sleep in your life?” And if sleep is important in your life, then this makes sense. It’s like eyeglasses to me.

This absolutely has been effective so far. There are definitely consumers out there who say “I’m not spending more than $599 on a bed.” I understand that. I’m responsive to that. That’s not where these products lie. Will we ever get there? Maybe. I’m not sure. Here’s my problem: The materials in these beds are so specific, and I spend so much time finding the right (ones), that if I actually get the right material in the bed, the raw materials cost more than $599. So I can’t get down to that price unless I cheapen the materials, and I’m just not going to do that.

HFB: How has the response been at retail for your line?
Dr. Breus: It’s been excellent. We’ve been thrilled with what’s been going on with people.  … We’ve been very thrilled with the response—and it’s interesting, people are much more interested in selling health as opposed to selling a puffy rectangle.

And I like that idea. I’m here to try to change the industry, with the industry. I want to educate the industry and all of the RSAs out there. I believe that everybody who owns a sleep shop or a furniture store that sells mattresses is actually a healthcare professional. This is a piece of healthcare equipment, that’s how I look at it. I always say, “If you were going to run a marathon, you wouldn’t do it in flip flops, right? You’d do it in good shoes.” The same holds true for a bed. The people should be matched—the right bed for their sleep needs, and they will perform better and be healthier.

Editor's Letter : Dining Inspiration

Lately in my travels, as well as here at home, I’ve been to a few restaurants. Some of them new; some of them well-established spots. Each of them sport their own special slant on eats, and some offer drop-dead, gorgeous décor. The design in a few give you the feel of walking into a RH catalog or, better yet, someone’s well-appointed, comfortably dressed home. How welcoming and calming.

While in Philadelphia for a team pow-wow last month, we went to a relatively new spot, Route 6 (Route6Restaurant.com) named after the highway that begins in Provincetown, Mass., and meanders through Cape Cod.  The restaurant is located just South of our offices in Philly, in an area that is undergoing a resurgence. A number of great eateries have popped up and more are sure to follow.

Walking through the door, it hit me that there is an abundance of decorating ideas staring every one of Route 6’s diners in the face. Cozy, linen covered banquettes coupled with a feast of blond wood and metal accents. The welcoming décor makes you want to move right in. It’s an upscale beachy feel, without being kitschy—or sandy.

Another favorite in the city of Brotherly Love is The Continental Mid-Town (ContinentalMidTown.com) on Chestnut Street, not far from the famed city hall. A small-plates joint with a great mix of food to meet a variety of tastes.

Both restaurants are owned by Starr Restaurants, but the vibe of each is quite different. The Continental Mid-Town offers a more retro feel with 1960s-era chairs, curved banquettes and brightly colored tables. Upstairs you’ll find hanging wicker swing seats that allow diners to gently sway while dining.

It’s just a hip, relaxed space that serves a mean lobster mac n’ cheese and scrumptious Thai chicken wraps. Never a bad meal.

On the West Coast in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., I was fortunate enough to dine with a great old friend recently at Veladora, (RanchoValencia.com/Dining)the stunning restaurant at the newly renovated and recently reopened Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa.

A spectactular farm-to-table menu and a beautiful hacienda-style setting with open ceiling beams and dramatic metal chandeliers make diners want to linger long over drinks, dinner and dessert.

So what the heck do restaurants have to do with furniture retailing? In addition to the fact that consumers spend a lot of change on dining out these days, restaurants have become another space for  consumers to turn for inspiration in home decorating.

Your stores should be the first stop in finding that inspiration. Well-merchandised stores tend to be more successful that those that just toss the sofas on floor and line them up like soldiers waiting to march out the front door.

In this issue, we talk merchandising. Most specifically the marriage of a well-merchandised floor and a well-merchandised Web site. The two must go hand in hand, working together to entice consumers.

Enjoy the read, and we all look forward to seeing many of you at the market in Las Vegas.

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