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From Home Furnishing Business

Innovate Or Die Trying


Change is not innovation. External forces such as a new competitor or new distribution channel forces retailers to change.  Change is reactive; innovation is proactive.  In today’s business climate it is hard to find time to think of ways to innovate. 

The starting point must always be the basic measures of the business, the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet.  Ideas may be cool, but will they impact the reasons for being in business by generating income and providing long term stability?  In Impact Consulting’s Performance Groups the mantra is that owners/management must constantly work on their business, not in their business.  Even though it feels quite rewarding to go on the floor and sell a nice order or even jump on the delivery truck and execute the last mile of the sale, other than the occasional “reality check” that owners and managers should do, the focus should be to continue the pursuit of innovations.  This applies not only for senior management, but also for all employees.  Have we lost the “suggestion box” concept in our pursuit of the digital age?

Let’s play a game and remember past innovations many of which are accepted as “it was always that way.”

Innovation, it’s all about ingenuity – the ability to not only think outside the box, but to translate those thoughts into measurable actions that benefit both customers and the bottom line. This month, Home Furnishings Business focuses on retail innovation by presenting four case studies of innovations being implemented by home furnishings retailers that are improving the bottom line and increasing consumer satisfaction – all of which is leading to better store traffic and more repeat business.

None of these innovations were up and running the day after they were drawn up on the back of a dinner napkin. They took months, and in some cases years of development, tweaking, testing and more tweaking before being fully rolled out.  And by the time it was ready to roll out, those involved in its development were already working on the next generation. That’s because innovation also is a process of continuous improvement.

Many innovations are easily visible to the consumer, but some – such as La-Z-Boy’s program that handles delivery and warehousing responsibilities for many of its retail store licensees – are not as noticeable. But they’re just as effective. 

Midwest retail powerhouse Art Van Furniture, for example, has found that franchising is an effective way to expand the reach – and better utilize its Michigan distribution center.  But the company isn’t handing out franchises like fast-food restaurants. Instead, it is partnering with existing independent furniture retailers who want to convert their stores to Art Van locations.

Pennsylvania-based Wolf Furniture, meanwhile, thinks it has found a seamless way to help consumers get rid of their old furniture – overcoming a major objection to buying new furniture.   The retailer has opened consignment furniture stores adjacent to three of its full-line stores, and, in addition to helping overcome objections the company discovered that the consignment business itself can be rather profitable.

And then there’s Mattress Inn, a single-store bedding specialty retailer in Spring Hill, Tenn., who wanted to figure out a way to bring consumers into the store more frequently than once every eight to ten years.  So owner Arthur Watkins developed the Fill Station Pillow Kiosk, an in-store innovation that gives the consumer a custom-made pillow in about five minutes.  Of course, the consumer needs to test the pillow on one of the store’s many mattresses, and it’s not unusual for that consumer to buy a pillow and a mattress before leaving.  Watkins has franchised the kiosk program to eight other retailers, but he recently added a director of business development and is hoping to have 100 kiosks in place in the next 12 months.  And soon, he will have the next-generation kiosk ready to go.  Just like all of the other innovators out there.

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