From Home Furnishing Business
By Tom Zollar
In all my training sessions with managers and sales people, we always begin with a discussion about the consumer – where she has been, how she got here and most importantly, what changes have occured in how she wants to be treated in our stores. This magazine has covered the research that supports this in depth and many of the columns I have written, discussed what we can learn from it all in order to provide our customers with the shopping/buying experience they desire. It all starts with our adverting, our web site, and everything else we do to reach out to consumers in our market and follows with us through every phase and step in their process, including delivery of their dream room and follow up relationship building.
As I have stated before, a sales person’s basic role is to make the customer feel comfortable in their store, find out what they really want to have as the outcome of their visit, and then help them make it all happen! While satisfying the consumer’s needs has always been a sales person’s primary goal, there have been differences in the process, based on the type of needs addressed in each situation, but the intended result has remained the same, whatever the industry or market might be.
What has changed are the three major elements in the consumer’s selling and buying process:
- The selection of products to buy
- The number of places or ways to purchase
- The consumers themselves
Today there are so many products to choose from in every category of home furnishings that the selection process can be very confusing and thus more difficult. In addition, the huge number of retail locations and online companies to buy from has become so vast that competition for the customers business has become very intense. As a result, our customers have a great deal of choice, often finding it intimidating, confusing and in many cases, downright scary!
Therefore, we all want our customers to feel relaxed and comfortable in our stores as we help them find the home furnishings they want to create the home of their dreams. Unfortunately, most of them arrive with a lot of fear and distrust that heavily impacts their attitude about the in store experience they expect and how they react to it.
Today’s consumer has found several ways to deal with this situation. A growing number completely avoid the situation by buying online. Others do some degree of research before shopping so they can make a more educated decision about where and what to buy. And, today there are many more ways to do research than ever before. Not only are there dozens of magazines available that relate to home decorating, but nearly every cable provider features multiple channels that have home related programming. Even broadcast TV has embraced the “Home Make-Over” craze. By comparison, other than approximately a half dozen “shelter magazines” aimed at the home, the only place my parents could go to get ideas and learn about home furnishings was a store that sold them!
Because of all this pre-shopping media access and decorating emphasis, recent generations have dramatically changed their shopping habits. While our parents visited five to seven stores during the discovery experience, today’s time-limited customers only visit two or three retail locations. Experience and research has shown that they now arrive at the store much more ready, willing and able to make their buying decision than ever before.
So why when our sales people approach them, do the majority - as many as 75% - say “No thanks, I’m just looking”? The answer is, because they are just looking. The difference today is that they have a much better idea what they are looking for than previous generations and they have educated themselves to the point where they feel confident in their ability to make the buying decision when and if they see what they are looking for.
This increased level of confidence makes them think that they don’t need our assistance in their search. Just like a visit to Target or the grocery store, many consumers think that they can walk through our store and see everything we have to offer. We know that in order to have any chance of being successful, they need us like they need their next breath. But many of our sales people and managers don’t want to be too pushy so their response to this rejection is to let the consumer wander through the store alone, hoping they will reconnect with them before they leave the store - which only ends up happening with less than half of them industry wide.
Opportunity for Improvement Number One: Train, coach and motivate our sales people to overcome “I’m just looking” during the greeting process so that they connect with more customers and don’t release them to browse through the store on their own. The greeting has become the most critical step in the selling process. Make sure your staff understands this and knows how to maximize their effectiveness. We discussed this in a bit more depth in the November 2015 issue column: “The Consumer Evolution”.
The other result of pre-shopping research and the impact of HGTV type programming has changed how today’s consumers look at what they want to buy for their home. Our business is now more than ever driven by the needs our customers have to create beautiful homes. Therefore, our mission really needs to be finding ways to help our customers learn how to use our products to enhance their quality of life instead of merely how to buy our products. We must shift our long-standing paradigm of products driving all we do, to one of dealing first with the customer’s need to create a beautiful home, then finding a way to use the products we sell to fulfill that need.
The fact is, for almost any customer there are many “things” that would fit their need perfectly. Most are not necessarily seeking a specific product, but rather a type of look or feel, a result that will satisfy her most fundamental need to provide a beautiful environment for herself and her family. The catchword for this is “Lifestyle”. This is what we should be talking about with every customer before we begin dealing with products, features and benefits. The benefit she wants has nothing to do with any one product or group but rather lies in her vision of what her home or room will look and feel like when whatever she buys is in it.
Opportunity for Improvement Number Two: Train, coach and motivate your team to truly provide what your customers really want when they enter your store. Your customer’s need is not for “things”, it is for better, more beautiful homes that reflect their lifestyle choices. People are not interested in “things” except as they relate to their most basic need to create a beautiful home environment. Customers have consistently told us that furniture salespeople do not want to talk about the same things they do. So make sure your sales people are selling beautiful, comfortable rooms that fit your customer’s lifestyle, not just the “things” you carry.
This really represents a complete change of focus for most sales people. They need to reset their initial emphasis from the things in your store, to the needs in their customer’s home. As an example, instead of talking about the sofa first, they should talk about the living room it is going into, because in a very real sense, it is that room, that brought them into your store, not the sofa. Indeed, another reason many customers say “I’m just looking” as soon as your sales associate approaches is because they are interested in their home and believe your staff is only interested in selling furniture. The customer wants help and your people want to get on with showing furniture.
As stated earlier, we need to help customers understand how to use our products to enhance their quality of life instead of just how to buy them. If customers come into your store and hear only about your products features or the promotions offered by the store, rather than how you can help them put the puzzle together for their rooms and homes, there is a fundamental disconnection in the communication process. Fix it and you will prosper because the main reason why only 30% of all shoppers in a typical furniture store actually make a purchase, is because we fail to help them connect what we have to what their own outcomes will be.
By Larry Thomas
Alden Parkes’ Hancock buffet
The neo-classic Hancock Buffet is a best-seller because of its versatility. It can be used in a dining room, hallway, or entryway. It features solid brass circular fretwork accents over four antiqued mirrored door fronts with custom brass hardware, adjustable shelves and finished in an either rich Espresso or a sophisticated Tiffany White. The graceful curved solid brass stretchers complement the fretwork. Suggested retail is $3,747.
A.R.T. Furniture’s Cosmopolitan console table
Mixed media continues to be strong, and this piece blends white and gold, animal texture and scale. With a very chic and modern look, it includes faux-crocodile leather drawer-fronts, top and sides, and its open metal base design will accommodate two bunching benches. Suggested retail is $1,996.
Greenington’s Currant shelf
Crafted in solid bamboo, the popular Currant shelf by Greenington offers a contemporary look and generous storage in a smart scale that fits. The Currant shelf is available in classic caramelized and black walnut finishes. Greenington combines beautiful design, rich colors, and a winning green sustainability story. Suggested retail is $1,167.
Orient Express Furniture’s Carrera media sideboard
Part of the best-selling Traditions collection, this piece features white marble veneer, stone washed acacia veneer and brushed gold.
Universal Furniture’s Dorchester cocktail table
From its popular Curated collection, this simple but elegant table conveys a lot of style, including the warmth of wood against the contemporary chrome, the patterned veneers, and the exposed grain finish. The face features modified herringbone veneers, while the brownstone finish blend brown with grey tones and exposed grain. Suggested retail is $599 to $699.
Ashley Furniture’s O’Kean series
Despite being introduced less than a year ago, the contemporary O’Kean series already has established itself as one the most popular accent furniture groupings. Chrome-finished tables and stylish lamps blend well with the company’s stationary leather seating, allowing for an eclectic style mix.
Four Hands’ Darrow ottoman
The company says it has re-invented the ottoman with this cunningly shaped piece. It features a distressed, flatrock iron frame and a spare-yet-comfortable cushion in aged, top-grain leather.
Uttermost’s Roosevelt club chair
From the Revelation by Uttermost line, this chair has box cushions, a birch frame, and features a distressed, top grain leather cover in a worn cognac finish. The natural markings and slight color variations from hide to hide enhance the leather’s unique characteristics.
Magnussen Home’s Bellamy end table
Old world charm abounds in the Bellamy table collection. The end table features a gracious carved base that supports an overlaid pine top finished in vintage inspired Deep Weathered Pine. The design speaks to European influenced elegance. Suggested retail is $349.
Renewil’s Whitesilk accent table
This elegant table has an iron base, a Carrara white marble top and an antique gold finish. The sturdy, yet graceful design makes it suitable for almost any formal or casual room setting.
Christopher Guy’s Monte Carlo occasional chair
Complete with a sweeping low back rest that incorporates the designer’s signature “Chris-Cross” legs, it is available in several low-sheen and lacquer finishes. More than a dozen fabric options are also available. Suggested retail is $2,993.
Zuo’s 100171-1 accent table
This adjustable-height table blends industrial design elements with a more whimsical top that incorporates a wood and marble look. It’s part of a collection of tables that use a similar top with a variety of different bases.
Bramble’s 24379 French wing chair
Intricate hand-carvings on the solid mahogany frame gives the chair an air of elegance and distinction. Its cushioning is lined with a smooth linen and has exposed jute upholstery on the back for subtle contrast. This piece is available to order in over 100 different finish and fabric options.
Dovetail Furniture’s Baker accent chair
The Mid-century-inspired design of this chair features solid wood frame with natural finish and a comfortable backrest. The seat is upholstered in a goat hide, which has a natural white color. Besides its very unique look, the chair is very comfortable, but stylish, and can be used as an accent or a dining chair.
Surya’s Shadi pouf
This fun, colorful item is woven in India of 88% jute and 12% cotton, and is designed for indoor use. Suggested retail is $201.
By Bob George
We are overwhelmed with the election and this magazine will hit your desk right after the results are in. Don’t stop reading if you are like me - enough is enough. However, there is something that we can take away from all the noise. That is the matter of targeting. The winner is whoever secured success by appealing to specific groups of citizens whose demographics, lifestyle, and psychographics vibrated with the unique vision of what he or she want the United States to be. Making political targeting more complicated is the Electoral College parameters where specific geographic areas require a combination of certain clusters to insure victory.
What does this have to do with furniture retailing? In fact, the process is the same. We often discuss why a national chain cannot successfully compete with the local merchant. Simply put, the local merchant knows his or her customers. The methodology used in political targeting can be applied to improve the performance of both suppliers and retailers. The basic concept is quite simple. The following graphic illustrates.
Each retailer or manufacturer must present to the market a set of core products that appeal to all their customers. In an ice cream shop it is the vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. This product satisfies a significant percentage of its customers to some extent – some more than others. For some consumers they eat only chocolate ice cream. If that is their choice it’s OK. However, other consumers will search for more of a selection, for instance - rum raisin or mint chocolate. There is a small percentage of customers who will want a more exotic flavor and will order “bacon flavored” ice cream. The challenge is to satisfy each of the consumers in great enough quantities to satisfy the business model.
The obvious first step is the product. However this is closely followed by advertising and the retail experience. Our focus this month is the Buying Process that documents the different approaches by demographics. Statistically Speaking examines the much anticipated millennial. The Coaches Corner explores the retail experiences the consumer seeks. The challenge today is to present an assortment of products in the correct retail environment that will satisfy a large group of customers.
The traditional retailer is attempting to satisfy everyone - selection, price, and service. The competition from other channels, such as lifestyle stores target a very small audience allowing the message to be very clear.
Developing a strategy that serves the core consumer while attracting a more specific consumer can be accomplished. We just need to focus!
Five years ago, Art Van Furniture plunged into the world of franchising, but the Midwestern retail heavyweight opted for an unconventional business model that exclusively sought out existing furniture store owners as potential franchisees.
Art Van’s management concluded that partnering with an existing independent furniture store that was willing to convert its business to the Art Van store model gave them the best chance to succeed, and after opening 16 franchisees since January 2012, the Michigan retailer is convinced it’s on the right track.
The effort is overseen by Steve Glucksman, senior vice president of strategic development. He recently discussed the franchise division’s success to date and its prospects for the future in an interview with Larry Thomas, senior business editor of Home Furnishings Business.
HOME FURNISHINGS BUSINESS: Why did you decide to embark on franchising, as opposed to an expansion of company-owned stores and distribution centers?
GLUCKSMAN: Franchising, and in particular a conversion strategy is the fastest way to reach communities and guests that are not currently served by Art Van Furniture. In essence, speed to market. Also, in the smaller markets we find the owner-operator model to be very effective and efficient due to the strong ties to the communities and the entrepreneurial spirit that they bring.
We feel that “partnering” with a local “independent” is great for the independent furniture retailer, great for the community and great for Art Van Furniture. A true win – win –win. It allows independent retailers to lower overhead costs by pulling inventory from Art Van's million plus -square-foot warehouse in Warren, Mich., rather than maintaining their own warehouses. Our partners also take advantage of our extensive sales education programs, our integrated three-tiered consumer finance program, buying power and marketing programs.
HFB: Of the 16 franchise locations that have opened (through August), has their performance met the expectations of both Art Van and the franchisee? Why or why not?
GLUCKSMAN: We can’t give you all the numbers, but we can say that each and every franchise has experienced double-digit sales and profit increases while increasing cash flow due to the elimination of their own warehouse. More importantly, our partners are happier because they don’t have to worry about merchandising, advertising and warehousing and can focus on taking care of their guests and sales associates, further fueling growth.
HFB: It looks like the initial group of franchisees primarily has been existing furniture store owners who converted to Art Van. As you expand the network, do you anticipate going outside this group of business owners?
GLUCKSMAN: Our number one focus is to work with existing furniture store owners on a conversion strategy. Art Van wants partner with independent furniture retailers because they know the business and they are already ingrained in the community. Typically, they share the same entrepreneurial philosophy and family values. They believe in taking care of the guest first, and everything else will come. We know that what we do simply adds value to an already good business and eliminates many of the frustrations and constraints an independent has.
HFB: Until recently, furniture store franchising and licensing has largely been single-brand stores from manufacturers such as La-Z-Boy, Bassett and Ashley. Why do you think Art Van will be successful as a retail brand and franchisor?
GLUCKSMAN: At the heart of it -- we are retailers, not manufacturers. We focus on sales and service, getting her (our guest) what she wants, when she wants it and at a value that works. We (Art Van and our Franchisees) are in the same boat and are aligned on what is important. We have the ability to source from any of the top brands ensuring we stay relevant when it comes to style, quality and value. A single-source store has only one manufacturer and must count on that “factory” to always get it right and whatever else drives them from a manufacturing point of view.
HFB: What are the advantages of becoming an Art Van franchise?
GLUCKSMAN: Founded in 1959, Art Van Furniture has not only survived but thrived in a very competitive market and industry. After nearly 60 years in business (and experience) we have built a powerful brand with strong leadership that has a proven track record of trust, value, style and community. We believe our partners are in business for themselves but not by themselves, our entire team is there for support.
Our experience, knowledge and drive for constant improvement should make us a company that an independent retailer would like to join. We further categorize our advantages into five areas:
Exceptional Supply Chain
1.4 million square feet of a fully stocked warehouse, which allows a franchisee to eliminate its warehouse and inventory dollars.
Best-in-Class in stock position.
Delivery to a Franchisee’s store when and where they want it.
Powerful Marketing and Marketing Support
52-week, high-impact marketing programs and plan.
All creative and materials – franchisee simply pays for media and Art Van takes care of the rest so all your marketing dollars hit the guest.
Digital marketing and digital development
Outstanding Buying Power
Buying power only a top 20 industry leader has.
A hands-on experienced buying team that travels the world looking for the hottest trends, styles and values to ensure a franchisee competes and wins in their market.
Superior Franchise Operational and Sales Support
1:8 Store Ratio for our field support team, the same as our corporate stores
Hands-on help through the conversion process, including store design and project management
Continued support and use of all our systems and knowledge
Education, training and staff development
Weekly Cadence Calls to ensure alignment, understanding and problem solving.
Peer-to-Peer performance group
Use of our 3-tier integrated consumer finance program
HFB: Do you anticipate expanding the network outside Art Van’s core trading area in the Midwest?
GLUCKSMAN: Today we are focused on franchising within 600 miles of our Warren, Mich., warehouse/distribution center. This allows us to bring the greatest value to our franchisees and ensures our supply chain delivers the value that our franchisees expect. When we open a second warehouse/distribution center we plan on following the same strategy.
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.