Fans of the “The Bucket List” may recall the voiceover of the note sent by character Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) to his friend, Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson): “Find the joy in your life, Edward … close your eyes and let the waters take you home.”
In the context of the home furnishings industry, finding joy has everything to do with making a living while providing goods, services and information that positively impact customers and their families in their place of residence.
The enthusiasm for creating those provisions is something home furnishings customers can sense by merely talking to staff at cocktail parties or driving by a store. It needs to be that contagious because customers are inherently drawn to merchants who radiate an inner passion for their trade.
Enthusiasm alone, however, will not put warm bodies in a showroom, but it may prompt a thirst for product and marketing knowledge as well as the desire to excel. Those qualities are achieved by making good first impressions, staying on top of industry trends, and maintaining effective marketing techniques. Here are a few suggestions.
Basics Training 1: Store Curb Appeal
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says “curb appeal” means “the visual attractiveness of a house as seen from the street” and that its first known use was in 1975. One could certainly find successful home furnishings stores in funky old warehouses, but customers are typically drawn to stores having curb appeal for obvious reasons: if a store looks drab or hideous from the outside, what could it possibly have to offer on the inside?
Several useful web pages were located after searching for “retail curb appeal.” The best suggestions include visible signage, clean windows, lush foliage, a fresh paint job, new pavement and lines, placing items for sale on the outside, lighting, window displays and upgraded doors.
According to Small Business Trends, it’s important to creating an experience:
“When someone enters your store does it feel as inviting as it looked from outside? Are there pleasant sounds and smells?
“Depending on what you sell, you may want to add background music, scented potpourri or other sensory attributes to make customers relax, stay a while — and spend more money.”
Finally, don’t forget to add some “white space” to the interior and exterior décor — i.e. don’t overcrowd showrooms so much that customers feel claustrophobic and want to dart through the nearest fire exit.
Basic Training 2: Customer Service
Like curb appeal, “first impressions are lasting impressions” when it comes to interpersonal communications.
Most of us have shopped in stores having one of two extremes in relation to customer service: either help is nowhere to be found, or their hard sell annoys the living daylights out of people.
It’s important to have knowledgeable, friendly employees that greet people at the door and offer assistance, but are sharp enough to excuse themselves if customers want time to look around. It’s a judgement call, but they should be near enough to answer questions, but far enough to give customers space.
If consumers want help from the beginning, however, salespeople should be prepared to offer judiciously amounts of product information with a strong dose of patience. By all means ask for the sale before they walk out the door!
Advanced Level 1: Use Factual Data
The retail market is now a continuum of change. Some old reliable sales-and-marketing techniques from yesteryear may no longer work in today’s home furnishings industry. Don’t rely on conventional wisdom, assumptions or hearsay unless they remain valid. There’s an enormous amount of useful online information, so it’s best to become proficient with the Google search.
Millennials, for example, have been much maligned by some experts as being non-buyers. Others say only the leading edge of the generation (1980 – 1999) has the income to be engaged buyers. While the latter is somewhat true, it can’t be denied that some Millennials are married homeowners while others are decorating apartments, dorm rooms or basement units in their parents’ homes.
For example, multiple sources (including Furniture Today and Better Homes and Gardens) state that Millennials were the largest group of homebuyers in the US during 2015. Other studies said the $27 B they spent on furniture and bedding in 2014 represented 37% of all households. Older generations certainly have greater incomes and may be the customer of yesterday and today, but Millennials have already proven they are the home furnishings customer of tomorrow.
It is also advantageous to remain current with the economic conditions affecting the supply and demand of home furnishings. For example, a search for “2017 economic trends affecting home furnishings” leads to several related links, including:
“5 Consumer Trends for 2017” — a macro view of economic factors such as “the virtual experience economy,” post-demographic consumerism where brands recognize non-traditional marketing segments, and an increased interest in sustainability.
“5 Top Trends in the Furniture Industry” — a January 2016 look at how retail home furnishings might be impacted by factors such as telecommuting and online channels as well as the demand for multi-functional, luxury and eco-friendly furniture by different market segments. Most of these trends remain valid.
Advanced Level 2: Think Digitally
Marketing in the digital era takes time and effort, and a little finesse. There are three options: do it yourself (DIY), do it for me (DIFM), or don’t do it at all (DDIAA). The latter may work for a few home furnishings dealers, but most merchants have seen or heard enough evidence to believe in the viability of maintaining proper web and social media presence. For the sake of brevity, only two areas will be mentioned here.
First, blogging is one of the most effective gizmos in the digital toolbox. According to the digital marketing juggernaut Hubspot (2015), “B2C companies that blogged 11+ times per month got more than 4X as many leads than those that blogged only 4-5 times per month.”
Blogging takes time and writing chops, or the capital to hire writers (DIFM), but it draws searchers to web sites and establishes credibility. Most active blogs offer forms enabling viewers to opt into receiving subsequent blog articles. Some of those blog subscribers will eventually become customers.
The most essential component of social media is knowing that generating engagement is more effective than selling. For example, Facebook users get very squirmy when companies hammer them with repeated sales offers. It’s better to establish credibility with consumers and have them recommend products via social media. For example, a survey conducted by Olapic and posted in ADWEEK shows that “76% of consumers find content posted by other consumers to be more honest than brand content.”
Advanced Level 3: Think Outside the Box
Operating a brick-and-mortar home furnishings store demands a certain degree of creativity when it comes to purchasing and displaying inventory. At the hands of a trained professional or someone with impeccable instincts, that creativity can approach professional ballet. For others, it may be a matter of staying current by keeping up with the latest trends and following the experts. With enough time and energy, some of that style may rub off on dealers and lead them to developing their own house styles.
Being a member of Furniture First and participating in local business orgs offers residual benefits to most retail operations such as networking and the opportunity for community service.
Finally, attending trade events such as Las Vegas Marketing can provide further inspiration for finding one’s own voice, and hopefully, the joy of operating a home furnishings store.
Why lose sales by turning away customers who prefer paying by check? According to the preliminary version of the 2016 Federal Reserve Payment Study, checks are still used for making large purchases in verticals such as home furnishings, auto dealerships and building materials.
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