As unbelievable as it seems, there are just a few weeks left in 2011. While most of us have had triumphs and victories this year, I haven’t talked to too many people who aren’t looking forward to turning the page to 2012 with the hope of better times for our business.
For the last 15 years I have committed to a New Years’ resolution, and for most of those years I have valiantly persevered all the way to January 15th with those resolutions. For 2011 I made an easy resolution; I wanted to lose 70 pounds during the year. Luckily, I can still reach that goal, however I will have to cut off my left leg to do it.
So in these last few days of December, those of us who make resolutions will have to decide what we want to accomplish in the following twelve months. As this is the “Information Age” I looked toward the Internet for some guidance and found the top 7 New Years’ Resolutions that people make. They are:
- Lose Weight
- Improve my looks
- Make new Friends
- Go Back to School
- Find Someone to Love
- Be more popular
- Give something back to the community
I may choose one of the Top 7 or may decide on something completely different. But if you are like me, you may find this a good time to choose one or more of these as a Furniture Retailer Resolution. If you write it down, plan it out and get a little help from your Sales and Operations team you should be able to get way past the January 15th wall that I hit this year.
Lose Weight: I’ll bet that your store has some weight to lose, and you won’t even have to go on Atkins! This is a great time to look at all of the baggage you have hanging around the middle that is weighing you down. For many of you it may be the $10,000 to $100,000 in Damaged, Discontinued, and Downright worthless merchandise on your books. What a great time to wipe the slate clean and maybe pick up some cash flow. Take Q1 2012 to aggressively price all of the things that are not selling in your store. You are losing 3% of their value every month on those old accents, discontinued dining chairs, odd lamps, along with odd end tables, ottomans, and footboards that are clogging up your DC. The $10-$99-$199 you can get for them today can be used to invest in merchandise that will really turn.
And… speaking of not selling, take a hard look at the bottom 2 or 3 people on your sales staff. Drawing in traffic these days is darned expensive! If you have people working with your shoppers and converting less than 20% you are losing money with every door swing. Be sure they have the training, knowledge, and coaching, but set a firm timeline for achievement and stick to it.
Improve my looks: I tried “Just For Men” and it just wasn’t for me! And besides, my wife thinks grey hair makes me look distinguished (or did she say extinguished?). So maybe I will buy some new shoes or shirts. For you in Ground Level Retail, look at one of your biggest investments… the four walls around you. Your customers judge your store within 20 feet of your entrance. Start by standing in your parking lot. Are there potholes in the asphalt, rust on the sign, or is the facade old and tired looking? Remove the scotch taped signs and yellowed Visa stickers from your front doors. Then check your walls for nails with no pictures, holes with no nails, and dented, faded, or torn wallpaper. It may be time for a color refresh, a few buckets of paint go a long way in improving your store’s appeal. How is that carpet looking? Don’t wait for Spring to have it cleaned… it will only get worse. Most of all, check out your floor samples. After your January Sales Events it may be time to switch some of those out.
Then look at your customer service area. Does it inspire or detract from a customer’s confidence in your operation? Remove all those signs that are taped to the counter or wall. They are ugly and unprofessional. And those hidden areas behind the counter that you think customers never see… well, shoppers see those too!
We are selling style and fashion, clean and new! Does your sales, office, and delivery staff appearance make that statement? Whether you believe in Khakis and polos, shirts and ties, or jackets and sweaters, they have to be bright, clean, and pressed. Oh, and by the way, successful sales people wear shined shoes.
Make new friends: A great way to make new friends is to throw the best parties! Promote a Free Furniture Give-away where your customers can win a $5,000 Furniture Makeover. Be sure that everyone gets a special offer coupon and your business will be great.
Another good way to make friends is to have other friends who are influential or famous. You would be amazed how many people will stand in line to meet a Celebrity, Sports Star, or even a local TV or Radio Personality! Better yet, charge a few bucks for a photo or autograph and donate the money to charity. The result will be crowds of people in your store and good work for your community all rolled in one! It’s a Public Relations dream!
I even heard of a store in Springfield, IL that is parking a Harley Davidson inside their store throughout the month of December. Tons of people are coming by to see it. And every Saturday they bring in Santa Claus, who for $10, poses for a photo with shoppers on a Harley. The Store includes two really nice frames and all of that money is going to a community service organization. You may want to know that they don’t mind sharing their big toys… at the end of the promotion; they will give the Harley Davidson away to one of their new friends.
These are just a few examples. Right now, today, we need to bring as many people as possible into our stores. Think like a retailer, don’t think like a furniture guy! Not everyone is going to buy today, tomorrow, or ever. But fill a store with 400 shoppers; treat them like friends and guests, and something good is going to happen.
Go Back to School: That doesn’t mean buying a new “Happy Days” lunchbox and sitting behind one of those desks. And I don’t think my knuckles could take one more rap with a yardstick. What it does mean is to improve your skills. For some of us it may mean improving computer skills (I heard computers are here to stay). Or you may want to read a book on Salesmanship, Efficiency, Customer Service, Coaching, or Design.
Start a Store Library for Business and People Skill books. Add a section on furniture styles and interior design. Have a monthly sales meeting that involves watching some of those great design shows so many of your customers are watching. You can even bring in a local speaker or share selling insights with another (non-furniture) retailer. Imagine what you could learn about customer care from a restaurant manager!
Find Someone to Love: It happened to me at home 20 years ago, so that resolution is off my list. But in my retail life I was always looking for someone to love… and by that I mean RECRUITING. It truly is an everyday thing. The average furniture sales consultant produces $550,000 to $650,000 in retail sales every year. It’s about $50K a month. So, if you have a vacant spot in your schedule, you can figure on losing close to that amount every month until you fill it. You might think that the balance of your staff makes up the difference, but it simply isn’t true. I have never seen a retail furniture store add well-trained sales staff and have a drop in total sales in the following month. You may have noticed that the AVERAGE consultant sells $50,000 a month. Logic says if you have someone producing less… they are below average. And while I like average people, I am heavily attracted to above average producers, but I can only truly love a STAR. Wouldn’t you love to have a $1 million dollar writer on your staff? If you have one already, wouldn’t you love to have two? Here is a hint… if they are not on your staff today, they are outside of your doors. Recruit, and you may find that special someone to love!
Be More Popular: Operating or managing a business is not a “Popularity Contest”, nor should it be. You have to make the hard decisions and choices, and be “fair” and responsible every day. Keep in mind though that the Number #1 reason someone decides to leave or stay on the job is their relationship with their immediate supervisor. If they believe that you treat them with respect and are fair with them, your staff will stay with you forever. Even if the other guy pays more, makes fewer demands, asks them to work shorter hours, or is closer to their home. This doesn’t mean that you kowtow to their every whim. Mostly it means doing the most important part of your job. Be a leader.
You don’t have to be Mr. or Mrs. Sunshine, or be fair 100% of the time. What you do need to be is consistent. Your people need to know what to expect from you and what your expectations are of them. Flying off the handle, cursing, kicking, and not explaining what you want (or how to get there) will not win you any popularity contests!
A little fun once in a while helps. The company summer picnic and holiday party should not be a thing of the past. Or move into the 21st Century and host a Wii or Xbox party in your warehouse. Heavy traffic and Big Promotion days are more fun when served up with a “covered dish” buffet. You don’t need to spend a lot, but you will get a lot.
I suggest the “covered dish” buffet. Let me know when you are having yours!
Give Back to the Community: One of our friends told us that her new boyfriend was very civic minded. In fact, he just completed 200 hours of Community Service!
You probably want to give back to your community in a different way. You don’t have to be big, bold, and splashy, because every little bit helps. Choose a cause or project that you believe in, and give your time as well as your money. Anybody can write a check, but to be involved, you have to be on site. It’s also a great team builder for your staff (refer to previous section). You will feel great, you’ll be helping someone, and you will soon build a strong network of community leaders who will know that your store is a great place to shop. If you need ideas on how to get involved, just contact the organization that supports your cause, and they will be willing to get you started!
The journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step. We have a fresh new year ahead of us! The top 7 resolutions give us a lot to do, and it is a tall order. Take the one or two you like, commit to them, plan it out and let me know about your successes. May your resolutions make it past January and cross the finish line next December. And when we go to lunch… order me a salad!
Gordon Hecht is a 35+ year veteran of the Furniture Business, starting as a delivery helper in Las Vegas, NV. He has been recognized for outstanding achievement in sales, sales and store management, and in multi-store management with Drexel-Heritage, RB Furniture, and Sofa Express. As Director of Sales for the Ashley Sleep division of Ashley Furniture Industries, Gordon travels the East, Midwest, and Canada training retail sales teams on selling bedding and works with store owners to maximize sales. Gordon resides in Columbus, OH with his wife, Michelle, and has one adult son. You can contact Gordon at Ghecht@ashleyfurniture.com
Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht