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Millennials: Congratulations Mom & Dad, It’s a Customer!

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 145 NO.3 May/June


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This year marks a monumental birthday for me. It is more impactful than when I turned 40 or 50. This month my only child turns 30-which, by any measure means that he is no longer a child. This realization hit me hard in April when I visited him in Albuquerque, NM.

I was in the Land of Enchantment for a store opening. Time was short, so I arranged to meet my son at his work location for lunch. Upon arrival I was greeted by the receptionist and told her “I am here to see Dylan”. She said she would have to see if Mr. Hecht was available. He was. She offered to lead me to his office and announced “Mr. Hecht, your guest is here.” At the moment I arrived as a “guest”, in my eyes, he had arrived as an adult.

2015 marks a moment for all of us who fight the daily retail battle. For most of us, our entire career has been centered on marketing and catering to Baby Boomers, that massive group of Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Some quick math shows that group will celebrate birthday 51-69 this year. Currently they total about 74.9 million people, and that number will shrink every year forward. Even sadder, that demographic-for the most part, is done buying furniture and mattresses. Perhaps a replacement item here and there and a small spend for downsizing, but be aware that for marketing purposes, that lake is fished out.

Don’t lock up the store quite yet! Boomers, as a buying demographic, are being replaced with Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1997. Their numbers are strong, 75.1 million brand new consumers for all kinds of household goods; electronics, appliances, furniture and bedding. Progressive retailers who market to this new age group will flourish in the coming decade! Store owners who promote like it’s 1979 will disappear from the retail landscape (Think Radio Shack). Millennials think and shop differently than Baby Boomers and Generation X (born between 1965 and 1989). They have different desires, demands, and expectations. While you may have struggled with 12:00 flashing on the Beta-max, they control their smart phones and master multiple apps and functions almost instantaneously.

Dylan (Mr. Hecht to all of us guests) drives a Scion and texts on a Samsung to friends on their HTCs. He’ll reach into his LG for an Angry Orchard after work while watching HULU, and munch some chips from Whole Foods. Re-read that sentence and notice that those brands were non-existent or insignificant in 1995. Clearly, legacy brands like GE, Whirlpool, RCA, CBS, Miller, and Safeway have no significance in Millennials’ shopping patterns. It will be the same for the brands you tout today - Thomasville, Sealy, Broyhill, La-Z-Boy, and more. Our contemporaries saw the value in owning Drexel, Henredon, and even Bassett. Our children are happy to get that cool chair from IKEA. And yes, they understand the assembly instructions!

Millennials were raised in a Microwave food, 30 minute pizza delivery environment. They seek quick satisfaction of their needs with a no hassle path to purchase. They shop Amazon partly because of the price, and also because of the Point, Click, and see it on your doorstep experience with a website that knows your name, address, and credit card number. Retailers that duplicate that process are tomorrow’s winners. Look at your store’s operations and policies and start to remove all of the roadblocks and stop signs. Set a stop watch on your check out procedure. If it takes longer than 5 minutes from shopper decision to order completion, you may not be sunk, but you are sinking!

It’s more than the ease of shopping that makes Millennials want to spend money with a store. It is an environment that reflects their lifestyle and concerns. I graduated college with only one debt, a lost library book! Millennials finish schooling with debt equal to a small condo in Sarasota. They have lived through a period with two recessions and little real wage growth. While they may earn good money today, many Millennials are skeptical of long term employment with a single entity. Combine that with tuition debt and you will understand why they are frugal with many purchases. Their expectation is that you should offer 0% finance terms (that’s all they have heard post-9/11). They like to keep control of their money and will seek stores with no-cost terms, even on low cost purchases. Based on Amazon Prime’s success, free delivery and hassle free returns are the price of admission for your store to stay in the game. Contrarily, Millennials will spend and wait for items considered cutting edge (think iPhone 6). Make your merchandise “must haves” instead of commodities and you will build your margins and reduce cancellations.

In case you didn’t know it, advertising has been evolving too! Fewer households are having a daily newspaper delivered, less people are watching network television, and Millennials are cutting the cord on cable and satellite TV. Streaming video, online advertising formatted to mobile devices, and social media are where Millennials get their information and entertainment. The word on the street is that the Internet is not a passing fad. Look at your budgeted advertising spend and if online based advertising IS NOT your largest investment; then you have failed to evolve. The Theory of Evolution states that survival of the fittest does not refer to the biggest, strongest, or fastest. The fittest survivors are those that can quickly adapt.

Like all groups, Millennials want to shop in a place with their vibe, and buy from people that look like them. Check out your store’s background music. If you are playing music from the 80s, you are 35 years behind the times. That would be equal to shopping during the 1970s in a store with background music from 1935! Switch up your selection to post 2000. Even if you don’t care for the music, you may like the money you make. It’s also time to start thinking about your recruiting efforts. Do Millennials think of your store as the workplace of choice? City Furniture in Florida has done a great job of hiring college students as summer interns. As a result, it attracts younger candidates who can sell and service younger shoppers.

Understand that your candidates will look and sound differently than your current staff. While you may have subconsciously (or possibly knowingly) avoided hiring store staff with tattoos or piercings in the past, it is now the social norm. As always; hiring for attitude and training for aptitude will always get you better long term associates. Millennials desire real time for friends and family. The demands of a retail schedule often preclude this, so move towards a family and employee friendly work week to the greatest degree possible. Consider a 4-day work week or alternating weekend or evenings off. You may need to hire part-time sales and office help to give your frontline forces their desired time off. Larger organizations can attract and retain top talent with tuition reimbursement or retroactive help in paying off college debt based on time employed. It’s probably worth $1000 a year to keep your best people!

In my consulting travels to businesses, both world-class and sub-par, I often hear my Baby Boomer store owners and managers tell me, “I know my customer, and I know what they want”. My belief is that they may know what Baby Boomers of their income level and gender want, and a vague notion of what the opposite gender Boomers want, but are probably out of touch with Gen-X and Millennials. It’s understandable, as we tend to socialize and interact with people of our generation, no matter when we were born. To get a snapshot of your inter-generational knowledge take the short quiz below and self-check your answers. You can use that thing called “Google”, if needed.

MILLENIAL QUIZ

1. The president that  followed John Kennedy was named_______________.

2. Spotify helps me enjoy _______________.

3. Mickey Mantle played for this team._________________.

4. One of the competitive events in the X games is ______________.

5. One of the characters on The Facts of Life was called_____________.

6. Lauren Cohan appears on this show________________.

7. Match the song with the artist...
Songs: Light My Fire, Crack That Whip, Cruel to be Kind.
Artists: Nick Lowe, Devo, The Doors.

8. Match the song with the artist...
Songs: Chains, Shut Up and Dance, Trap Queen.
Artists: Fetty Wap, Nick Jonas, Walk the Moon.


If you found the odd numbered questions easy and struggled with the even numbered questions, then it would be odd if you were really in touch with your new audience. Learn how Millennials think, look, and shop. You’ll never get better until you change your outlook. Start by listening to some new music. Change up the radio station from XM 7 and you’ll find some of it is really good. Talk to your adult children’s friends (your kids will just tell you what you want to hear) and invite them to critique your store and website. Flip off Nick at Nite and check out some of the independently produced programs on Crackle and Hulu. If you want to see a retail store truly devoted to Millennials, spend 30 minutes at the Apple store where you can touch and feel new products, bring in a problem to get resolved or just chat about what’s new and exciting. Can you imagine that happening in your four walls?

Blockbuster, Woolworth, Pontiac, and Pan-Am, all once mighty forces in their fields are now gone. They did not adapt to changing times and changing shopper trends. Our industry is no different, with far less stores and far less suppliers than 20 years ago. Move forward with the times. Get to know what your new shoppers find attractive, and what turns them away from your business. Cater to those needs and you can survive and flourish. In the meantime, HITAKS!

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