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Furniture Materials Crash Course From Hazz Design: Part 1 – Wood Type, Grain & Color

Furniture World News Desk on 9/17/2012

Tracey & Tom Hazzard

Imagine a typical furniture shopping experience: a sales person approaches a customer and asks her what she is looking for. The customer gives a specific response, such as “Cherry” or “Leather.” The salesperson immediately takes her to the solid wood or leather shows her the best-selling collections. Soon afterward, she heads straight for the door, wondering in frustration, “Did he even hear me?” The sales person shakes his head, saying, “Typical, she doesn't really know what she wants.”

You have probably spent hours training your sales force on products, techniques and skills to avoid just this situation. So, what does work? In this series, we redefine industry jargon relating to materials, design and construction of furniture. In each part, we will delve into the terms typically used by knowledgeable, expert salespeople, but often end up confusing customers.

Even if you have been selling wood furniture for years, it is time for a refresher course on the layman’s (or woman’s) perception of industry terms. It often helps to delve a little deeper to find out what the customer really wants, even when she thinks she’s being specific.

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods:

There are pros and cons of both. Talking about this, especially at beginning of any sales conversation, sounds like jargon and misinformation. Maybe your customer is thinking, “Isn’t all wood hard?”

Botanically speaking, not all hardwoods are hard. And finishing can improve the durability of softwood so that it has all the same hardwood properties. Hardwoods are typically scarcer, more durable, and more expensive.

– To avoid confusion, talk about grain and color with customers instead. Save the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” for a final pitch or to explain why one wood costs more or is more durable than another.

Grain & Color:

Most consumers do not distinguish grain from color. This is the main communication breakdown. A consumer may know she wants a certain color that she has come to associate with, let’s say, cherry. She wants that nice reddish-brown look but does not necessarily expect to pay a solid wood price. Jumping too quickly to the solid wood collections might scare her into thinking that your store is too expensive, or later, that the cherry laminate is just too cheap in comparison.

- A better bet is to qualify and clarify all comments or expressions about color, type and grain carefully. Probe by showing examples and asking one or more of the following:

  •  Do you need to match or coordinate the finish or color with something else you own? What is it?
  • Do you want a large or small wood grain appearance?
  • How long do you expect this piece of furniture to last?
  • What kind of environment will it be in? Will you be eating on it or in it? Will kids be jumping on it? Are conditions very dry or too humid?

About Hazz Design: 
Graduates of Rhode Island School of Design, product designers Tracy and Tom Hazzard have worked together for most of their two-decade marriage and professional lives. Their shared vision that good design should never cost more, that there is always a solution, and that one-plus-one can have an exponential result has earned them career-expanding projects, multiple design awards, more than a dozen patents, two children and a fine-tuned sense of what consumers want and need in well-designed products. Visit them at www.hazzdesign.com. They can be reached via email at info@hazzdesign.com  or call 714-673-6541 for more information.

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