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Retail Sales Super Snoopers

Furniture World Magazine


Your customers want you to help them create the image they long to portray through their rooms... to friends, guests and themselves.

Sales Skills by Cathy Finney

Note From Contributing Editor Joe Capillo: Cathy Finney, whose passing has saddened us all, recently submitted this article for publication In FURNITURE WORLD Magazine. Those of you who knew Cathy and dealt with her over the decades know that she was always trying to open all our eyes to the value of dealing with customers on a higher level than (as she might say) just “selling them a “green one”. So, please enjoy this, the last of her messages to FURNITURE WORLD readers. We’ll miss her excitement, her dedication to ideals, and her advice.

There is no obvious reason why our customers should decorate their homes, but we humans don’t need an excuse to do what comes naturally. They decorate their surroundings to claim them as their own, to make them feel comfortable, functional, tell something about themselves to visitors or bolster their own sense of self. This designing imperative is far from a random process.

Dr. Sam Gossling, The author of “SNOOP,” a book that deals with the psychology of everyday possessions says, “We can capture something about a person’s character and personality, values and habits, hopes and dreams, just from looking closely at their rooms.” Clues to character that are left behind are like a mosaic of personality.

Dr. Gossling hired teams of researchers to look around people’s spaces; their homes, dorm rooms and offices. One team was asked to write down their impressions of the owner of each room based solely on their snooping. At first he thought that it would be difficult to get people to allow “snoopers” in to look at the placement and organization of their furniture, accessories, books and personal photos. Who would want strangers making judgements about them based on the level of mess or the fact that they alphabetize the books on their book shelves or arrange their sock drawer with all the socks facing the same way? He was surprised to find his subjects were willing to go along with this because they wanted to find out how they are seen on the basis of their personal spaces.

Gossling used a second team of researchers to catalog the details of each space. He also asked the occupants to fill out a personality questionnaire and had each subject’s friends fill out a questionnaire as well. This final step was necessary because people often don’t see themselves as others see them.

His findings are interesting and useful to those of us who make a living helping “Ethel” to buy our furniture that will make her rooms, just what she wants them to be.

Based on Gossling’s analysis of the data, he determined that there are three broad processes that affect how people decorate and keep their spaces.

Identity claims:
These are deliberate statements our customers make to others and themselves through their belongings. Identity Claims tell the world what they’re about, and include items such as posters, bumper stickers, awards, photos, and mementos… the ones that scream out, “Mine, mine!” Bumper stickers are great in defining their owners. (Be Your Own goddess… Whining Isn’t Winning!... When You’re In Second Place, Your View Never Changes...You’re Either Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution.) People who have a poster of Malcolm X, Albert Einstein, Cute Kittens or Arnold Swartzeneger over their fireplace or above their desk are making a statement. Do they have pictures of themselves meditating on a mountain or partying with friends on their walls? A collection of romance novels, or encouraging sayings stuck to the refrigerator door can also be telling.

Feeling Regulators:
These possessions affect how our customers think and feel; subtly or obviously altering their spaces. For example, a trinket displayed prominently on your customer’s desk might make its owner feel romantic, but would be meaningless to casual observers. Feeling regulators help them think about happier times, focus on an important task, or get excited about an upcoming event!

Behavioral Residue:
These are inadvertent traces of behavior. Your customer’s messy house might be a Feeling Regulator or Identity Claim (For example, showing their mom that they don’t need to clean up their room anymore!) but could just be behavioral residue. Perhaps it is a habit or an indication of a busy lifestyle. It could be that your customer doesn’t think it’s messy, or he or she might have a sloppy roommate. Behavioral Residues are hardest to control. Different personalities perceive the world in various ways, and behaviors are subject to external circumstances. Sometimes it is the lack of an act that leaves a residue; the soiled empty coffee cup on the desk is a residue of inaction that tells a lot about a person’s traits, values, and goals. Traces of personality can be found in the most unlikely places.

So what does all this have to do with furnishing our customers rooms and selling furniture?

We’ve established that Fred and Ethel’s home is their palette. That’s why you need to find out what they are painting on their canvas, so you can turn that mess into a masterpiece that reflects their identity.

What does their home look like? Is it sleek and dramatic, cozy, warm, and inviting, fun, lived in, and full of “busy parts?” Is it spilling with furniture and knick-knacks as far as the eye can see? What accent pieces are taking up residence? What “trinkets” are strewn across their desks? Is what’s on display promoting their passion? If not, perhaps they might want to consider discarding any and all “items,” and start over! Does what’s scattered across their cocktail tables tell the world what they’re thinking about?

Decor Decoders:
Most of your customers don’t have any idea what they’re broadcasting to the world, but those coffee cups on the desk, and the wilting plant in the corner are signals to observant retail “snoops”.

You can discover what your customers are saying and what they really want. Dianna Booher, author of “The Voice of Authority,” points out, “The customer sees you as equivalent to a website or a brochure.

Communication skills are the only thing that sets you apart from any other source of information. It’s all about communication.”

So how do you communicate the information your customers may want to know about what their spaces are saying? First you need to get some information from them.

A house call is certainly the best way. As mentioned in my January 2000 article, “Make More House Calls,” When you are invited into her residence, “Ethel” becomes more than just a customer. She becomes your client! That's how you can build your base and your business.

The national average closing percentage for a first-time customer walking into a retail home furnishings store is approximately 25% (17%-18% may be much more realistic!). The closing percentages for house calls are between 93%-98%. If a customer trusts you enough to let you in her home, she has bought you already!

As Dr. Gossling found out, your customers really do want to know how other people view them on the basis of their home décor. They already know that their friends, family and houseguests are expert snoopers, making all sorts of judgments from the moment they walk through the door. Guests are generally too polite to tell their hosts that their room décor makes them seem tasteless, like a pack rat, or a narcissist. That’s why they should hire you, a real professional to help them to create the image they really want to project.

So what might you say to get “Ethel” to say yes to a house call appointment?

  • "Let me tell you about a service I offer to my clients who purchase here at Sofas-R-Us."
  • "Yes, I am going to help you coordinate your room, based on what you tell me you want to create; the feeling and purpose you want it to project."
  • "Let me come out and verify the measurements. That way,
    I'm responsible!"

  • "I offer this service to my clients who purchase, so that the process is fun. I will also save you a great deal of time and effort. I will do the work for you."
  • "Think of me as your room doctor. You bring me in when your room needs a little help."

Once you are in “Ethel’s” home you can do some snooping. Decode what makes her tick. Find out about her family and how she intends to use her room. Yes, you will get measurements of her room, but you are also there to get enough information to personalize a room plan so that it will be appropriate for her lifestyle as she wants it to be; not necessarily as it appears now.

Dr. G cautions us that the biggest mistake people make is to put great emphasis on single clues. There are many reasons why a customer might have a stuffed kangaroo in the corner of their room. This single clue should be modified by other clues. Build up a case, piece by piece.
He says that we should be cautious about
distinctive objects… those that really stick out. For example, his researchers visited a person who seemed to have a socially responsible, kind person’s room. She had a non-edgy music collection, and inviting space, and a calendar with socially responsible events marked off. In the corner was a plastic crate with a bunch of drug paraphernalia. If you see something that is inconsistent, you should discount it. Or ask questions. He says to allow distinctive things to fade into the background so you will be able to see consistencies.

You have an advantage over Dr. G’s researchers in that you’ve already spoken to your client and collected some useful information up front.

You not only need to be on the lookout for what they need, but also who they are and how they want to buy. Some of your customers’ most obvious needs cannot be discovered by peering into their closets and checking out the clutter in their home offices. So be sure, that while you are snooping for information about their rooms, read your customers, react to them as individuals and respond to their moods, and mannerisms.

Dr. Gosling emphasizes, “What we can learn from how people shake hands or how they decorate their desks serves as a working hypothesis into the customer’s psyche.”

One person who has taken looking into his customer’s psyche seriously is Chris Travis. Mr. Travis runs Sentient Architecture, a firm that conducts in depth interviews that try to get to the heart of how his clients perceive the space they want him to design. His system matches psychological needs to physical spaces and the feelings they evoke. His architectural plans don’t have labels such as bedroom, dining room or living room. His labels denote the psychological space… the feeling each room evokes. This might be a great idea for your next presentation!

“We define “home” as an ontological state – a state of being,’ says Travis on his blog at http://architecture-of-life.blogspot.com. “’Being at home’ is the experience of living in a physical and psychological place that inspires and empowers a sustainable and fulfilling experience of life.”

So, Question! Gather! Listen! Collect your props. Help this “person” steal the show. Make her the “main attraction.” The plot revolves around her wants and needs for her family and her home. We’re not selling furniture. We’re fulfilling dreams. We’re creating magic. We’re bringing the rooms in her home to life! It’s the “nest.” It’s where she relaxes, recharges, and re-energizes.


  1. Smile! You are a professional.
  2. Tell “Ethel” that your job is to help her with her room, making it easy, painless & fun! Say that you will do all of the work so that she has none of the worry!
  3. Treat “Ethel” as a unique individual. Don’t spout forth the same script to every customer you encounter
  4. Be friendly and look forward to finding out who your new customers are.
  5. Never hide out in “Fortdom,” behind the counter, your desk, or the lunchroom.
  6. Learn how to ask for referrals.
  7. Tell Ethel WHO you are, WHY you are here and HOW you can help her.
  8. When closing, Don’t say, “let’s write up the order,” instead say, "Let’s Do It! Let’s get your new room started!"
  9. Use open ended question
    s instead of the dreaded “Lizard Words” that customers can answer with a yes or NO.
  10. Sales by appointment is not an impossible dream.


Cathy Finney, effervescent sales educator, motivator, management consultant and longtime contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD Magazine died on June 8th after a long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. She was 59 years old.

Cathy helped retail furniture store sales and design associates to turn customers (she called them Fred and Ethel) into clients. An enthusiastic mentor and friend to up-and-coming salespeople, she told them to remember that they are skilled professionals and that “Ethel” needs them to get the best possible result for her room or project.

Toward this end she advised them to say, “I’m here to assist you and save you time.” “I want to establish a long-term relationship with you.” I’m here to make this process easy, painless, and fun!”

She was, in fact, a dynamo in a tiny physical package. Her attitude in confronting her MS was reflected in her advice to FURNITURE WORLD readers. She asked them to be fearless, get out from behind the ‘Fort’, tell Ethel who they are, how they work and what they expect Ethel to do for them.”

Cathy Finney got her start in the furniture business with Ethan Allen where she worked closely with Furniture Hall of Fame member Nathan Ancell. Her company, Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T" resulted from that close relationship.
When diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1997, Cathy jumped into learning everything she could about MS and how she could turn a life changing moment into an opportunity to connect with others and make a difference. That is exactly what she did. She started two MS support groups, spoke at MS meetings throughout Pennsylvania and assisted with a variety of fund raising efforts to secure support for basic multiple sclerosis research.

She also wrote inspirational thoughts for a local Central PA neurologist’s web site to connect and motivate other individuals living with MS. In the Fall of 2000, Cathy graced the cover of the National MS Society’s magazine, “Inside MS” and was featured in an article entitled” Cathy Finney’s Story – MS means must succeed at making adjustments!” This was a start of a nationwide speaking tour for Cathy sharing her personal story with other National MS Society Chapters across the country and as a motivational speaker for Biogen.

Cathy Finney worked tirelessly for the welfare of persons with MS. According to Cathy, “there is a reason why people get MS, a fate or purpose, a personal challenge or a tool to teach others or a platform to do some good in the world.” Cathy lived her life focusing on these words.

Those wishing to make a contribution in Cathy Finney’s name can send it to the MS Society, Central Pennsylvania Chapter, 2040 Linglestown Rd., Ste. 104, Harrisburg, PA 17110, Phone: 717-652-2108.

Cathy's articles that help store managers, retail sales and design associates turn “browsers into clients”, are posted to the sales education and sales management article archives on the the www.furninfo.com  website.