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Furniture Retailers Go Tribal - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


Part 1: Gather up your Tribe and lead them!

Sales & Management Skills by Margarett DeGange, M.Ed.

´╗┐This is a new day—sort of, and things are not the same—not exactly. Something has changed—kind of. What’s different is the way we must do business in order to be firmly planted as the future comes forth to meet us.
This is the day of the tribe, the day of community, and the day of meaningful connections. The old era of the big company, with the big CEO in the big private office, hiding out behind big T.V. ads is just about over as a viable way of doing business. Today, people want more personal and authentic associations with those with whom they do business.

The concept of the tribe is something to seriously think about. There has been a buzz about tribes for a while now. Some people are talking about tribes, and some have written on the subject, Seth Godin probably being the first. Godin is the author of “Tribes”, a book on the tribal mentality in the context of new marketing. You should pick up a copy. There’s a new mindset you’ll get from the wisdom on the pages if you read with an open heart (oooh, did I say “heart”)? Learning about the tribal mentality can help you let go of the “sell lots of stuff” focus. The result may just be that you find yourself in the near future swimming happily in a river of sales success.

So what is a tribe, anyway? A tribe is a group of people who have a common purpose and a leader that guides them, informs them, respects them, and heralds change. People today WANT to be a part of a tribe, and many seek them out. It makes sense then, that pioneering tribe leaders are in high demand. If you are willing to learn about tribes, and if you are willing to visualize yourself functioning very well in business this way, then your customers, your website visitors, your blog readers, and your prospects can all become members of a tribe that you (or an innovative co-worker or employee) lead.

Tribes are all about social interchange. Tribes consist of a leader and members. According to Godin the interactions and communication within a tribe can go in several directions, including leader to tribe members, tribe members to leader, and tribe members to tribe members. The key to creating a valuable and lasting tribe is to lead with passion, have a compelling idea or story around which the tribe rallies, and get the tribe members connecting and communicating with one another.

Are Tribes a NEW Thing?

There’s nothing new under the sun, and tribes are far from new! People are still people, and what drives and motivates human behavior has been pretty much the same for plenty of years.

Tribes have and always will be all around us, and have always been in motion. People have and will continue to gather into tribes for social, political, and personal reasons. Music lovers who used to tune in faithfully to The Lawrence Welk Show were members of a tribe, Weight Watchers attendees of today are in a tribe, and New York Yankees fans make up a tribe. We are all tribe members, and most of us belong to a number of different tribes.

No, tribes are not new. What is new is the way the development of the Internet has fueled the tribal mentality, causing the world to go “social” in a major way. In light of this non-reversible development, keenly aware business people are springing into action. Today, we must relate to our customers (and our “not yet” customers) in a noteworthy way in order to help secure a long-term, meaningful business relationship with them.

The key word here is “meaningful”. The day of sending off a giant postcard or colorful sales flyer to someone who does not want it, and expecting it to work to bring in sales, is over. For years advertisers bombarded and interrupted people in their homes with jingles, gimmicks, information, and sales of the century, and people just accepted it because there was no definitive format for another way. Now, there is.

In light of all this talk about the “new” era, there is a certain irony. We are almost going back to a day before the dollar was king and business was booming in the US and the world. We are actually going back to our tribal roots in order to succeed and prosper. But this time, we are reinventing the concept of the tribe.

Some Owners Already Have a Tribe Mentality

I personally built my home fashions design and decorating business on the concept of the tribe, although 10, 15, and 20 years ago I did not call it that. I also did not have the Internet during most of that time to fuel and propel my business and help me lead the tribe. My customers and prospects didn’t either, so they were not talking to one another like they would be talking today.

What I did have back then was a desire to run a business, embrace new ideas, see people happy, and help them find unique solutions to improving their homes, and I connected people together through scheduled customer events. I also had a hint of the personality-type that liked to socialize (although I am mostly a task/results-oriented type of person).

In my days as an active interior decorating/design professional, I dealt day-in and day-out with homeowners looking to beautify their spaces, so it was a natural fit for me to establish quality interactions with clients. I sought to connect with them in a way that would build solid relationships long-term. The reasons, that are the same for most home furnishings retailers are as follows:

1) The consulting aspect of our businesses require customers/clients to trust us in order for our advice to carry weight with them.

2) Many of the products they purchase are high ticket items, and some had to be bought in stages.

3) The products and services we sell are emotionally and (let me walk on egg shells here) even spiritually tied to the mind of the customer in a deep way
The third reason may very well be the most significant, particularly in building a tribe. Let me explain. In the home fashions business, that includes furniture sales, decorating, and a slew of niche enterprises, we do not really sell products. What we sell first and foremost is the fulfillment of dreams— the opportunity for people to enrich their lives and the way they interact and function in their homes through wonderful products that resonate with them, help them, support them, and make them feel very good. THAT very idea is the powerful story around which you can build YOUR tribe.

What Tribe Members Want

It is the tribe leader’s responsibility to find out specifically what tribe members want, and of course it’s different for each type of tribe. For the most part, tribe members want connection, and they want to use their voice. In terms of connection, they are either looking to connect to a leader, to other tribe members, to an idea, or to a combination of the three. In terms of a voice, they want to have input, be heard, be listened to, and be respectfully responded to. Many people today take the initiative to be heard, particularly with all of the Internet tools built to help them do so. Both good experiences and bad are now being shouted from the rooftops.

Tribe members are looking for an experience, for a story. For home furnishings and home fashions professionals, this means that the focus on the sales floor should be on the uniqueness of each customer’s experience and not simply on products. Consumers today want to spend their time and money on things that are important to them, things they can believe in. They want to purchase home products that are not off-the-shelf—that fit in with their sense of fashion and are in line with their individual values and lifestyles. As professionals, we have to help them see the link between our products and a better way of life. If you can relate to tribe members this way, you build loyalty.

You cannot legislate loyalty. Loyalty is something that comes from interacting with tribe members to co-create the results you both are looking for. People are no longer blindly loyal to brands or to specific products or product lines. Instead, they are loyal to good relationships and the people within them.
Tribe members want you to ask them what THEY need and want. They do not want you to TELL THEM what they need and want. The customer is in an extremely powerful position today, and should be allowed to stay there. In fact, businesses that will not listen to the voices of their tribe members will see themselves closing their doors.

The exceptional thing about building a tribe and interacting with them based on what THEY want, is that tribe members by their very nature seek to give back that same loyalty and support to those that lead them. If you bond with your tribe, inform them, watch out for them (“wow Mrs. Taylor, I’ve been keeping my eye out, and a new fabric came in today that I just know you will absolutely love”), they will without a doubt eagerly and happily do business with you (“thanks Frank, you are always so good to me—I’ll be in tomorrow afternoon to take a look”). Best of all, they will share their story (which they co-created with you) with their buddies, family, and co-workers and with their droves of virtual friends.

Society has changed. Today, people want to stand for something, they want to purchase products that have a story behind them, that add value and meaning to their lives, and they are constantly encouraged through new media and the Internet to communicate their experiences (their stories) with others. This can absolutely work for you in a tremendous way if you embrace this new paradigm and serve others through it.

Do You Have What it Takes to Lead a Tribe?

Leaders are those who embrace change by not being afraid of it even though they may be uncomfortable with it for a time. Embracing change, and communicating it in a way that helps your tribe members, is KEY to your tribe’s success.

If you want to be a tribe leader, grab hold of a philosophy other than “all I want to do is sell more product”, which is shallow in today’s social climate, and people see right through it. An effective leader has a GOAL in mind that is told through a story, and he creates a MOVEMENT or a culture (a tribe) surrounding that story. In the case of a furniture store for example, that goal (story) could be something like, We are on a mission at “XYZ” Furniture. Our passion and our constant commitment is to empower others to change their lives for the better through interior decoration and design; to help them create beautiful, comfortable homes that reflect and support the personalities, the unique lifestyles, and the personal family philosophies of the people who live within them. We continuously educate, inspire, and equip our customers so they can create interiors that support how they want to live. We hope our customers will spread this philosophy to others.

Leaders then go on to engage their tribe members and to reiterate the story, the goal. To be authentic as a leader, the story must be personally meaningful to you and must reflect how you honestly feel. Even if you do not put the story in writing for your tribe members to see, they should be able to easily pick up on the essence of the story, by the way the store functions and by the way sales associates, design professionals, managers, and owners within the store operate and communicate.

Good leaders do well because their eye is always on the goal, on how to accomplish the mantra if you will, so they really don’t care too much about outside criticism or other so-called leaders who try to spoil the party. Instead, true leaders are ignited by their passion to do everything in their power to live their mission, engage their tribe, and get them interacting. Then, the whole concept behind a tribe becomes fun, exciting, and a way of life. At that point, it’s easy to sell products because each sale has meaning and is attached to offering real solutions that customers want and need.

Leaders have charisma and they naturally attract followers. That’s the beauty of leading a tribe with a sincere desire to do so. Anyone with a desire can lead a tribe. Employees can be leaders and managers can be leaders, too. No, you don’t have to look like Leonardo DiCaprio or Penelope Cruise, and you don’t have to act like James Bond either, you just have to be yourself and be committed to your tribe, and sincerely care about them.

Are you a business owner, important manager, or head of customer service? If so, do you hob-nob with your customers, personally reply to their emails, send them a birthday card or hand-written thank you note for their purchase (or better yet, for their return store visit to “just look around”), or are they simply peons you would not squander your time mingling with? Customers and prospects can easily be coaxed into becoming loyal members of the tribe by how you interact with them. Don’t be luke warm. I challenge you to cook or get out of the kitchen.

Leading a tribe is about having the right attitude, and leveling the playing field of human importance between you and your prospect or customer. It means you have to value each person you come in contact with as much as you value yourself. What they want becomes just as important as what you want. Their time is just as valued as your time.

Always be passionate about taking great care of each and every member of your tribe.

Next issue

This three part series will continue with a discussion how you can grow your furniture business by creating, leading and nurturing your tribe.

Margarett (Margo) DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign. For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process.

Two of Margo’s popular products for furniture store owners and their sales professionals are The Decorating School Crash Course Power-Ed Pack (9 design lessons on video/audio with 12 hours of content), and the matching Decorating School Crash Course Learner Files to measure learning, provide added interactivity, and motivate sales consultants to own their opportunities for growth.

Visit Margo DeGange’s website at www.DecoratingForProfits.com  for more information. Send email and questions to her at Margarett@furninfo.com.

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