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A Boring Vision Statement Won't Cut It

Furniture World Magazine


In just thirty-five minutes you can write a dynamic vision statement for your store.

Boring will not work for retailers in 2003. Boring, look-alike ads, boring sales talks, boring “people media,” — none of these will work. (People media are the communications between people that take place in your organization and beyond. These are messages about your company being sent in words, actions, and body language from the top, through the entire organization, and eventually through your customers and vendors to the community at large.)

Don’t worry; this article will not be another pep talk. Hard information will be presented along with a “silver bullet” method that will help you write a dynamite personal and business vision-statement for 2003. Why a vision-statement? Without a vision-statement, businesses, organizations, and even countries perish. Not in a dramatic way perhaps, but slowly, inch by inch. It takes more than a vision-statement, of course. It also takes integrity of commitment, excellence, and caring. However, the process begins with a vision-statement. As an anonymous writer once advised: “Hitch your wagon to a star and then get out and push.” This article will tell you exactly how to define that star and hitch up to it. The required grunt-work that must follow is up to you.

Let’s get back to the issue of “boring” not working. What are we to do when we are confronted by uncertainty, when the grind seems meaningless, and the government seems powerless to fix very much? According to Oxford professor Theodore Zeldin: “… people have sometimes found a way out by changing the subject of the conversation, or the way they talked, or the persons they talked to. In the past that gave us the Renaissance… Now its time for the New Conversation.” (See FAST COMPANY, Feb. 2003, page 16.)

This New Conversation must begin between you and your associates. No more discussion can take place about lowered expectations, or the loss of confidence in our business leaders. A new, fresh conversation must be set into motion… a jolt of fresh possibilities, ungoverned optimism, daring creativity... it’s time for a renaissance in retail. For the moment we will ignore the deadening demands of financial metrics. We need fewer timid conversations about the numbers and more conversations about daring, high-profile leadership possibilities. “High-profile” does not refer to the old-fashioned narcissistic leaders who once strutted the furniture markets. We need mature, realistic leaders who can grasp and face the somber realities of what is, but not be bound by them… leaders who can also see the boundless opportunities of what could be… what ought to be.

Now, if you have forecasts, and balance sheets, and budgets, why do you need a vision-statement? Because forecasts and balance sheets are boring, and boring will not motivate the troops in 2003. You must have a clear concept of what you want to accomplish, one not bounded or defined purely by numbers. Imagine going to an airplane ticket counter and asking for a ticket. The attendant asks: “Where is it you want to go?” You reply, “Somewhere exciting, better than where I am now. But within a 500 mile radius of where I am.”

Silly, isn’t it? Yet this is the kind of boring vision conversation most organizations seem to indulge in. Associates in the vast majority of organizations are clueless with regard to the aspirations, goals and vision that furniture storeowners have for their furniture stores. They have no clear picture of where their company wants to be by “this time” next year. There are no productive conversations about vision, only vague references to (yawn) numbers. An opportunity is lost here, because a dynamic vision-statement is your starting point for building a great company. A shared vision-statement will lead to a richer, immensely more exciting organization. All you need to begin the process is to formulate that vision and communicate it with resolution and sincerity. The possibilities will no longer be limited and cramped, they will become virtually unbounded.

There is nothing mysterious or magic about this. When you paint a bold vision-statement picture with confident strokes, you put your stamp upon the future. You will capture the attention of your associates… and the conversations will change. What they say to each other, what they say to vendors, and ultimately what they say to customers will be framed in a new and different light. Finally, and most important, what customers say to their friends about your store will be cast with fresh perceptions about your associates and your brand. The men and women (at the top of an organization or a department) who are able to stimulate these daring conversations are not dreamers; they are a new generation of leaders.

Where do these bold ideas come from? What is the source of their energy and creativity? How do they maintain it?

Sources of inspiration for visionary leaders are books, networking, and popular culture, but the great inspiration and passion comes from within … from the gut. After the spike of the initial inspiration, the day-to-day sustaining power also comes from within. I am about to tell you their secret, but first let me draw an analogy.

Imagine what would happen to a Super Bowl contender if the team arrived at the stadium fifteen minutes before the game, rushed to get dressed, and ran out onto the field? Of course, no team does this. We watch them on TV before the game: preparing, preparing, preparing. Warming up physically is the easy part. There can be no compromise with top conditioning — the team with the best physical conditioning will come out on top in the last part of the fourth quarter. A flawless game plan is essential, but all other things being equal, the head coach knows that his biggest job is to prepare — first himself, and then the team — mentally, both intellectually and spiritually. This mental preparation is the most difficult, time-consuming part. A top coach knows that boring will not work. If he does not instill a vivid image of victory in himself and in the team players, everything else could — and probably will — come to naught.

Yet, how many CEOs attempt to jump into the daily situational field of retail without being mentally prepared? How many are distracted by the constant grind of “putting out one fire” then another until, before he or she knows it, another day is over? A retail organization requires the same mental preparation, the same inspiration as the Super Bowl contender. Every associate, not only the sales force, must buy into their leader’s vision. This vision is an edifice that must be rebuilt each day. The leader must continuously exude confidence, assurance, and caring. There are really two things that must happen: the vision itself must be defined — and the sustaining energy that keeps it alive must be consistently provided. Both are developed by the same leadership method, and both come from within.

The Visionary Questions

The following is an outline of questions that will help you formulate your vision-statement for the next 12 months. As you read over the questions, a few will stand out and you will think of others. Try to define one key issue, and only one, per category. Just define these issues as important to your organization, don’t attempt to answer any questions yet. The following five broad categories can help you to organize visionary thinking for a retail organization: Operations, Merchandising, Advertising, Sales and People-Media.

Where do you want to be Operationally at this time next year?

•Are the Operational Support systems you have in place everything they need to be to support your merchandising-advertising and sales dynamics?

•Are your information systems everything they should be?

•Is your delivery system a great one?

•Could you institute a professional “White Glove, Red Carpet Delivery” and make it work?

•Is your Customer Service everything it should be?

•Is there a single key issue that stands out for you operationally?

Where do you want to be from a merchandising perspective this time next year?

•Do you need to add a vendor?

•Get rid of one?

•Is there a category you need to beef up?

•Do you need to improve your merchandising team in some way?

•Is there a single key issue that stands out for you about you merchandising dynamics?

Where do you want your advertising dynamics to be this time next year?

•Are your ads boring and do they look just like everyone else’s?

•What do you want them to look like?

•Is your air media productive, or is it wasting money?

•Is your point-of-purchase material compelling and exciting?

•Are you communicating all of your unique factors in ads and commercials, or are you giving away advantages to competitors by forgetting to mention them?

•Is there a single compelling thing about your advertising that needs attention?

Where do you want to be this time next year from a sales-dynamics perspective?

•Is your closing-ratio where it should be?

•Do you need blazers, name tags, or a dress code for your sales consultants?

•Do they need additional training?

•Should you institute a “House-Calls” program?

•Are your sales consultants telling people about your unique factors?

•Do they know what makes your store unique?

•Is there a single compelling thing about your sales-dynamics that needs attention?

Where do you want your People-Media dynamics to be this time next year?

•Are you consistently giving your associates dynamic, inspiring and compelling messages?

•Are your team leaders doing likewise?

•Does your staff understand that when any one of them (not just sales consultants) talks to a customer, they are your company?

•Do you consistently refer to your customers as “guests?”

•When customers are within earshot, do your associates refer to each other professionally as ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss’?

•Does every associate know your unique factors? Your core values? Your mission?

•Do your delivery people reinforce the purchases your customers make? Is there any compelling thing about your ‘People Media’ that needs attention? If you have never heard of “People Media” the answer to the last question is “Yes.” Keep in mind that People Media cost virtually nothing, but they represent a third-person influence that can be overwhelmingly productive!

How to Do It

After reading the questions, pick a day — tomorrow, or the next day, but no more than a week from now. Plan to rise an hour earlier than usual. Prepare a comfortable and private area to work. Have a cup of coffee, tea or juice at hand and be sure to have a clock or watch, a pen, and a tablet or notebook. Select a single compelling issue from each category. You will address each of these, taking no more than seven minutes per category. Long, tedious writing sessions usually result in tedious, boring vision statements. The idea is to write quickly from the gut.
There is enormous significance in getting up early to write your vision-statement. The commitment to rise early is an intention. This intention is only realized when you actually get out of bed. When you get out of your warm, comfortable bed on a particular morning by choice, keep in mind that your competitors are still in bed sleeping. This will help.

Begin To Write

Address each issue you have chosen, one at a time. Write down, as clearly as you can within seven minutes, the programs and policies you want to have in place by the same time next year. Keep on the seven minute schedule. Within 35 minutes (congratulations), you will suddenly be among the top five percent of entrepreneurs and managers in the world, because you will have a written vision-statement for your company or department. This process has been tested and it works, however, don’t celebrate yet. What you have done, is to “hitch your wagon to a star.” Now comes the tough part. You must get out and push.

How do you share this vision? And how do you sustain it? What do you do, day by day and week by week to keep it going and to impact the culture of your organization? This information will appear in the April/May 2003 issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine.

Think Are Your Ads Boring? Do They Look Just Like Everyone Else’s?

These ads were designed to be dramatic, yet also answer Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why? within a few seconds. Once these questions are answered, the interested reader can study all the details. The editorial look at top left, created for Thomas Home Furnishings in Arizona, is consistently effective when done correctly. The trick is to write the ad giving the impression of third-person perspective. This kind of ad was balanced with promotional ads for a very successful store closing program. Above right: An ad for Bolotin Furniture of Hermitage, PA. tells the story in a few seconds and yet provides lots of information for consumers. Bottom, a small space ad for a “Clipper” magazine (a monthly containing coupons) created for Leather Expressions of Pennsylvania. The ad captures the attention with a dramatic graphic and then goes on to tell the story of the event and give many unique factors about the store.

Is Your Print Media Productive?

On the left is an ad that has lots of information and some visual appeal, but is confusing. It takes a while to figure out the name of the company (America’s Mattress). Some type is placed on top of colors and is impossible to read (Yellow is the only color that enhances our ability to perceive type). Addresses, hours and locations are virtually illegible, although the maps help tell us where stores are located. DENVER MATTRESS CO., on the right, does a much better job. WHO? I quickly know “who,” and also learn that Denver Mattress is Colorado’s largest mattress retailer, and it has 130 locations in 30 states. I learn that they make the official mattress of the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Avalanche. They also tell me they own their own factory, eliminate middlemen, etc. WHAT? The deal is clearly spelled out. WHEN? Not so good here, no store hours are given. WHERE? Locations, telephones and addresses are clear. I guess they expect me to call to find out if they are open evenings, Sundays, etc. HOW? The credit deal is clear ... nothing though about credit cards or instant credit. WHY? Product features are listed but they are not tied to benefits. There is an old rule in selling on the floor as well as in print: Never point out a product point without immediately tying it to a benefit.


Larry Mullins, president and CEO of UltraSales has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies for furniture retailers. Questions can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at lmullins@furninfo.com.


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