Use design preference questionnaires to empower customers... because most just don't know where to start.
Consumers often call the Home Furnishings Council to tell us that they don't know where to start to re-do their homes. Should I begin with the Carpet in a room? It's such a large colorful element in the room. Should I first choose a color for the walls of the room? Should I begin by decorating around that wonderful old table my grandmother gave me five years ago?
Obviously, you know the answer. Right? Well, maybe not, for the answer really lies with each potential buyer. What is right for her? What is it she really wants... and likes? What will set the right mood for her family?
We have considered this problem and, with the guidance of some very smart people on our marketing committee created a questionnaire which appears in the current edition of the HAVEN decorating guide series. It is designed to help the consumer start the process and the retailer to satisfy the customer.
Here are the questions we ask each consumer to answer before going shopping:
Why are you considering the purchase of home furnishings?
It is very important for us to know whether or not we are satisfying a need or a want. Whether our potential buyer is moving, redecorating or remodeling. Exactly why are they concentrating on the family room and not the dining room?
Which room(s) are you planning to furnish & decorate?
Again, we want to find out if they are shopping broadly or are focused on a single room or area.
What kind of environment or feeling do you want to create in the room(s)?
Though we usually get vague answers to this question, it is still very helpful to the designer or sales person to understand and to know that the buyer has considered the feeling of the room.
What general style of furniture do you prefer?
Again, we may find somewhat stilted answers that need to be exploited further, but if we know that our buyer likes country then it is silly to try to sell her contemporary.
What furniture would you like to have in the room(s)?
The idea here is to have them think more broadly than a single piece... we want to know about the entire room.
If you are shopping for just one or two pieces of furniture, what are they?
We want them to be precise and tell us exactly what they think and want. We might suggest that they try a love seat instead of a sofa or two chairs instead of a table and chair, but we need to know what they are thinking.
Any special woods you prefer?
Here is where we often find out something about mood as well as the feeling of a room. People do clearly have wood favorites. But they honestly do not realize that it is a color/feeling favorite more often than a wood. With today's stains, almost any wood can be made to look and feel the way they like.
Any special finish you prefer?
Same reasoning as above.... the more information the better.
What are your three favorite colors?
Now we are to a key point that can help us sell more. Once we realize more than one color, we can begin to help mix and match, choose a dominant color for the room and those items with color that help add the spark. It also helps lead us to drapes, carpet and accessories.
What are your three least favorite colors?
Same rationale... don't lose a sale because your buyer keeps seeing green when she loves gold.
Do you like a room to reflect several colors or one overall color?
It is certainly possible to guide a person to a different answer, but if she has her head set on a beige room and you try to sell her blue... good luck.
What fabrics do you like?
Finally, we can find out preferences regarding how fancy, how plain, how solid or how frilly. The choice of fabric often makes or breaks a sale. It is far better to know this up front.
We do elaborate on each of the above questions and we give multiple choice answers to help lead the consumer.
Our response has been very interesting. Most consumers who call us about the questionnaire say it helps them get started. We suggest that they take it with them to their retailer and start a dialog. They are pleased to do this because they feel that the insight they get from the questionnaire puts them in a leadership position even though they are asking for advise and counsel. It is so important that each consumer feel that they are furnishing their home the way they like.
This simple procedure has been well accepted by consumers and does start them thinking. Whether you like the specific questions or not, please consider a questionnaire. A series of basic, leading questions can help the buyer avoid stumbling on a piece of furniture or fabric he or she likes and then building a room around it. Though the concept of building a room around a single piece of furniture is fine, what it creates in the minds of insecure buyers is indecision.
It would seem to me that what is best for our industry are well directed buyers who we can help guide through the selection process. The more decisions they make up front, the easier the in-store decisions become.
If you remember, last year the AFMA and the HFC conducted marketing research with the Wirthlin Group in Washington, D.C. We learned that there are two major groups of buyers: confident and non-confident. The confident buyers probably do not need the questionnaire as they already know what they want... the questionnaire may actually be of more help to the store designer. The non-confident buyer, however, clearly needs to think through the process. They need to focus their thoughts and needs and make some early decisions about style, color and function, here's where providing a questionnaire can be really valuable.
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