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Managing Your Long Term Image

Furniture World Magazine


Everything you do affects how customers view your store and whether or not they want to shop there.

It is always difficult to know with certainty which factors affect a sale. When your customer chooses a sofa today, the process (which often takes months) has concluded for the moment, but the final decision was influenced by many overt and even a few covert factors. For example:

  • Retail advertising.
  • Manufacturer advertising.
  • Multiple customer visits to multiple retail showrooms.
  • Talks with retail store representatives.
  • Magazine and catalog editorial features.
  • Newspaper articles.
  • Television programs.
  • Radio Programs.
  • Home shows.
  • Consultations with designers.
  • Visits to family and friends' homes.

SO WHAT CLINCHED THE SALE? This issue is top of mind for our Home Furnishings Council Marketing Committee. It is very important for our industry to better understand the impact of "controllable" elements in this process. Let's divide the list into what we might control versus what does not appear to be under our control.

Apparently Controllable:

  • Advertising
  • Talks with sales people
  • Talks with designers
  • Home shows

Apparently Not Controllable

  • Visits to other showrooms
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper Articles
  • TV Programs
  • Input of family & Friends

 As you can see, there are a reasonable group of controllable influences. We can begin to get an idea of the kind of image we project, as well as how well we communicate specific information, by taking a close look at our advertising. We can form an even more refined image of how the consumer perceives our products and services by examining how designers and sales people in our stores and at home shows interact with customers.

What then is our chance of influencing the consumer to buy, to buy now and to buy from us? Let's analyze our chances with:

Newspaper advertising: (1) How many people actually see our ad? (2) What impression do we leave? (3) What action do they take?

Note: a brief, inexpensive consumer survey will answer #1 and #2, an in-store poll of visitors will answer #3.

Newspaper advertising leaves an image impact each week. It reaches thousands who will only glance at our offering if they are not yet in the market, but it clearly will bring them to our door if our message gets their attention and offers them something they want. Too often we simply use this medium to offer special promotions and an array of items for sale. The image building potential of newspaper (especially when you use color) may be greater than we know. The consumer will look at the ad and rate your store as first class or not, based on both the appearance and content of the ad. Our chances of influencing both positively and negatively are great.

Television advertising: (1) How many people see our spots? (2) What impression do we leave? (3)What action do they take?

These are the exact same questions we asked about newspaper advertising but, in my view, television has a greater ability to build image. The addition of color (or better color) motion/ action and sound/ music increase the immediate draw of television. People do respond... and quickly. The lasting quality of television is primarily image, unless you build a response mechanism into your ads which will bring the consumer into your store today. Here, of course, is where having a sale works. But asking consumers to "come in today for the lowest prices ever" may devalue your image in the long term. Television can have enormous influence, but you must always remember the image you are building for yourself and your product. People are often trained to wait for the next sale.

Sales people and designers: Ask the same questions here. Are your people enhancing the sale, bringing customers back and building loyalty? This must be their job. Today's sale must be tomorrow's sale. Here the image of your store is affected the most. Consumers tell us that they want to buy from "nice" people, from people who want to help them, not pressure them into making a purchase. The secret to success is being able to determine what your customers truly want. Some want to be left alone, some want attention. Invest in consistent sales training. Hone your personal contact techniques to ensure that every employee reflects your values and the values of the store. This is the very best way to build long term friends and repeat buyers. Your salespeople are the real point of differentiation.

Home Shows: Consumer traffic and the response retailers achieve at home shows can be excellent... if they use response mechanisms and database building techniques. Always remember you are building your store's image, whether you mean to or not. A shoddy display with the wrong people manning the booth can actually hurt your image... even if you make immediate sales.

As we embarked on the consumer image building industry campaign with HAVEN:the TV Show, we carefully watched whom we invited on the show and how we represented our industry. As with your efforts, not all of our decisions will be perfect, but careful planning and paying close attention to the image building decisions we make every day will ensure continued positive results. Our industry and your store image should be one of providing help for the consumer, offering advise and counsel, and giving them ideas to help them decorate their homes. We must focus our efforts more and more on making them feel that they have a friendly resource... one who certainly wants to sell them, but only after understanding their needs and wants. We must be a resource that they want to return to.

Our job in the HFC is to help you get their attention and to send them into your store. Your job must be to make a friend and welcome them back.

For more information on HFC programs or questions about this article contact editor@furninfo.com.