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Persuading Customers To Buy Isn't Logical

Furniture World Magazine


If you work hard to give your customers logical sales pitches... forget that! Give them what they really want... reasons to feel good about buying.

The tragedy of September 11th has us all cleaning our houses physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our families, our homes, and even our spirituality have all taken on new meaning. Thomas Moore, author of “Care of the Soul,” makes the connection between spirituality and caring for the home. To quote Mr. Moore, "How you treat the space around you affects your mental and spiritual health." In a Time/CNN Poll conducted in November, 57% said they thought more about their spiritual life since the attacks. Also after the bombing 62% felt the need to spend more time with their families.

On Sept. 14, 2001 USA Today published what looked like a tablet depicting the Ten Commandments chiseled in stone. The roman numerals listed our priorities. The list on the left that was fading, itemized our priorities on September. 9th. The freshly chiseled right side "shouted out" our new feelings of what was important, on September 12th. On Monday, the 9th, our three top priorities were career, heart, and wealth in that order. Family was ranked at #5. After the attack, family, heart, and God were listed as #1, #2, and #3.

Our customers are "cleaning house" and putting their priorities in order. September 11th was a wake up call reminding them of what’s really important. Home is where the heart is and they are going back there. They have gone from cocooning, to nesting, to burrowing. They are digging in. The role of furniture in turning a house into a home has never been more important. Nobody wants to be surrounded by "ugly!" There is a great saying about this timeless truth, "A thing of beauty lasts forever. Ugly seems to stick around twice as long!"

There’s much to learn about starting fresh. Change doesn’t come easy. We have to make it happen. It takes a sense of humility. Learning and implementing new ways of doing business necessarily means that we have to leave some old proven ways behind. Now is the time to let people know why we’re really here, what we do, and how we can help them.

As an industry, we have discounted ourselves to death. What part of "NO, NO, NO" do we still not understand? Clothing retailers, health spas and hotels have all grasped the importance of turning a low margin sea of advertising generated "traffic" into a more profitable rising tide of client relationships. If we push only price, then our unstated marketing goal is to make a one-time sale. Our one time price-shopping customer will not make a long-term commitment to our retail brand. Price shoppers do not become clients or lifelong patrons.

Our industry has worked hard to provide customers with logical reasons to visit our stores, yet our customers are never sure that they are getting the very best price, nor can they be confident that they have collected enough information to make the best possible furniture purchase decision.

The only way to turn one-time customers into clients is to help them find comfort in their buying decision. The only way to do this is to make shopping an emotionally satisfying experience. Buying home furnishings is an emotional experience. Not buying is a logical one.

According to the National Home Furnishings Association, 50% of the people who say they’ll "be-back" don’t return to our stores. In his October/November FURNITURE WORLD article "Your Customers Don’t Care What You Say" (posted to the Marketing Management Index on www.furninfo.com), Joe Capillo states that "a significant percentage – maybe as high as 25% of all furniture shoppers don’t make any purchase as the result of their shopping efforts." They don’t buy furniture anywhere! They get so confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated that they give up.

Retailers make the sales process too hard. We put "Ethel" on what I refer to as "the search for the phantom fabric," while we encourage "Fred" to try to make sense out of the "wheeling and dealing" going on. Our customers feel that shopping for furniture is not supposed to be so hard. As a result, many leave, and don’t return. Why are we sending them down the street to buy from our competitors inside or outside the industry? Why can’t we make the buying process emotionally appealing? Why can’t we make it fun?

The solution is simple. Stop crunching numbers. Stop making customers analyze their decision for days or weeks. Help them to feel good about their furniture purchase – a process that should be about pleasure; not pain. Our industry needs to help "Ethel" to understand that we can be trusted to help her make the best buying decision possible.

Yes, it is humbling. Since we are cleaning house, let’s make a commitment to get these customers to "be back." Let’s turn these consumers into our clients!

Our Customers Feel That Shopping For Furniture is not
supposed to be so hard. As a result, many leave, and don’t return.


To achieve some sense of safety, sanity, and security our customers are going back home in droves. They are curling up and settling in. They are getting comfy. Fire log sales are up 24%, and with the exception of Buffalo it’s been a fairly mild winter! When they decide to "burrow" they really do dig in! The proof’s in the pudding! Our customers are warming up to comfort foods. Campbell soup and oatmeal sales are taking off. Meatloaf is becoming popular again, and even snack food sales are up 19%.

Our customers are going back home to escape into the security of things that they remember, that bring back fond memories and make them feel good, warm and cozy. In January, 30 million viewers tuned in to watch "The Carol Burnett Reunion." Tinkertoys, lego-logs and GI Joe are all making comebacks! They are escaping through the world of entertainment. "Harry Potter," and "The Lord of the Rings" are breaking all kinds of records at the box office. They want to escape, and don’t necessarily have to go to the neighborhood theatre to do this. Big screen TV’s and DVD players are flying off the shelves. "Consumers want to stay in touch with loved ones. They want to be entertained. They want to have an escape, a diversion through home entertainment," says Jeff Joseph of the Consumer Electronics Association. Cary Silvers of consumer research firm RoperASW says, "People are keeping to their safe havens." He calls it "local area nesting." A Roper phone survey found that "nearly one in four people intend to spend more on entertainment for their home this year." "...About 30% say they’ll spend more on technology to keep them connected to family and friends. "The home becomes the center. The home is the comfort zone."

Can’t we be of assistance here? Do our customers know their options for housing their new computers and home entertainment equipment in the most beautiful setting? I think not! They need us, the experts. One consumer told me that instead of going to Cancun, she was buying a pool table. In fact there’s a 20% increase in this category. Do our customers know where to put this big "green thing" in their room? Do they know the best way to display it for function and to have it look great? There’s a definite need here for professional advice!

Resilience in the housing market, and rock bottom low interest rates are causing our customers to take a serious look at their environment. This is what cleaning house is all about. According to Keith Koenig, vice president of City Furniture, "Low mortgage and interest rates should continue to be a positive for home buying as well as mortgage refinancing."
Refinancing is at an all time high, which means if consumers are not buying "new," they are getting serious about the world of home improvement, and remodeling. Mr. Koenig continues about refinancing, "I think the consumer will continue to see that as disposable income that could go into their home. I think the home is going to be considered more and more a safe haven, which bodes well for the furniture industry." AMEN!

Remember, they don’t want to be surrounded by "ugly," and they don’t want to feel like they need a degree from MIT, or be a Wall Street analyst to know that they’ve made a wise investment. When we create a relationship, build trust and confidence as their "consultant," we put all their fears to rest. We can make it painless. We can make it a pleasure to do business with us. They become OUR client. As I used to tell all of my clients, "Let me do all the work, so you have none of the worry. That’s why I’m here." Isn’t that why we’re in this business?

Telecommuting and home offices are both alive, well, and "moving in." Many companies are "grounding" their workers and letting them conduct business from home. It does not take "Ralph" or "Louise" long to realize that a dining room table does not an office make! We need to do some work in this area. A "fresh start" doesn’t come easy. We have to commit to make it happen. According to Jeff Grubb, president of Orman Grubb, "Salespeople need a better understanding of the category. This is the most sophisticated consumer we have; …he knows what the furniture does. But half the salespeople don’t, and that’s a big problem." Neil McKenzie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hekman agrees, "Those stores that have really addressed the category and displayed it well, done some sales training and advertised it have seen growth. Others that have not put a good effort into it have seen their business suffer." Here is another great opportunity for us. Let’s do our homework, fine tune our skills, and polish our presentations. Kelly Cain, senior vice president and home office product manager at Stanley puts it this way, "Home office is like youth furniture 15 years ago. At that time, youth was the stepchild that didn’t get proper display and advertising." Since "Ralph" and "Louise" have to "adopt" the idea of creating their own special "work place," shouldn’t we be allocating similar square footage to meet their newfound needs? Let’s sharpen our pencils to make room for housing this type of furniture, and sharpen our skills through training and increase these areas of expertise in our profession.

Returning home also has significant implications for e-business. Our customers want to do more online research from the security and safety of their homes. The online furniture landscape is confusing and frustrating for our customers. There are thousands of furniture websites, yet customers who spend hours online rarely come away with a satisfying or useful experience.

Here is another opportunity to let them know WHY we’re here, WHAT we do, and HOW we can help them. Let’s plug in some "E" words. Let’s Educate them, get them Excited about what they’re seeing, and then get them Emotionally involved when they come in by making it an Experience that they have to own!

This resurgence of focus on hearth and home gives what Bob Maricich, president at Century Furniture, calls the "best chance in my 30-year career to grab share back of what people spend on travel. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us as in industry."

A "fresh start" takes a commitment to make it happen. To quote Sue Bender from her wonderful book, "Stretching Lessons," "Nothing changes if we never do anything different." What’s that definition of insanity? "Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results!"

For those of you who do housecalls, this is the ultimate way to turn that customer into your client. When you go to her home, then you can really find out what she means by "gold carpeting," or "desert mist" as she refers to it! I have yet to figure out what that means!

This is more important today than ever before. They need and want the services we offer. People are not looking for products. They want solutions! They have a need because they have a problem. Let’s solve it.

Now let’s look at some numbers. The closing percentage from an "in-home call" is 93-98%. The average sale, a minimum of $3500.00! One retailer I talked to earlier in the week told me their average sale from going to the home was $8,000.00, and housecalls are 46% of their volume! What services are you offering?

It’s time for a fresh start. Time to "clean out" the old ideas. In "Stretching Lessons," Ms. Bender recounts a conversation a friend had with her four-year-old nephew, Kyle: "How big you’re getting," she had told him. "Oh, I bigger than that!" he replied."

Aren’t we bigger than that? You bet. Here’s to you. Here’s to "cleaning house!"

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD at finney@furninfo.com.