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Open This Box If You Dare!

Furniture World Magazine


A Greek legend tells us that in ancient times the beautiful Pandora, daughter of Zeus, King of the Gods, was given a jar with instructions not to open it. Later, stories refer to the jar as a box. Eventually curiosity got the better of her. She unlocked the box and let the contents free. The box contained all the evils of the world. She tried to close the box, but could only reseal it with one virtue still inside-Hope.

Business strategies, programs and merchandising are very much like Pandora’s Box. With the high cost of advertising, human resources, and fixed expenses it gets more treacherous to experiment with unproven ideas. Many retailers, therefore, ignore their curiosity and rely on methods that are worn out from years of repetition. For example, one retailer in my area has used the same ROP for over 3 years.
The idea of investing in something radical that might bring great rewards but could fail, is tempting to many retailers. But, most take comfort in the status quo.

For a moment, forget what you know. Think about the person or people who started your organization. They thought they had a better way to make a buck, and set out on their own to do things their own way. They brought new promotions, new operations, new sales process, and new displays. Chances are they failed a few times, but succeeded more often, which is why you have a job today!

If there were a Pandora’s Box for retail ideas, here are some that might be set free. The only evil is that you may not even take a chance on one of them, and will continue doing the same ordinary things that yield the same ordinary results.

Salesman’s Day Off:

I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule. I’ll even split the 20! Ten percent of the shoppers in your store WILL BUY, despite what you do. Even if your sales team is rude, sloppy or inattentive, some people will buy from you just because they want the merchandise you are selling. Conversely, another ten percent will never buy from you even if you have the best looking store, people, and pricing. Based on that ten percent number, an RSA with a 25% close rate, is really closing 15% of the people they greet. The other 10% would buy without them.

Have you ever wanted to measure the actual effective close rate of your sales team? This is the number of people who are influenced by your team to make a buying decision. Try the Salesman’s Day Off Promotion!

Here’s the concept. My days in retail were filled with two complaints from shoppers- #1 Your Sales People attacked me at the door, and #2 No one offered to help me. Shoppers don’t want anyone to help them, until they are ready for help.

Take a few midweek days and promote that you will have no salespeople working in the store. All merchandise will be plainly marked with pricing and stock numbers. Have a greeter at the door (perhaps a security guard) provide your shoppers with paper, pencil and information on where to find ordering information on your merchandise. Let them know that when they complete their selections, they can bring their order blank to the cash office for payment and delivery dates. You might even sweeten the pot with a discount equal to your commission rate (We Pay You to Shop!).

It becomes the best of the “Click” mixed with the best of the “Brick”, all the leisurely browsing of online shopping, and you get to feel and touch the merchandise!

Annual Delivery Charge:

Whether items they purchase cost $299 or $20,000, shoppers hate to pay delivery charges. Sure, you could raise your pricing, and call it FREE delivery, but then your pricing may not be competitive.

We also know that the hottest time for shoppers to buy furniture is within 90 days of buying furniture. This is a result of placing new furniture in a house full of existing furniture. It just makes the old furniture look older! But some shoppers won’t purchase more, just because they don’t want to invest another $59-199 in another delivery charge.

You can overcome the pressures of dropping delivery charges and welcoming shoppers back into your store. Simply charge delivery ONCE, and it is good for any purchases for the next 365 days. Call it an annual delivery charge. At the price of $99 (or your prevailing rate) your shopper gets home delivery today and FREE delivery on any additional items purchased to their home for a full year.

Your first thought is, “What if I have to cover the cost of delivering a lot of $199 tables, rugs, and lamps?” The last time I checked, those are sales too! And probably sales you are not making today. Ask your non-furniture friends about Amazon Prime. They charge $79 for free shipping for a full year. People who have Amazon Prime shop that site often and buy the Prime merchandise. Just like that famous website, I can guarantee this... the next time your shopper is in the market, they will shop your store first!

Pay Zero or Flat Commission on “Clerked” items:

Some of your sales team may actually be selling. All the others may just be clerking. The difference is the result of your Shoppers’ experiences in your store. People who want a new living room look come to your store asking for a sofa. Your CLERKS find a sofa for them and get the order placed. Your SELLERS describe the experience of having a complete coordinated look complete with accent items and place a 10 item order. In most cases, you pay them at the same rate.

This next suggestion will cause anxiety for your low performers and your top people will delight in their anticipated earnings. Stop paying commission on items that are clerked and double commission on add-on merchandise. Go to zero commission (or flat rate $10) on main items such as sofas, dining tables, headboards and footboards, and reward your team for adding the love seat, recliner, rugs, lamps, and pictures along with dining chairs, chests, night stands, and mattresses. You’ll profit from the increase in average sale, your shoppers will be more satisfied with their complete rooms. Your operations and display team will be delighted with the velocity of typical slow moving items. You may even consider TRIPLE commission on orphan merchandise. That’s a nice name for the high dollar furniture that you end up blowing out at 70% off during your warehouse liquidation sales... think about ottomans, china cabinets, and armoires.

The Dream of 80% Close:

During a recent flight for business, I was seated next to an executive from a leading national Cable TV provider. She asked me what a typical closing rate is for furniture store sales associates. I told her that some stores like to claim 25%, and others who mis-measure tell me 40%, but the ugly truth is that Retail Furniture experiences around a 22% close rate. (If you think your close rate is 40%+, then invite me to your store for a weekend and we’ll count incoming traffic together!).

She laughed for a moment-and when I returned the question to her, she replied that 80% of incoming sales calls to her company resulted in some sort of transaction-including new service, upgraded programing or equipment, and pay-per-view. Their operators were trained to ask for some incremental sale, no matter how large or small. They set up their training, product assortment and sales process to make sure that every time the phone rings, the register also rings.

If you are weary of spending $30 to $100 per guest in advertising costs only to see 78% of your shoppers leave empty-handed, then it’s time to change your operation with processes designed to make sure every time the door swings, the register rings. The secret isn’t reducing the price of shop-worn accessories, or playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with your margin dollars.

First, change your sales and operational paradigm towards an expectation that every shopper enters your store wanting to find something to buy. It’s true for Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, Victoria’s Secret, and even Jake Jabs’ American Furniture Warehouse. Each of those businesses promotes Must-Have merchandise, new introductions, limited promotions, Too Cute not to Buy, or Special Purchases to ensure that every inbound shopper leaves as a departing customer. Their point of purchase signage directs you towards those items, their sales teams tell every shopper, and displays convey the feeling their shoppers will have once they own the item. Every item is available to take home today, and the check-out process is hassle free!

Start your own program-first, making buying at your store easy. Ensure that your shoppers can pay for these purchases in 90 seconds or less, without having to give their name or e-mail address. Get the coolest and hippest people on your team to suggest and select the items you will promote. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a furniture item. It can be a multi-purpose desk lamp for a kid’s room, outdoor carpet in the summer and doormats in the winter, serving tables, or bed for a pet. Promote three different items every day. Next, be sure that the merchandise is available in your store, and can be transported home in a compact car. Assembly should be minor. Build one or more merchandise stacks in your most traveled walkways. Your sales team should lead your shoppers to this unbelievable value. Pricing should be less than lunch for four people at TGI Friday’s. That’s the amount people will spend without agonizing over the cost.

Let your team know what your cost of advertising is, and that you are looking for some return on that advertising cost. The greater your return, the more you will advertise and the more shopping traffic they will have. Soon, your store will be known as the place to shop for the next cool product at the really hot price!

CONCLUSION: Curiosity killed the cat. And lack of curiosity is killing your business! Now that you’ve peeked inside the lid of Pandora’s Box, you need to make a decision about your business and how it operates. You choose, lock the box now and seal it-and maybe things will change for the better. Or tap your entrepreneurial strength and leap towards a chance that your store will soar to the top. I hope you choose to tear that box open!

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.