This article is the second in a series that discusses training for Retail Sales Associates. It is specifically directed to R.S.A.s who specialize in mattresses and bedding; but the general concepts will be useful for furniture and accessory sales as well.
Advanced sales training should address the details, nuances and refinements of the sales process (steps of the sale), but before we launch into that virtually endless subject in future articles, I want to address, once more, what R.S.A.’s need to know, inside and out, about the background knowledge that supports and sustains the sales process. This background knowledge consists of what has been described in other articles as “The Five Groups of Knowledge,” which were originally so labeled and identified by the late John F. Lawhon in his book Selling Retail.
Some may ask “Why do I need to know all this stuff? Everybody knows that mattress shoppers buy bedding on comfort. Furniture buyers wait for some item to ‘call their name.’ Learning all these specification details is just a waste of time, and besides, I’ll just forget it as soon as training is over, anyway.”
The fact that so many showroom floors are populated by employees who carry the above attitude points to an opportunity for those few who will actually study hard, exercise self-discipline and prepare themselves. Only by learning product information and techniques, will they transform into true sales professionals. The real sales professional stands out from the crowd like a Rolls Royce in a destruction derby.
To be brief and to the point, all the advanced sales training in the world will be just another waste of time unless you master the background information that this article talks about.
So, that being said, lets illustrate a check list of the background information that every professional Retail Sales Associate should know.
Each category will have its own checklist and descriptive narrative. For much more detail in each category, consult my book How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual.
Airline pilots have them, doctors have them, concert promoters have them. In fact, everybody that does anything successfully usually has some sort of check list so that they don’t overlook something important. Retail Sales Associates should have them, too. Here is a brief list.
1. Name of the mattress:
You should know the EXACT name of every mattress on the floor.
2. Manufacturer and product line:
Memorize which manufacturer makes each mattress. Is it a premium line or promotional line?
3. Feel or comfort level:
Is it hard, soft or in between?
4. Price point in queen and king:
Know both the regular price (keystone) and sale price.
What is the length of warranty and how much is pro-rated? You should also understand what mattress warranties cover and what they don’t.
6. Location of the bed on the floor:
Can you go straight to the right bed if the sales manager suddenly shouts across the room, “Show them the Crown Royal Pillowtop?”
7. SKU number:
Every store item has a unique SKU. Make sure the number is on every sales ticket.
8. Law label:
This is the unsightly white cloth flag that is sewn into the tape edge. Learn how to read and interpret all the meaningful information written on the law label.
9. Specifications of each innerspring mattress:
The following list gives a variety of specs that may be found in innerspring mattresses.
10. Specifications for specialty mattresses – This includes air and all foam mattresses.
- Coil count – if a mattress on your floor contains coils, learn the queen size coil count.
- Wire gauge of the coil – this is the thickness of the coil wire
- Coil construction type – Is it a Bonnell, Continuous, Marshall (wrapped), or Offset?
- Coil turns or spirals – How many turns in a single coil?
- Height of an individual coil – Standing alone, is it taller or shorter than other coils?
- Shape or profile of the coil – Is it hourglass shaped or barrel shaped?
- Tempering – Is the coil tempered or not tempered? Ask your rep for his take on this.
- Coil arrangement within the innerspring unit – Are they “posturized?”
- Border wire – Is there a border wire or is it foam encased?
- Helical lacing – Is it side to side or head to toe?
- Upholstery – Do you know the configuration of all the different kinds of padding and comfort layers within each mattress, why they are there and what difference they make?
- Cover and quilting – Do you know pros and cons of cover and quilting types?
- Base foam – Know which type of foam, its density and firmness.
- Comfort layers – Which type of foam is used, its density and firmness – for each layer.
11. Foundations types.
These consist of two basic categories. Non-mechanical foundations, which are either wood, or steel span, and adjustable bases. When it comes to adjustable bases, RSA’s must be conversant in all their features. Some of these are:
Adjustable bases are mechanical products that can break down. Your customers must be assured that your product can be fixed if a malfunction occurs. This concern is one of the biggest objections when customers are considering an adjustable base purchase.
- Know your control device – whether it is wired or remote, learn thoroughly all functions of every adjustable base on the showroom floor. Make sure all control devices work properly and have live batteries.
- Learn all the features of each adjustable bed including timers, wall saver, massage, etc. Learn how to demonstrate each of these features.
- Warranty – Knowing the warranty provisions of your adjustable bases is important.
- Other furniture – Whether you are selling case goods, upholstered items, accessories or outdoor furniture, RSA’s with a similar command of features and specifications of each category will be in a much stronger position versus his competition.
Customers buy durable goods, including furniture, by comparing one deal to another. Buyers want to know why one item costs more or less than another. They want to know which item is the best value. They rely primarily on Retail Sales Associates for that information. If you cannot supply that information to your prospective customer, you can hardly blame her for finding another RSA who can willingly supply that information. That is why RSA’s must know features (attributes and specifications) of every product.
Although knowing features is important, the higher skill is to translate those features into tangible benefits that customers understand. If you don’t know the features, how can you translate those features into benefits?
We have just scratched the surface with this list. The professional R.S.A. will seek out new features on all new, incoming products. Ask your reps for information.
Never forget, little things sell! Small, seemingly insignificant features can translate into big benefits in the customer’s mind when properly demonstrated by a professional.
KNOWLEDGE OF ADVERTISING
I wonder how many readers of this article know exactly, and in detail, everything your store is advertising and in what media? Anybody? Outside of the store owner who placed (and is paying for) the ads?
Advertising and promotion is the food and drink which nourishes all retail businesses. And, typical of food, drink and advertising, you never know for sure which stuff is good for you and which is not. There is a wise old saying that some smart retailer once said, “I know that half my advertising money is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”
But, good or bad, useful or wasted, each R.S.A. must know every ad the store runs. In a large market area, keeping up with a store’s advertising placements can be challenging. It is, therefore, important for the sales management team to keep salespeople informed. It’s unrealistic to expect RSA’s to know, on their own, about every ad. That is why frequent sales meetings are important. Keep your salespeople up to date on what the store is promoting, and what the competition is promoting as well. More on the competition later. How embarrassing is it for an R.S.A. to not know what a customer is talking about, when asked about an advertised special?
KNOWLEDGE OF FINANCING
From low end to high end, the range of financing and rent-to-own options is almost endless. Why is this important for the R.S.A. to know? It should be self-evident.
Many customers are concerned about how to pay for large purchases. Part of the qualifying process should, therefore, include asking about the overall size of customer’s budget, and how much per month they can afford.
It makes sense that every RSA should be fully fluent in all the different ways their store can help customers pay for merchandise.
If you, as an RSA do not know what financing plans your store has available, you will miss out on a lot of sales.
Again, the sales management team and financing department must keep every R.S.A. informed regarding the current status of any and all finance options.
Other small but important details that every RSA’s financing check list should include are:
- Where are the finance application forms, and how do you fill them out?
- Where are all the details, such as interest rate and length of term available?
- Do you know how to calculate the monthly payments in every situation?
- Do you know what “Same As Cash” means? Can you explain it to the customer?
- What do you do with Turn-Downs? Can you explain why this happened, and what other options are available so that the customer can still buy today?
- Do you know how to protect the customer’s financial disclosures (that are on every form).
KNOWLEDGE OF INVENTORY
Simply stated, knowledge of inventory? means knowing what merchandise your store has in stock currently, what it has coming in on order, and when it will get here. Why is this important? On special orders, especially higher end upholstered goods, it probably isn’t that important. But for cash and carry items, such as mattresses and less expensive furniture, it can often mean the difference between making or not making a sale.
A lot of stores have good inventory reporting systems. RSA’s who know how to use such a system can easily find out what is in stock. But, what if your on-line inventory system is not updated with each sales and delivery transaction? Or, what if the reply on the computer screen is somewhat ambiguous? Meaning, the item you are looking up is a fast moving item, and the computer says you only have one available? Do you trust the answer? Will you write up the ticket without double checking the physical inventory?
All R.S.A.s should know how to use the inventory reporting system and probably most do. Here, however, is where true professionals stand out. The R.S.A. who shows initiative and aggressively pursues the sale, may be able go to the warehouse and find discontinued items, old floor models, warranty rejects, etc. All stores have them. They are usually hiding in dark corners and otherwise ignored by the warehouse operation. These items, can represent a real find for the bargain-hunting customer. And, I’ve met a lot of customers that love bargains!
Knowing your inventory, all of it, not just the current backup of the showroom floor, will make sales when you might otherwise have a willing but walking buyer.
KNOWLEDGE OF POLICIES
In the context of our discussion, policies are defined as follows: A planned course of action that an organization or individual takes in response to a particular event or situation. Ideally, these policies are well considered before implementation and written out in clearly understood language.
Various store policies usually include answers to the following questions:
1. Merchandising policies:
How do we arrange the showroom floor? Does our store carry name brands? Do we display prices? Do we show low-end, popular priced merchandise or only upper end? Are our floor models always neat, clean and dust and smudge free?
2. Pricing policies:
How competitive are our tagged prices compared to other stores? Will our store discount to make a sale? Does our store “guarantee the best price”? What incentives can be offered to purchasers, such as free delivery?
3. Delivery policies:
How quickly can our store deliver? How far away will we deliver, and on what days? Do we offer white glove service? Does our store have strict policies on the appearance and demeanor of delivery personnel?
4. Customer pick up and will call policies:
Is our warehouse convenient for customer pick up? What days and hours are available for customer pick up? Who will secure the customer’s merchandise to the vehicle? Is the customer asked to inspect and sign off on all merchandise before it leaves the warehouse?
5. Return policies:
Does our store have a return/refund policy? Do our people know how to interpret it and enforce it? Does our store do cash refunds or in-store credits?
6. Layaway policies:
Does our company have a layaway plan? If so, do our employees understand its terms and conditions. Are they comfortable explaining them to customers?
7. Special Order policies:
Does our store do special orders? What kind of deposit do we require before ordering merchandise? Does our store have a consistent follow up policy regarding special orders? Under what conditions can special orders be cancelled or refunded?
8. Personnel policies:
Is our store always understaffed, or overstaffed? Are R.S.A.s adequately trained before lurching out to take their first up? Do they understand our company’s pay plan?
9. Guarantees and Warranties:
Does our store do mattress comfort exchanges, and if so, what are the terms and conditions? How does our company handle warranty complaints?
10. Customer security policies:
How do we handle sensitive customer financial information? This information can be found on finance applications, personal checks, and credit card transactions. Where is this information stored, and how secure is the storage?
As much as is possible, the list above should also include the same knowledge of your competition’s products, advertising, financing and policies. It may sound impossible to get your arms around all this information for all your competitors, but never forget this. Customers make buying decisions by comparing. They compare store to store. They compare merchandise to merchandise. They compare sales associate to sales associate. The only way to know how you compare is to know what the competition is doing.
The store and sales associates that compare the most favorably in the customer’s mind Will Get The Sale.