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Real Bad Feelin’ About Brands

Furniture World Magazine


If you’re a blues nut, like I am, maybe you know this iconic song, originally written by Elmore James, played by Eric Clapton, but made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The sky is crying
Can’t you see the tears 
roll down the street?
… I’ve got a real, real bad feelin’

So why am I referencing this song? Simple, the marketing of furniture brands is now focused on furniture markets, not on the retailer or the consumer, and it’s hurting this industry badly. Yep, The sky is crying... I’ve got a real, real bad feelin’.

Virtually every retail buyer at market knows what the hot brands are and manufacturers spend huge money promoting their products to buyers in the hope they will buy. Once it’s placed, then what? Does it become floor inventory? What’s YOUR manufacturer brand’s plan to get velocity? I bet they probably don’t have one, or if they do, it’s not a plan that will help you engage today’s consumer so they can find, embrace and search locally for those products. That’s why you see the tears roll down the street.

I grew up with brands like Coca-Cola, Levis, Gillette and other icons. Brands were created to convey a message about products at a time when it was difficult for consumers to find information on products and services. They used mediums like newspapers, radio, direct mail and television—lots of television. I even remember when iconic brands like Proctor & Gamble sponsored television content.

Today our industry has lost the brand luster it once had. Manufacturers have turned over that responsibility to retailers to display and communicate the manufacturer’s core values and attributes. Unfortunately that translates into brands being put into an environment “where everything is on sale.” They become discounted items, rather than real values deserving of iconic status. Manufacturers need to ask themselves this: Are they going to let 1,000 retailers define who and what they are to consumers? How’s that working? And show me a furniture brand that this strategy has worked for successfully? I can think of maybe a handful at best. It’s the brand’s job to define who they are and it’s the retailer’s job to use that information to create a compelling selling message to drive traffic and sales.

Your first BIG problem

Most manufacturer’s have poor websites that mostly show pictures and talk about themselves. Believe it or not, many manufacturers don’t even have a “Where to Buy” search. So, have we just given up on how today’s consumers shop, or what? In case you were wondering, consumers GOOGLE for information about products FIRST, and if they can’t find that information, you don’t exist... in their minds, and that does not help retailers.

Chart: Zero Moment of Truth Study (ZMOT for Furniture) by Google found that only 17% of consumers surveyed were sure of what brand to buy from and only 26 percent were sure of what retailer to buy from.

Check out this statistic. According to Google’s research, eighty-three percent of consumers have no clue what brand they’d purchase. That means all of your manufacturers’ great designs, manufacturing prowess and the expense of showing products to retailers at the furniture shows has resulted in 17 percent awareness with consumers, and they are the ones keeping retailers in business!

Unfortunately, now many furniture brands we know are promoted as “Cheap.” And that does not help retailers differentiate their product mix to inspire, motivate and engage consumers. And this is especially true with today’s Millennial consumers who research “everything” before they buy locally... and if they don’t find what they’re looking for locally, they revert to Overstock, Amazon and other home furnishing websites that do. That doesn’t help retailers stay in business, does it?
Cheap everything, sale this, closeout that; always a race to the bottom. No aspiration, no engagement, no connection—except for those consumers who like feeding on the bottom. Mediocrity and commoditization rules here, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Manufacturers should ask themselves this: Why have they given up helping retailers to engage consumers once merchandise is placed?

Unfortunately brands have decided to save money on marketing and that has resulted in losing money over the long haul. Not just for the brand, but also for their retailers. Let me list a few of the ways home furnishings manufacturers are failing as brands:

1. Many manufacturers don’t have a formal marketing department, to save money. If they do, most of these marketing people come from the sales department and are relegated to what they know from past experience; making print catalogs and other old school tactics. How does this engage today’s digital savvy consumers?

2. Most manufacturers have very little knowledge about how consumers shop today, what consumers want, and how they want to access information about products at local furniture retailers. If manufacturers don’t know their consumer—how they shop, where they want to find information and how they use it—that’s the fault of the marketing department. Again, it should be the marketing department’s responsibility to help retailers properly merchandise and market their products.

3. Manufacturers’ product content should be “standardized” so their brand and retail customers, can use it to show its breadth and depth of product selection on websites and the other internet platforms consumers use. 90 percent of consumers shop on the internet first, yet most manufacturers have neglected to get their information properly presented for consumers to see, and for retailers to show and sell. This should be job #1 for any good marketing person; creating it and maintaining it daily! Without this content, there’s less engagement and fewer sales!

4. Most manufacturers don’t give their sales people the tools or training to help retailers “sell more.” Few have available POS systems that show such things as the different fabric colors available, or wood colors. According to the Point of Purchase Institute, 60% of decisions are made at the Point of Purchase and up to 80% of those decisions are unplanned. Many retailers believe manufacturers don’t have sales people who know how consumers are trending, what’s happening with Gen X and Millennials, how they shop and more. If that is the case, how does this help retailers, show more, tell more and sell more? If a manufacturer is content with a sales force that shows pictures and takes orders, I have to ask why, because can’t that all be done on-line?

5. Most of the product photography in our industry stinks or is one dimensional. Good information about products is minimal, and website product navigation is non-existent. Manufacturers shoot photography in China to save money and it looks like it! They rarely shoot their products to capitalize on the design tastes of today’s consumers, such as, contemporary, modern, apartment living, transitional, traditional, etc. How does that inspire people to buy? Manufacturers need to investigate the New digital photographic technology available that creates multiple room shot environments for the price of what a single shot costs in a traditional studio. Retailers should look at this too, especially if their manufacturer is not helping them with this new and exciting technology. Why do you think there are so many DIY and design shows on TV? It’s not because people don’t want to be inspired!

Back in the day, I was taught that great marketing created the sales proposition to: “Inspire, educate, motivate and engage.” These days it seems manufacturers are just watching each other at the markets, at the expense of building their own unique sales and marketing proposition. The result is both the manufacturers’ brands and retailers suffer.

True brands work hard to get shoppers to visit their websites and social platforms as a primary goal. Websites, where consumers ultimately go during the shopping process need to be consumer focused to create a connection with the brand. There, manufacturers can control the message and how they want to have their brand perceived. If I were doing it, the theme would be; How Can We Inspire You Today!

What Should Retailers Do

As a retailer, you’ve clearly been to Overstock.com, Wayfair or One Kings Lane. It only takes a few minutes at each site to see why their furniture sales are up double digits consistently and probably at your expense!

Now take a look at the Duncan Hines corporate website www.duncanhines.com. There’s nothing at that URL about the company, only inspiration on the theme, “What would you like to bake today?” It’s a giant Pinterest Board filled with corporate content. Talk about a refresh of an old Brand that is now more relevant with today’s consumers than it’s ever been.

Were I a retailer, here’s what I’d do:

1. Insist that your manufacturers invest in their brands now, before they—and you—don’t have any.

2. Ask your manufacturers to perform a brand audit. You can reference an article about how to do this on my website www.social4retail.com under my Retail Rants Blog Column and download the forms on that page. Many brands have never done a brand/company audit with their stakeholders; employees, retailers, consumers. It’s one of the best ways for retailers and manufacturers to learn about a brand, and it is often not what they want or expect to learn.

3. Encourage your manufacturers to train their sales people to be knowledgeable marketing partners for your store and its customer base. Insist they arm their salespeople with the tools to help you and your sales associates sell more, because guess what, you’ll sell more and the manufacturers will, too. I think the term is “Win-Win”?

4. Pressure your manufacturers to load their websites with videos showing product features, benefits, options, available colors and more. I would also ask that those videos become available for your retail website and social channels. YouTube is the second largest search engine and guess what? Google owns them!

5. Encourage them to create areas on their websites to educate people about different fabrics, grades of leather, wood construction, warranty information, design ideas, living space ideas and a lot more. An educated consumer will pick your manufacturer’s brand first, and then find your store using the “where to buy” store locator. Why do this? Because virtually no one else is doing it, and because of this, The Sky is Cryin’, for you, the brand and the manufacturer!

My fear is that many great manufacturers and products may disappear simply because they don’t understand the psyche of today’s consumer and how to connect with them. That’s because they don’t invest in the time and resources to get this done. I also believe that companies may be afraid to “jump in” because they don’t know where to start. Like my Grandfather used to say to me: “You’ll never learn younger.”

It’s time to quit the cryin’ with these sad announcements of companies in our industry going chapter 11 or 7, both brands and their retailers...

The sky is crying
Can’t you see the tears
roll down the street?

How sad, oh, how very sad, for these tears do not need to be shed! January 4, 2016

About Bill Napier: Bill Napier is Managing Partner of Napier Marketing Group.
He has been the chief marketing officer of several small, medium and large companies throughout his career, most notably Ashley Furniture Industries Inc from 2000-2005.
Currently he is a strategic management and marketing consultant to Imagine Advertising, Englander Mattress and several other companies in the home furnishing industry.

Bill is also a featured writer and speaker in the retail industry. His vast understanding of the issues retailers and brands face to compete in the digital arena, coupled with his humorous interpretation of his knowledge of trends, facts and solutions for helping companies compete, makes for an engaging and informative session for every brand or retailer that attends his sessions.

His passion is to help retail brands & brick mortar retailers grow their business by creating, guiding and deploying successful marketing B2B/B2C solutions integrating traditional marketing with the web/social media.

Questions about this article or related topics can be directed to Bill at

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.