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Planning For 2017 And The Poetry of Robert Burns

Furniture World Magazine


"But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane (not alone) - In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley, (often go awry) - An’ lea’e (leave) us nought but grief an’ pain.”
I’m not sure what High Schools are teaching for English Literature these days. For all I know; it could be The Prose and Poetry of (or about) Kim Kardashian. However, when I was a sophomore back in the Stone Ages, we had to decipher works written by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Robert Burns. They wrote in some language called Old English, and at the time I only spoke New English. However, a portion of a famous Robert Burns poem remains in my brain to this day, right next to the lyrics of the Brady Bunch song.

It is Burns’ penultimate stanza in a poem about turning up a mouses’ nest with a plow, contained the lines above, the most quoted line being about best laid plans.

Your plans may not have gone awry in a while, but it all boils down to Burns telling us that if you plan for the future, chances are that it will get messed up. Burns was only selling books at that time and we have to sell Mattresses and Furniture today, so I would challenge his assertion and quote Ben Franklin’s, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail!”

As we flip from this year to next, it’s a great time to get 2017’s game-plan set. In your circle of concern there are a lot of outside factors that you can’t control. Weather, that voting thing, new competition, other people quitting the business (because they failed to plan), fuel costs and taxes can’t be changed by you alone. But you do have a circle of influence, things, people, and circumstances that you do have the power to change or ignore. Planning those changes now can help you vet the process, decisions, and available options. You can also plan inaction, which usually leads to contraction. This is an avenue you can consider only if your business can survive with less revenue and less profit. Here are some areas for planning and development to consider in 2017.

Staffing & Recruiting

This author believes that recruiting will be the greatest issue for the next five years. In most cases, selling and delivering home furnishings is no one’s dream job. That means there will not be a mad rush at your door to fill a vacancy. In a best case scenario, you will have a revolving door of employees, and in the worst case you’ll have store closings and missed deliveries due to insufficient staffing.

Plan a recruiting strategy today that is in action 365 days a year. Along with that, plan ways to retain good and even average employees. Compensation, scheduling, and ongoing training are key areas to work on. In some areas the $15 minimum wage laws may make your compensation scheme barely above minimum!
Believe it or not, monthly and annual reviews for all of your associates play a role in retention. Everyone likes to know “how they are doing” and you can’t tell an employee that they are doing a good job too many times!


Looking forward, Recruiting is a big area of concern. Looking back, no area of our business has evolved more rapidly in the last five years than advertising. You may have hoped that the World Wide Interwebby thing would go away, but it hasn’t. More Millennials get their news from Facebook than ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox News combined. Your future buyers don’t get the newspaper either, and many have shut off Cable. When they do watch TV, it’s with a tablet in one hand and a smart phone in the other.

Although there are millions of websites available, Facebook and Instagram attract 20% of all users’ time online. That’s one out of every five minutes.

Hopefully you’ve already started planning for 2017. If not, you may need to consider hiring an advertising expert to help you squeeze out old, non-productive media so you can add in more up-to-date choices.

Major Capital Investments

Things are expensive. Next year the cost of living is supposed to go up by $2 a 12 pack! Planning now for possible improvements or replacements will make it a little easier to digest.

It may be that time to add on a new location, replace a dying truck that costs more to repair than its scrap value. Maybe freshen up your store with new interior paint, accessories and decorating. Perhaps invest in new business software, a cool electronic sign, or expand the warehouse.

Setting Sales Goals

If you don’t set a goal for success, how will you know when you get there? Sales goal planning is a top down exercise. You may want to start with a simple balance sheet. Look at where break-even is for your business, based on your margin and expenses. Then decide if you just want to break even or make a profit. I hope you choose the latter.

Once you decide, you’ll have your company’s sales goal. Next divide it among your sales staff for the year. Some people divide it by hours worked, others by how the RSA performed last year, and others simply count the number of RSAs and divide it equally. It really is your choice, as long as you stick to your goal. Next, divide that by monthly seasonal averages for your business.

Once you have your sales goals, review the numbers. If it looks like your goals are too large for the number of people on your team, then it may be time to start recruiting!

Here are two important footnotes to consider. Every empty seat on your sales team normally equals $30K-$50K in lost revenue per month. I have never seen a store that added an RSA not realize an overall gain of at least $30K a month in sales.

Secondly, instead of giving sales goals to your team, give them earnings goals. Instead of saying “I need you to sell $X this year”, re-state it as “I need you to earn $X this year”. Then help them make it so.


English class in High School didn’t really help me a lot. I went in knowing how to speak English, and came out still knowing how to speak English. Since we didn’t have the Kardashians or even Brangelina in those days, we had to depend on Bob Burns, Bill Shakespeare, and Jeff Chaucer for reading material. I think they would be proud to know they will be helping us sell more mattresses and furniture in 2017!

About Gordon Hecht: Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.hecht@aol.com