Advertising specialists weigh in on what's working right now to make customers comfortable, generate inquiries and increase store traffic.
It’s possible that there has never been a more uncertain time for home furnishings retail advertisers. There are many questions and so few definitive answers. The pandemic has affected the incomes and fortunes of furniture shoppers unevenly. Supply chains have been compromised and the Black Lives Matter movement has expanded to redefine what is acceptable in terms of messaging.
That’s why Furniture World initiated this new series on retail advertising that looks at where we are going as an industry in terms of messaging and media. In this first installment we interviewed Kim, Bob and Robert Lietz of ACA, an advertising agency specializing in TV and radio production for furniture retailers. Also, Marianne Fey of Banker & Brisebois, a company that helps smaller and medium sized furniture retailers with marketing support solutions, typically in the area of print, social media, websites and digital media.
Advice From ACA
During the crisis we advised our clients to continue to advertise even though they weren't open,” recalled Bob Lietz, ACA’s president. “That way their brands would be top of mind with shoppers when reopening started, and frontrunners in the industry. Some didn't take that advice, clammed up and did nothing. The result was that their sales were markedly lower than the first group.
Over the Fourth of July, those retailers who kept on the same course with traditional advertising had a record-breaking Fourth of July.
~ Bob Lietz
“Even though retailers cut back on their ad budgets, we encouraged them to keep spending on TV because spot rates were almost a giveaway with some stations. Stores that did advertise, ironically, once they opened up in a limited way with customer pick-up had record sales months because nobody else was advertising.”
“When stores were beginning to open," added Robert Lietz, Vice President, “it was important for furniture stores to have messaging in place to let customers know about limited hours, appointment shopping, special hours for seniors and other high-risk shoppers. The most important message was to let customers know that stores were back open and ready to do business.”
“And, our client’s messages became nicer and kinder, with a warmer feeling that was much less promotional. That trend is continuing,” noted Kim Lietz, Vice President. “It’s a focus on the home and sleeping well. Value is always important, but saving 50 or 70 percent has become less of an issue. People shopped where they felt comfortable, and at stores they could count on to be fair.”
“That’s true,” said Robert. “We saw kinder messaging from stores that had to close completely. It reminded customers that these stores were trusted members of their communities, job providers and had been doing business locally for many years, including other difficult times. ACA is a full-service agency," he added, "Print was obviously cut, but we advised retailers to keep broadcast and cable budgets going and where possible roll money into other types of video marketing like OTT, pre-roll or digital marketing. That made sense because people were watching a ton of TV and were on their phones for hours.
“Some retailers became very creative using Facetime to ‘walk’ clients through stores which helped increase sales quite a bit. Some did Facebook live events featuring warehouse merchandise or scratch and dent—just for an excuse to stay top-of-mind with consumers to keep people active on their Facebook pages and websites. I was surprised at the number of people that tuned in and interacted with retailers.
“Aside from the fact that business has rebounded, another surprise is that there has been an interest in higher-ticketed items. To take advantage of this trend in some instances we’ve produced product-specific spots for categories like motion, mattresses, Amish and bedroom furniture.”
On the topic of surprises, Kim Lietz observed “how well appointments have worked. Most of our stores that saw customers by appointment found that this way of doing business really worked. People bought multiple items and rooms full of furniture. So, stores that kept advertising and made it easy for customers to shop by appointment or from home had good results.
Pictured above are messages created for TV and video marketing for clients of ACA, focusing on helping shoppers feel more comfortable shopping for furniture. ©2020 ACA Inc., all rights reserved.
Longer Term Ad Plans
Talking longer-term, Bob Lietz said, “I know everybody in the agency business is going to be offering sage advice between now and the end of the year. But to be honest, we suggest that home furnishings retailers stay the course.
“Our clients whose stores were open for Memorial Day went back to the traditional way of advertising using broadcast TV and digital. Also, a little print because they didn't have time to prep for it due to uncertainty about opening.
“The result was that almost all of them broke records and had their biggest Memorial Days ever. Over the Fourth of July, those retailers who kept on the same course with traditional advertising had a record-breaking Fourth of July. With those two holidays behind us, it makes sense to stay the course with plans that retailers had at the beginning of the year.
“We have a solid grasp of what’s happening out there because we work with about 125 clients in the US and Canada—from top-100 retailers to single-store mom & pop stores.”
When asked what is likely to happen with regard to holiday advertising, Kim thinks that “furniture stores will be well served by increasing their branding a little bit more and continue messaging about staying safe through the end of the year. Issues with the pandemic are not going to be over for a long time. Messaging that communicates that stores are a safe place to shop is certainly going to be important through the end of the year.
“Furniture retailers should continue to communicate what they are doing to make shopping easy. When customers visit stores, they need to put social distancing and cleaning visibly on display.“
“Given what’s going on in the country right now we think retailers should think,” advised Bob, “about possible challenges for Columbus Day advertising. It could be controversial right now. And we also have some stores that are considering not running Black Friday sales. Black Friday is a positive thing if you're in business, but not everyone really knows what the term Black Friday means. Put some consideration into your advertising messages during these times. Be careful not to step on any toes or embarrass your store. Stay away from the hard sell. This is not a time to scream SALE at consumers. And, don’t talk about COVID-19. Retailers need to move forward and put those messages in the past. Everybody's tired of hearing about it and looking for positive things in their future."
BANKER & BRISEBOIS' VIEW
Continuing our conversation about advertising, Furniture World asked Marianne Fey, president of Banker & Brisebois, for her advice on what furniture and bedding retailers should be doing in the current retail environment. “Compared to the first couple of months of the pandemic,” she replied, “July looks promising. Our clients’ doors are back open. They are conducting events and seeing strong sales. Certain approaches we suggested before COVID-19 hit have had to be adjusted. Obviously, we're not advising retailers to promote with any big bash, short-term events to attract a crowd. Most customers won’t be comfortable doing that and it’s not a responsible thing for retailers to do. So, we’ve suggested extending the length of holiday events."
More Personal Selling
Send messages about community, confidence, value, affordability through financing, and comfort.
It isn’t about dropping prices lower
to buy market share.
~ Marianne Fey
"We’ve also encouraged retailers to consider more personal selling approaches. Some shoppers are ultra-cautious and others less so. Retailers need to make sure that they accommodate whatever makes their customers feel comfortable. That might mean private appointments or a virtual appointment over FaceTime that includes a ‘walk-through’ of the showroom.
“Clients have used Facebook Live events to showcase new product lines and have set up YouTube channels for demonstration videos. All these options are now on the table. When shoppers can get information through virtual channels they feel more comfortable coming into the store for a private appointment because they know what they want to see and can spend less time in the store."
Step Up On Social Media
On the topic of differentiating store messages, Marianne suggests that retailers should continue to step up and get more active on their social media channels.
"They need to keep their Google My Business pages updated so shoppers know that they are open and ready to conduct business. Google My Business pages are where almost every shopper lands when they want to check a website to get business hours and other information. If a retailer has appointment-only personal selling hours, this information needs to be communicated through social media channels and Google My Business, then pushed out through persistent earned media.
The biggest mistake
we are seeing is that retailers aren't communicating clearly to answer basic questions.
~ Marianne Fey
"For small and medium size retailers it’s extremely important to be present in their virtual community, to let customers know that they are available to help with their furniture needs.
"The biggest mistake we are seeing is that retailers aren't communicating clearly the answers to the following basic questions. What is going on in their business? When are they open? How are they delivering product? How have they changed the ways they do business to accommodate their customers’ lives and shopping preferences? How can they help customers get the furniture they want, the way that they want to get it?
“What’s holding them back? A lot of smaller retailers have been overwhelmed by the challenge of just staying in business,” she explains. “Now that business is coming back they need to put marketing at the top of their to-do lists.“
Marianne says that now may be a great time for many retailers to be more aggressive in claiming shoppers’ attention. “Not necessarily with just low prices,” she observes, “or short term events. Instead, send messages about community, confidence, value, comfort, and affordability through financing. It isn’t about dropping prices lower to buy market share. Right now, it’s about earning trust as a retailer and as a brand.
“Some retailers are sending out personal video messages via email. It’s a great way to connect and in this environment, using technology to enhance personal selling can be highly effective, especially for small to mid-sized furniture dealers.
"Many smaller retailers don’t have product catalogs on their websites. Others desperately need to update what they have. Even if these retailers are not doing e-commerce right now, customers want to know what retailers have in inventory. It’s an easy way for them to pre-shop before they have to enter a store. In the absence of this, many shoppers may not consider calling or visiting a store. Here at B&B we're getting ready to launch technology platforms that will help retailers create affordable video content and keep an updated product catalog on their website."
When asked about the holiday shopping season, Marianne predicts, “The holidays will look different, for example, this year there may not be a football season, or much home entertaining which is always a cause for furniture purchasing. Everyone is thinking through the upcoming holiday season and the Black Friday period.
"Traditionally, for retailers, Black Friday was the time of the year when, because of extra sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they crossed over from being ‘in the red’ to being profitable or 'in the black' for the year. That’s where the term comes from. This year we are working with our clients to re-imagine what Black Friday will become."
"The positive news for the furniture industry is that we are in a good position compared to so many other industries. Opportunities for smart retail marketers have arisen because COVID-19 has caused people to think more about their home environments. People are thinking about redesigning their homes to adapt to the current situation—like a cocoon, as an office, a school and so many other things."
About Marianne Fey: Fey is President and CEO of Banker & Brisebois, a 108-year-old, Michigan-based company specializing in furniture marketing, which she acquired in February 2019 from longtime owner Harry Gilmore. For the entirety of her career, Marianne has worked passionately in the retail marketing industry to support retailers individually, as members of marketing groups, and with their home office manufacturers with affordable, high-quality marketing programs. Communications can be directed to her at https://bankerbrisebois.com or call 248.519.9200.
About Bob, Kim and Robert Lietz: With an extensive sales and marketing background, ACA President Bob Lietz has seen a thing or two, but he’s always looking forward, thinking ahead in the ever-changing world of retail marketing. Bob, along with Vice President Kim Lietz, who also comes from a strong marketing background, are husband and wife partners who’ve helped build ACA into the successful company it is today. Their son Robert, Executive Vice President, joined the company in 2009. Robert is expanding ACA and its creative endeavors in the world of digital, content marketing and new mediums for video marketing. For more information about this article or ACA visit www.4ACA.com or call 800.882.8588.
Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.