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Sales Increase at Brakenridge With Appointment-Only Strategy

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Sales increase at Brakenridge with appointment-only strategy

Some furniture retailers have struggled during the pandemic. Not Brakenridge.

Anna Ferguson thought she’d learned a lot in the years after inheriting Brakenridge Furniture, the family-owned furniture store in Ferriday, Louisiana, and being named the Home Furnishings Association’s Small Retailer of the Year for 2019. Then a global pandemic hit the country with Louisiana feeling its wrath in the early weeks.

Stores shut down but, even after reopening, many business owners worried that a coronavirus resurgence would close them again. “It’s like we’re back in school learning all over again,” says Ferguson. “I don’t just mean me. I mean everyone selling furniture, or selling anything. It’s a new world out there for retail.”

So far, Ferguson gets a good back-to-school grade. In April, with most of the state shuttered, Brakenridge sales were down 21 percent compared to 2019. The store came roaring back in May with appointment-only invitations and a close rate of more than 90 percent. Even with limited traffic, the store managed 66 percent higher sales compared to the same month last year.

“May was fabulous for us,” says Ferguson. “Everyone who came in had intent to buy. There was no floating through, touching this and that and floating out. They were there because they wanted to buy.”

In June, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards allowed retail stores like Brakenridge to open provided they limit occupancy to 50 percent. That wasn’t good enough for Ferguson. She kept her doors locked to walk-in traffic. If you wanted to shop for furniture, you needed an appointment. Ferguson says that appointment-only strategy isn’t going away anytime soon. “I think the customers like the peace of mind that comes with it,” she says. “They’re more relaxed and can focus on what it is they really want.”

The next few months of the pandemic will be all about retailers being smart, says Ferguson. Smart with their time, smart with their money, smart with their staff.

But there’s something else the pandemic is teaching Ferguson. “Our salespeople are so much more focused and listening to our customers, too,” she says. “There aren’t distractions or worrying if they’ve left someone unattended if someone new comes into the store. There’s no looking over their shoulder worrying if they’re missing out on a sale. It’s an hour of one-on-one relationship-building between the sales person and the customer.”

Ferguson says the first few months of the pandemic were all about one thing: freezers. She couldn’t keep enough in stock. “Turned away more business than I want to think about,” she says. She worries that might happen with furniture in the coming months with supply chains still adjusting. “Maybe that’s a good problem to have if it happens,” she says.

The next few months of the pandemic will be all about retailers being smart, says Ferguson. "Smart with their time, smart with their money, smart with their staff. Smart with everything, really,” she says. “We want to be here for our customers, but I’m not going to put my staff in harm’s way. I’ve known these folks too long. They’re like family to me.

“We’re not going to try new things just to try them. It needs to make sense.”

That’s not to say she’s unwilling to change. For years, Brakenridge has carried its own paper on purchases. When customers have come into the store to pay, that’s been an opportunity to sell them something new. During the pandemic, Brakenridge is using those visits to help switch those paying customers to auto drafts. It will reduce traffic in the store, but will be safer for customers and staff alike.

That might not make business sense, but Brakenridge has been serving Ferriday and its surrounding communities for more than a half-century. “It’s not just about selling furniture to us,” she says. “We want to take care of our customers, protect their health, too. We’re in this for the long haul.”

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