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Retail Success: Miller Waldrop Furniture & Décor

Furniture World Magazine


Interview with Beckey Waldrop, Miller Waldrop Furniture & Decor

Design- oriented retailer shares success strategies for hiring design associates, product display creation and integrating in-store design areas into its sales plan.

Miller Waldrop Furniture & Decor operates four stores in West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. It’s a third-generation family-run operation owned by a husband-and-wife team, Kent and Beckey Waldrop. The store is a member of the Furniture First national buying group. Beckey is currently a member of Furniture First’s board of directors. “Kent’s family owned Miller Waldrop Furniture, as well as a bed, bath and kitchen store we closed in 2000 to more fully focus on our furniture business,” Beckey Waldrop told Furniture World. “I buy and manage inventory for almost every product category at Miller Waldrop, as well as oversee our office and sales departments. Kent enjoys buying mattresses and recliners for our three main stores and one free-standing Furniture First mattress store. He also manages the back end, advertising, service and delivery portions of our business.

”I learned on the job, helped by people like Wayne and David McMahon at PerformNow.They’ve consulted with Miller Waldrop, and we are in one of David’s performance groups.”

Miller Waldrop’s original store is in Hobbs, New Mexico, a town with a population under 50,000. Their largest market is Lubbock, Texas, with a population of just over 350,000.

“I would say,” said Waldrop, “that even our largest market would probably be considered rural. Texas Tech University is there, so our customers in Lubbock skew younger. In Hobbs, we are the only furniture store in town other than Ashley Furniture.”

Design Services

“Our store in Hobbs has been around for over 70 years, so shoppers there know us and come in for design help. Success in providing design services is something that must be developed and worked on over time.

“Some of our best design-focused salespeople at Miller Waldrop previously sold cars. Many of these folks were trained in a dog-eat-dog world. ”

“For many years, I worked on the design side of our business. Our more affluent customers would ask for me. If we did a Parade home or any kind of staging, I would do that work as well, which was very satisfying.”

Waldrop says that in their growing family business, it was great to bring in a $300,000 sale based on her interior design work with clients, but the demands of buying and managing inventory created a trade-off, making it necessary to hire people with design skills, including some with interior design degrees, to fill the void.

Design Staffing

“Our experience has shown that there’s more to being a good in-store designer than having a degree,” Waldrop observed. “It’s difficult to teach design because it’s so subjective. I realize that a lot of people would not agree with me, but that’s my experience. Some people just have a knack for choosing the right balance and color.

“That’s why we tend to promote design staff from within the company. These are generally salespeople who’ve already proven they can do the job. Occasionally, we do hire designers from outside of the Miller Waldrop organization.

“Talent and experience are critical for any sales position, but the ability to build relationships is an essential skill. Some of the very best design-focused salespeople at Miller Waldrop previously sold cars. Many of these folks were trained in a dog-eat-dog world. They love that they can make the same amount of money or more at Miller Waldrop while developing their design abilities. Discount Furniture?

“One of our best associates with a background in car sales routinely works on $150,000-plus projects. While working here at Miller Waldrop, she developed the knack because she had an interest in design and paid attention as we set up in-store vignettes together.

“Outside designers get a higher commission, which we treat as an advertising expense. It makes sense to look at it that way.”

“We also work with outside design consultants, some who have longstanding relationships with us. Designers bring their customer relationships to the table, and we provide them with incentives. Our salespeople place custom orders, handle paperwork and coordinate deliveries. They give up some commission when working with outside designers. The designers get a higher commission percent, which we treat as an advertising expense. It makes sense to look at it that way, because they bring in their customers just like a promotion or television ad would.”

Design Service Process

Furniture World asked Waldrop to explain how Miller Waldrop helps customers begin the process of designing rooms. She replied that the best way to introduce design services is just to be friendly and not act like a typical furniture salesperson.

“It’s about making a connection with customers from the beginning. That helps shoppers to feel comfortable, open up and start talking.

“Once they open up, we may discover that they don’t need or want design services. If they already know what they want, that’s fine. But, if they waiver, ask questions or let us know about a particular problem that needs to be solved, it presents an easy path to offer design assistance.

“I believe that much of our success in this area results from training salespeople to find these opportunities. They look for indecision and other cues to open the door to get into clients’ homes for house calls. Not all our salespeople can do this effectively, so we have systems in place for design specialists to come in, offer help, and get the job done.”tem, we buy a lot of it so that they can manufacture with confidence.”

Since Miller Waldrop’s design services are free, there’s no need for a sales pitch and no obstacles for shoppers who consider taking advantage of the service.

“Once the process starts with a client,” Waldrop continued, “Miller Waldrop’s design staff needs to schedule the next appointment to keep the process moving along smoothly. This next appointment might be for a house call visit or for the customer to return with measurements.

“Throughout the process, we also try to make our furniture and accessory suggestions work with furnishings that customers already own. And, we always put our design customers’ needs and vision for their spaces first. Oftentimes, however, our customers need to be shown what’s possible. That’s why we frequently bring accessories and other items from the store into their homes for their consideration. It takes some additional effort, but it’s a great way to enhance customers’ rooms and build sales.”

Store Design

When Kent and Beckey Waldrop decided to open their most recent store in Lubbock, they looked at purchasing a building that previously housed a furniture store. “It needed work,” Waldrop recalled, “so we brought in store designer Martin Roberts. He created the initial concept for the store’s exterior.

“When COVID hit, we decided not to go through with the purchase. As the pandemic progressed, we were able to buy that same building at a steep discount.

“In the meantime, our good friend Martin had passed away, so Jennifer Magee stepped in to finish the project. She did an outstanding job and helped us develop our in-store design center concept as well as finish up other store concepts we envisioned with Martin.”

Miller Waldrop’s Design Center

“Our centrally located, well-equipped design center communicates to shoppers we are different than other stores that don’t focus on offering design services,” continued Waldrop. “It has all the tools, including big screens and work centers, beautiful lighting, plus inviting spaces for our designers to work with customers. When shoppers see this area, they feel like they want to go in and play with their designs.”

Customers can coordinate furniture and accessory choices to visualize how their homes will look. “Often, salespeople will make an appointment with customers to view staged room settings that they’ve set up in the design center,” she said. “That way, they can swap out accessories, play around with the design and try out different sizes.”

“Being a store that carries higher-end lines, I used to be proud that we didn’t carry Ashley Furniture.”

Design Shifts

Furniture World asked Beckey Waldrop how shoppers’ attitudes about home design and home furnishings have changed.

“We’ve seen a major design shift,” she replied. “Over the last 10 years consumer preferences for home furnishings went from dark and traditional to very light, cleaner and more contemporary.

“Being a store that carries higher-end lines, I used to be proud that we didn’t carry Ashley Furniture. Then, about five years ago, a fellow Furniture First retailer who owns a high-end design store in South Dakota suggested that it might be a good idea for us to carry the line. The decision to carry Ashley turned out to be sound advice that changed our buying strategy.

“Today, customers are spending a little bit less on furniture but replacing it more often. That’s been a huge bonus for furniture retailers like us.”

Miller Waldrop still carries the higher end, but has added lower-priced merchandise into the mix, especially in stores that appeal to younger shoppers.

“We have a centrally located, well-equipped design center that communicates to shoppers we are different from other stores that don’t focus on offering design services. It has all the tools.”

Other Trends

Multi-Use Furniture: “Furniture that’s multi-use has grown in popularity, such as sofa tables that can also be used as a dining table, a bar or a desk.”

Open Floor Plans are Back: “During COVID, when people were stuck at home, we noticed, as did a lot of other furniture retailers, that customers were looking to create private, specialized areas, especially for work and study. That trend didn’t stick. Our customers overwhelmingly want open floor plans with furnishings that are coordinated and flow together.

“This is a big consideration for me as a buyer. When I buy a living room set, I also need to think about dining sets we will need to display that will create those coordinated looks.”

“Our customers overwhelmingly want open floor plans and furnishings that coordinate and flow together.”

Lifestyle Product Preferences: “Many of our older customers want to purchase more traditional styles in darker colors, so we have a traditional lifestyle area displayed across multiple price points. A second lifestyle area is devoted to the BoHo chic and colorful items favored by our younger customers. A third area has a monochromatic feel featuring light colors, creams and whites, but with a whole lot of texture. Right now, we are showing fabrics that are kind of nubby, and woods with prominent grains. Each of the three lifestyle areas displayed in our stores features living room, dining room and kitchen furniture selections that flow together. It’s proven to be a display technique that works especially well for customers with newer homes.”

Miller Waldrop Furniture & Decor displays furniture by lifestyle category in each of its stores.

Inventory Management

“I believe that Miller Waldrop’s success as a business is based more on the discipline of inventory management than any design talent I have. It’s a huge part of what we do as a retailer.

“I keep on top of our best sellers and make a point of talking to the salespeople to find out what shoppers are asking for that we don’t have.”

Waldrop told Furniture World that successful buyers must pay attention to design aesthetics as well as manage inventory with a laser focus on sales and inventory metrics. “It can be difficult to balance these two factors because it becomes a right brain-left brain puzzle. On one hand, stores must look beautiful and exciting. It might make good sense to display a stunning light fixture that creates an eye-catching first impression near the store entrance, even though from a left-brain perspective it should be on markdown. In the end, it’s a judgment call that every retail furniture store operation must figure out. All our stores are heavily accessorized, which gives us the flexibility, for example, to put a different flavor on a sofa we bought in depth to create visual excitement.”

The www.millerwaldrop.com website welcomes visitors with a chance to win a $100 gift certificate and invites inquiries about custom options.

Future Plans

Miller Waldrop Furniture & Decor doesn’t have plans to expand in the next couple of years. “Our next project,” Beckey Waldrop said, “is to put executive-level management teams in place. The idea is to have people managing operational areas at Miller Waldrop, who will report to Kent and me. Once that’s accomplished, we plan to start growing again.”

“Many furniture retailers can benefit from reading The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.

In closing, Beckey Waldrop had one last suggestion for Furniture World readers who have entrepreneurial family businesses and may be juggling work-life balance. “Many furniture retailers can benefit from reading “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,” she suggested. “It’s about entrepreneurial myths — a very, very good read. Entrepreneurs often start a business to do something they love and are good at, but the many demands of running a business require different skill sets. It’s something that businesses like ours often need to get on top of to get to the next level.”

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.