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Create sense of urgency to maintain the brand

Reps On The Road

In my territory, which is in the Sunbelt, we are in our season as opposed to other parts of the country which are still in various stages of hibernation. There are some trends that are crystal clear. The casual furniture industry is still getting slammed in the head by this economic slowdown. The traffic counts are down, the easy sales are long gone and we all have to work harder for less return. But the one thing that is most challenging is the customers that are coming in are assuming that times are so bad that all prices are negotiable and they are looking to spend a lot less than they did a few years ago.

So manufacturers and retailers alike are looking to offer more value price points to address this change in consumer behavior. Retailers have to look at offering price points lower than what they had considered doing in the past. The trick is how to do this while still maintaining your brand.

Retailers, I contend, have stronger brand identities in their marketing areas than do most of the manufacturers they buy from. They have spent countless dollars establishing this identity over many, many years. It is easy to find lower price points but it is harder to do it correctly so that it fits into your traditional business model.

Most of our specialty retailers have built businesses offering what I consider middle price points and going up from there. They have advertised and touted the features and benefits of these better goods and trained their sales staffs to "sell against" certain price points. Collections were looked at as being too mass merchant and not up to their quality standards. Now that same sales staff needs to be able to explain why some lower priced goods are the way to go. All this at the same time when what we all really want to do is sell the more expensive stuff and not adversely affect our companies' brand identity.

What to do? Well, first you have to offer what the consumer is asking for, and at this time it is at least some cheaper merchandise. Then you have to know how to merchandise those selections within your product mix.

When a customer comes in and the only thing they are interested in is your lower priced merchandise, I would train my staff to use that as a big selling opportunity — "Let me show you our special purchase section," or "You are lucky today because our buyers just brought in some factory specials." You can make up your own verbiage but I think it is important to make it seem like a limited time opportunity and that these deals are not going to last forever. This sense of urgency always helps close sales and you are establishing this product as somewhat different from your normal offering. This helps keep the market position of your store that you have spent years developing. Not that we want our stores labeled as expensive but we do need to develop some separation from big boxes.

As sales representatives we need to face the fact that our dealers are in need of more promotional priced furniture groupings. We have to analyze our lines and get creative with configuring more attractive price points. If our lines cannot hit what the dealer is looking for then they need to find it somewhere and I think it is perfectly correct for a sales representative to offer some suggestions as to where those price points can be found. I always like the opportunity to pick my competition. Most importantly for the sales representative is ongoing sales training on your product lines. You know the dealer is going to be pushing price points down so we need to be sure that the sales staff can sell up to more expensive products through the features and benefits. As price points expand this becomes more and more important.

All I can say from my territory is that the foreseeable future is going to be challenging and every one of us who can rise to those challenges will come out the other end in pretty good shape.

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