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Education keeps stores and customers ahead of the curve

The much anticipated Casual Furniture Show is here, which means for many the end of another season. It is now time to reflect back and prepare for next year.

As we are all aware, there are many changes, challenges and opportunities awaiting us for the 2006 casual season. There are a lot of uncertainties facing independent specialty dealers, but none is larger than increased competition from mass merchants and from those specialty dealers that were once considered "special" but have now decided to try to compete on a level with the big box stores.

Certainly, it is important for specialty dealers to know what the big box mass merchants are selling and their role in the marketplace. However, specialty retailers should take this opportunity to shine and really distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

Specialty retailers have to be just that and thank the box big merchants for selling the traditional and boring sling and cast combinations. It is imperative for specialty retailers to define their very own niche in the casual furniture industry and in their own marketplace.

One has to paint a picture for the customer when they walk in the front door with unique styles, colors and accessories in an attractive setting they will not find at the mass merchant. That is the challenge specialty dealers face year in and year out.

The real challenge is being able to communicate with your customer and educate them on why they should be buying from a specialty dealer. Some customers are price driven, only care about today and will buy inexpensive knock-off products from the mass merchant that will last only a year. It sounds simple, but as we were all trained at a very young age, education is the key to success.

Specialty dealers have to be sure all their employees are trained and well versed in all aspects of the casual furniture. Your sales people need to be aware of what is out on the marketplace and how to respond to customers' questions. It is critical to hold training seminars throughout the year to update and reinforce key issues to your salespeople. One of the simplest forms of education is to have your salespeople read Casual Living magazine, which includes all the trends and news in the casual furniture industry.

In addition, believe it or not, our industry is a very small and united industry comprised of people who look out for one another. Do not be afraid to call a casual furniture retailer (probably outside of your marketplace) to see what they are doing with their business. Learning from others in our industry can be a huge asset to your own business. Specialty retailers have to stay ahead of the curve, and being well educated and versed in the casual furniture industry will enable you to be very successful for years to come.

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