Reps on the Road - Growing the market
Ed Brookes -- Casual Living, July 21, 2010
During the recent High Point Market, I got into a discussion (debate) with one of the principals of Casual Living magazine. It involved the responsibility of the various stakeholders in this industry to not only focus on growing their share of the available pie but to spend time, money and effort on growing the pie. Without pointing out who held which point of view, suffice it to say the evening got animated but stayed very friendly.
As I had time traveling home from the market I got to thinking that no matter where the responsibility lies, growing the overall market is undeniably in all of our best interest. Some manufacturers do a pretty good job advertising in various shelter magazines as do some industry suppliers but it seems to be left to our retailers to present the category to the consumer as best as they can. Most difficult for me was to figure out what we can do as sales representatives to expand the outdoor category.
First, we can try to help our dealers look at the way they advertise to the consumer. If dealers are advertising the same way today that they did a few years ago, I believe they are wasting a fair amount of money. I would bet that all of us agree that the landscape has changed. We need to present ads that show the product in use and the enjoyment and satisfaction that can be gotten from outdoor living. When I was in the retail business, I was not allowed to run an ad that did not have people in the ad using the product. We have to get consumers not just to want the product specifically but to want the lifestyle it affords. Does promising a 30-day price guarantee really make anyone salivate?
Second, we need to redefine with our dealers who the competition is. For most of us, the focus is the big box up the street or the specialty store the next town over. They surely are competitors but not the real threat to our growth. The real competition is Best Buy, the Sports Authority, Disney World, cruise lines, two weeks at the beach, etc. Anyone who is competing with us for the limited disposable income of the consumer is the enemy. If they are doing a better job of making their products more appealing and desirable, then we lose.
Third, we as sales reps need to work more romance into our sales training. I did a very unscientific survey of friends in my neighborhood to see how in tune they were with some trends in our industry. This is South Florida, where we spend a lot of time outdoors and invest money in outdoor furniture. Most had no idea what "cocooning" or "staycation" meant. Most were not aware of the "outdoor room" concept even though they all technically had one. For some reason these terms, which are very familiar to us, are not as familiar as we may think to our typical customer.
Sales reps need to get the floor salespeople focusing as much on the lifestyle benefits of our products as they do on how great we weld them. Most of our dealers may not have the space to show the furniture in lifestyle vignettes, but we should have table top photos of beautiful real life settings. We need to show and tell what our products can do to make their homes and lives that much more enjoyable.
So it really is everyone's job to fight for market share and also fight to grow our overall market. We need to make our product category a Top 10 must have. As is said, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." The real trick is: How do you make him thirsty?
Ed Brookes is an independent sales representative for Tropitone and Acacia Home & Garden. His experience includes retailing and manufacturing in the casual and residential furnishings industry.
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