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Behind the scenes

Selling to women also includes men
“It’s not about being pink; it’s about listening to women and solving some of these human issues.”

Jen Drexler, Director

Jen Drexler, Director
Holly Buchanan, Founder“She’s the gatekeeper,” Buchanan said. “She’s the one deciding the final cut and then bringing him into the process. So if you aren’t reaching out to her, you may never see him.”

Holly Buchanan, Founder

WITH AN ESTIMATED 85% OF ALL CONSUMER PURCHASING DECISIONS NOW DRIVEN BY WOMEN, retail strategy has come a long way from the tired jokes of the past about women and shopping. numerous studies, experience and plain old common sense all reveal that knowing what women want can boost the bottom line - as many in the casual furniture industry can attest.
     Still, some specialty retailers report trends that are not as clear-cut as the numbers might suggest.
     "I know most of the statistics suggest that women make the decisions in our field, but it is very hard for us to see that," said Bruce Aronson, owner of the pool & patio center, Metairie, La. Aronson said pool & patio sees as many women as men who make purchasing decisions on their own. he added there are both men and women who won't make a purchasing decision without consulting with their respective spouses.
     Atlanta-based Authenteak and Opdyke furniture on the Jersey shore see a similar pattern.
     "In our store, the vast majority of purchasing decisions require two people," said Authenteak co-owner Erick Brenner, adding he believes it's the nature of the industry. "men tend to take more interest in the outdoors than they do in other parts of the home."
     Lynn Opdyke agrees. "in our store, i think it's about 50/50," said Opdyke, who is a vice president of the family business. "they are spending a lot of money so the men are very involved."
     Whatever the retailer's experience, Jen Drexler, director of and coauthor of What She's Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It, suggests that being proactive in selling to women can have results with women and men both.
     "By marketing with women well, you will get the men too," Drexler said. "What men aren't going to like a wider aisle or better lighting? it's not about being pink; it's about listening to women and solving some of these human issues."


Much of the recent buzz about marketing to women stems from research on how the brain works.
     "There is absolutely a difference between men's and women's brains, and how we are hard-wired affects how we make decisions," said holly buchanan, co-author of The Soccer Mom Myth: The New Reality of Marketing to Women and founder of marketingtowomenonline.
     "So it is really important for anyone who is selling to women to understand those differences."
     In general, while men are task-oriented and focused on the immediate outcome - i.e., let's get the grill and dining set today so we can have steaks in comfort tonight - women are wired to think more long term. how will the fabric wear, how easy is it to maintain the finish, how does the seating group fit into the overall context of the home?
     "In addition, in women's brains the ‘error detection' or ‘worry center' is more active, so they are also concerned about what might go wrong," Buchanan said.
     In other words, a woman shops with a longer checklist in mind to make her selection and so needs more time and information typically than a man does.
     Outdoor elegance, in laverne, Calif., accommodates this need with a low-key sales approach and comfortable atmosphere. it isn't unusual for a woman to settle into the store's resource room with a stack of fabric books and tell her salesperson to check back in an hour.
     "Our design center is also open to anyone, although it is specifically for the design trade, and women will often go up there to look," owner Doug Sanicola said. "i can't think of even one time when I've had a man go up there."
     As most specialty dealers are well aware, how salespeople talk to women can also be an issue. the example of a car salesman addressing only the man when a couple comes into the showroom to purchase a car for the woman should be a worn-out stereotype, but it's still one of the biggest errors any retail staff can make.
     Sales staff can also get caught up in their own product expertise. Women are interested in quality as well as style but might not be into looking at the bolts that hold the frame together.
     "We've trained staff that women don't care about this so don't waste your energy," said Mariah Maydew, general manager of Boulder, Colo.-based Fruehauf's Patio & Garden. "If someone asks for that information fine, but watch them and if their eyes start glazing over, stop."
     It comes back to listening to women, asking the right questions to build trust and creating the personal connection women want to feel with the salesperson. So rather than talking about the set she is looking for, ask her about her vision for her backyard.
     "Women want to broaden the conversation," Buchanan said.
     Staff should also be aware of the different meanings in body language. For example, "a nodding man and a nodding woman aren't telling you the same thing," Drexler said. "The man is agreeing with you. A nodding woman is telling you that she heard you but that doesn't mean she is buying what you said. She might mean, ‘I can't wait to get away from you or I'm going to have to talk to my husband or I don't have enough money for this but I'm going to buy myself some time,' and so on."

Details, details

In addition to talking with sales staff about how to better interact with women shoppers, Fruehauf's has also examined other aspects of the business with an eye to better targeting of women. Every detail counts, including such things as making sure the bathrooms are clean. The retailer is also putting even more effort into fully accessorizing the outdoor furniture displays.
     "We've always accessorized, but we realize now that it is even more important than we thought it was to make a vignette instead of just putting out the patio furniture," Maydew said.
     On Long Island, N.Y., Ed Delaney, Jr., points to Kaufman- Allied's entire showroom as a tactic for reaching out to women. Since staff members Laura Blazer and Suzanne Markland took over the design of the space a few years ago, women in particular have noticed and praised the difference.
     "The furniture used to be pretty much laid out like soldiers in sets of every size and combination," he said. "Now it's decorated fantastically."
     At the Greenhouse Mall in Austin, Texas, targeting women is an ongoing point of discussion. "We talk about it all of the time," said Tracy Wolfram, general manager of the retailer's three locations.
     Their strategy starts with what they buy, she said. For example, when seating collections include various sizes they ensure that they display both the larger piece a man might gravitate to as well as the smaller- scale chair a woman might prefer. An emphasis on fabric and embellishments like Tuffs and trim also draw in women by showing them how to customize the look.
     According to Wolfram, while men are usually part of the purchasing decision, women who shop the Greenhouse Mall drive the selection and decision. Therefore, anything they can do to make the woman's decision easier to make, they do.
     "For instance, we'll take a collection out to the home so the husband can see it on his patio," she said. "As we tell them, when he sees how good it looks, he will just be thankful that he doesn't have to think about it."
     Many retailers have honed their advertising to reach women via spots during television shows with strong female demographics, such as "Oprah," "Ellen," and "The View."
     But as Fruehauf's found out, visibility among primarily male demographic media works, too.
     "We used to advertise a lot on talk radio, and we still do some of it, but we found that we were getting a lot of comments from women that their husbands told them to come in because he heard about us on the radio," Maydew said.


Targeting women doesn't mean alienating men, as Drexler said. Buchanan pointed out that it, in fact, helps retailers reach men.
     "She's the gatekeeper," Buchanan said. "She's the one deciding the final cut and then bringing him into the process. So if you aren't reaching out to her, you may never see him."
     Both Drexler and Buchanan caution about stereotyping female customers. Not all women are moms or wives, not all moms are stressed out and not all wives depend on their husbands to sign the checks.
     But one assumption you can make is that women will notice everything, from signage and cleanliness to product details and displays, and they will make judgments on what they see.
     Buchanan suggests leveraging those observation skills by asking a selection of women to shop the store and report back.
     "I challenge every retailer to do that, men and women," Buchanan said. "You may think your store is perfect, but when you see it through her eyes I guarantee that you will get at least one actionable piece of advice or awareness that you didn't have before on how to improve your customers' experience."

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