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You Say a Garden Gnome Welded This?

August 21, 2008

We’ve all seen it, that blank face a client makes when they sit in an uncomfortable chair. It shows no joy, no displeasure, just, “Uh, what else you got?” The blank face is invariably followed by them squirming in the chair to see if it is them or the chair. On the other hand, when they sit in a chair that is comfortable, that’s a different story altogether. Their face and body language changes. They look happier and more relaxed. Their whole attitude seems to say “Ahh, that’s good!” and they’ll sit there while they listen to your sales presentation.

Comfort sells! That’s not a hard concept to grasp. . . but is it? At the premarket I sat in some furniture and my face turned blank and I felt myself squirming, trying to find a comfortable position in hopes that maybe I had fogotten how to sit down correctly.  I gave the benefit of the doubt to the manufacturer and assumed my discomfort was because they were still tweaking their cushions. But, no, this was the cushion they were going to use. As the sales team explained, the top layer of the fill was a patented, nationally known material that would conform to my body shape as it absorbed my body heat. The longer I sat in it, the more comfortable it would become.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if my customers aren’t comfortable in a chair as soon as they sit in it, they aren’t gong to have the patience to wait for 5 minutes until (and if) it becomes comfortable. If they aren’t comfortable in the first second after they sit down, I’ve lost them. They will get up out of the chair so fast, I won’t have time to tell them how well-known the fill is.

After market, I brought this up in a conversation I was having with an industry friend. We both agreed that comfort is foremost in a customer’s mind. Design draws a client to a piece of furniture, but comfort makes them want to own it. Once you establish a client is comfortable in a chair, the closing process begins. A good sales person can work their way through pricing, availability, and quality issues; they just can’t talk a client into being comfortable.

I think where manufacturers get it wrong is when they put marketing possiblibities ahead of what the consumer is looking for. I am all for a vendor adding features to their line. However, each of these features have to benefit the consumer is some way. That is not to say it can’t benefit the vendor and/or retailer, too. 
For example, a feature might be a robotic welding line with a benefit that it saves the manufacturer a lot of money. But, if those savings aren’t passed to the consumer, they won’t care if the welds are done by a robot or a garden gnome. However, if I can tell a consumer that robotic welds lead to less maintenance, fewer warranty issues, and cleaner lines, the consumer may want to meet the robot and get to know its first name. Here is a feature that has different benefits for the supply and demand sides. I can sell that feature.

Premarket used to be a time for tweaking. Vendors took the time as an opportunity to hear the opinions of lots of sophisticated buyers who would tell them if a color was off by a tone, a chair threw them uncomfortably forward, or an important piece was missing from a collection. For the most part, a buyer doesn’t tell a vendor something is out of whack unless they are interested in the line. They need the changes to be able to buy into the line and sell it. Manufacturers should look at our opinions as constructive criticism between partners. I hope the cushions in the same showroom in September will be new plump and comfy. If not, oh well, there’s always next year!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce