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You Won't Believe Who Is Talking About Us

June 23, 2011
Look out - - - one of the home improvement warehouse retailers is taking specific aim at us in their advertising. Last night, my attention was drawn to their television commercial showing a youngish couple out to buy furniture at a specialty outdoor furniture store. They find a set and love the style, color, and comfort. They both sit down; but, when the wife looks at the price tag, they quickly get up and leave. As the voice over explains, “They may love everything else but they hate the price in the designer store.”

In the next scene, the couple is in one of the home improvement retailers locations. They are approaching a set of furniture that is styled very much like the one at the designer store. The husband sits down as says how comfortable it is. They are both amazed and impressed that is it so much like the style in the designer store but is so much less expensive here! By the way, the set appears to be vignetted giving it a much more upscale experience than I would have expected.

At the bottom of the screen is a written disclaimer saying that price comparisons were made with local specialty stores and, if I read it correctly, were as much as 1/3 the price of comparable furniture in those stores.

This can only mean one of two things: specialty stores are taking a bite out of this national company’s outdoor furniture sales. Or, and this is the more likely scenario, this company wants to take a bigger bite out of our market.

I take it for granted that all of us can explain to a customer why the quality of the furniture we sell is generally much higher than the quality of the furniture sold in home improvement centers. We can tick off such things as powder coat thickness, full circumferential welds, extruded aluminum rather than tubular, etc. We can also describe our generally higher level of service, our ability to do white glove delivery, our willingness to custom order, and the service we give after the sale.

In these hard economic times, though, all of our advantages may not be enough. For a consumer who has suffered setbacks (or believes they might in the future) the question is, “Do I do without or buy lesser quality with good style knowing I will have to replace sooner?” This is a harder concept to sell against and has lost us more sales than I would like.

There are still things we can do to capture some of this market. Our business offers deferred payment plans that make our price points more accessible to qualified consumers. We also offer a larger variety of value priced products. That is not to say we are trying to compete on price with any national home improvement retailer - - - we will always be on the losing side of that battle. Instead, while we continue to concentrate on the higher end of a line, we are more willing to show the value priced part of the line, too.

Finally, we are starting to emphasize “Buy American.” All of our customer have friends or have read about people losing their jobs to outsourcing. Because of that, “Buy American” has become a powerful motivator. Over the past few months, “The ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer” has run several stories regarding this movement. One story revolved around a couple who took everything out of their house that wasn’t made in American. In the end, the only thing left in the entire house was a vase sitting on a bare living room floor. Another series was about a couple getting ready to buy a new car. The story spoke to how many American jobs would be supported if the couple bought an American made rather than an imported auto.  If Diane felt there was enought interest to run several reports in very expensive prime time, there is no reason we shouldn't latch on to it, too.

I have confidence that all of us can and will find ways to compete in this price sensitive market.  But, isn’t it ironic to see the home improvement retailer taking time to advertise against us specifically when we have been doing just the opposite for years

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce