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Three Things Specialty Furniture Stores Should Say

February 9, 2011
Recently, I found an article at the website  SmartMoney.com in the "Spending:Ripoffs" section titled “10 Things a Furniture Won’t Tell You.” I expected and found a list which presented furniture store policies in the most pejorative way possible. When I read it, my first reaction was to take to the bully pulpit and defend specialty furniture stores against every point made. Upon further reflection (read: a good night’s sleep), I realized some of the points they made were valid in our business and needed to be addressed. Let me tell you about a few.

Furniture sales people are pushy because they are paid on commission. As an example, they talked about the former owner of a furniture store who walked into a major department store and within 30 seconds was approached by a sales person. Even after being told that the couple “just wanted to look,” the sales person hovered around him for 15 minutes. According to the article, he hasn’t been back to that department store since. In addition to the inappropriate greeting, the article says sales people make claims which are usually untrue to close a sale. Claims like "This is the last day of the sale" or "This is the last group available."

I was going to rail against this and say stuff like: “How does the author think we stay in business?' Or "Go to a warehouse club and try to find get assistance” and so on and so forth. But think about it, the author is right. A “hard sell” turns off consumers. We all want to make a sale. That’s the only way we can stay open. It's just that some selling techniques make the consumer our adversary; others make them our client. You may want to think about this the next time you hear “Can I help you?” roll off the tongue of one of your sales staff.

Don’t put your faith in delivery dates for custom orders. They use as an example a woman who ordered a special rocking chair three months before giving birth. She dreamt of rocking her child to sleep in it the night they came home from the hospital. Unfortunately the doctor’s prediction of the child’s delivery date was much more accurate than the sales clerk’s prediction of when the furniture would come in. The sales person was off by two months!

You would expect me to say, “Gees, Louise, we don’t want furniture to come later than we say any more than you do” or, “It was the manufacturer’s fault!” All of this sounds good until you put yourself into your customer’s shoes. A consumers doesn't care why their furniture is late; they only know they gave you “their good money” and don’t have the product. When this happened to us one too many times, we started creating a weekly report of open purchase orders. Now, we call every manufacturer on the report to get a status report on the purchase order or acknowledgement. If the ship dates change, we call the customer to let them know. Instead of cancelling an order because it is running late, customers they thank us for staying on top of the situation for them. The extra time my merchandise coordinator spends on this is well worth the good will is evokes.

You should never pay full sticker price. The article says furniture stores mark up prices by at least 80% in order to  lower them during a promotion and give the illusion of a big sale. The author reminds the buyer that it can take hours to negotiate the biggest discount. Also, it is easier to get a discount from a “mom and pop” shop because the sales clerk is usually the owner who doesn’t have to ask permission to lower a price. Finally, the author suggests, if bargaining fails, the consumer should get the UPC code and search online for a better price.

Steam was coming out of my ears after I read that. It took a full night to recover whatever little sense I still have. But, let’s face it; there is a kernel of truth in the article. Most MSRP’s are loaded so that manufacturers can give us our “special” early buy discounts or “never again to be run” mid season deals. We know that MSRP’s are high and somewhat unbelievable, so do our customers.  If your pricing model is to mark your floor at MSRP and then let the customer haggle for a deal, you would should change your store name to “Crazy (insert your name here)’s, where the consumer names his price!”

None of us want that reputation. Our prices need to be competitive but profitable enough for us to stay in business and still offer a high level of service. There are always going to be better prices than ours somewhere on the Internet. We have all gained skills in dealing with that. However, if all of your brick and mortar competitors located within 100 miles are selling the same manufacturer's product for much less than you are, you need to consider two things. First, are you realistic when marking up that product? Second, if your markups are realistic and your closest competitors are still beating your prices, you should be looking for a replacement for that line.

My blog is too short to cover the seven other points made in the article. You may want to read it. If you do, keep an open mind. Suffice it to say, there is something to be learned even from the most abject criticism.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce