Gaining "elemental knowledge" is essential for those who want to rise above business-as-usual in retail home furnishings and create brand identity.
Part of it is understanding what Stephen Hawking means when he states that the smallest matter on earth is a "quark". So microscopic, it is smaller than a gnat, immensely smaller than a speck and infinitesimally smaller than a bit. It is so small that only those who know that it is present can understand that it is there. To understand that there are "quarks" at all, is putting yourself in a rarefied atmosphere that contains but a few...a few who understand that without the knowledge of a "quark" there is no knowledge at all.
Retail managers who compete every day, "hand-to-hand" in the field of retail combat, have to know their "quarks". Gaining this elemental knowledge is essential for those who want to take the next step... to rise above the frey of "business as usual" in retail home furnishings.
Since the early days of Post World War II advertising, retail growth has been driven by the word SALE. First used by department stores for handling excess inventory through CLEARANCE SALE promotions, it has grown into a disease of day to day combat. Retailers promote the "World's Greatest Sale" to be followed by the "World's Absolutely Greatest Sale". If your competitor proclaims 20% to 40% off... well, then you will go 30% to 50% off... and then your competitor can match this and even exceed it. He then throws you a curve and offers NO NO. You respond with NO NO NO. He comes back with NO NO NO NO. And of course, you come back with the dreaded NO NO NO NO NO! He comes back with 50% to 70% off and a NO NO NO NO NO NO. You of course, not wanting to fall into the dreaded trap of going tooooooo far, proclaim the "World's Greatest Sale" and start all over again. This is not understanding that a "quark" exists.
What business are you in? Let's see... you are in the sale business. No... you are in the NO business. No, you are not in any business except the finance business. You are masquerading as a banker in a home furnishings store. But never mind, that is how you get ahead in this world. Being different. Being distinctive. Being your own person. Hey, you can say, let him come up with an idea that can top mine. Who are you kidding!
First and foremost, you are a home furnishings merchant, a valued member of the community and society. You make people's lives better. You make the family unit a thing of the present... not of the past. You talk about comfort and joy, prospects and dreams. You are in the furniture business.
There is a new theory going around our industry. This theory proclaims that furniture retailers can stress comfort, selection, service and value without saying the word SALE. It has become more than just a theory, and it is spreading fast and producing amazing results. It is based on understanding your customer and what they want. It is based on good business practices... that it is margin, not sales that matter.
It's understanding that if you are profitable, you can stay in business. It is built upon "quark".
It is interesting to note that the best new television commercial in the land for home furnishings is a spot with a recliner, racing down the streets of San Francisco, with a sleeping man and a dog going from the living room to downtown. It is for NISSAN. The roar we have been hearing around the country from dealers everywhere is "why hasn't a home furnishings manufacturer done that for us?"
How silly can you get? Don't you know any better? Haven't you read the Official Code Of Conduct In Being A Home Furnishings Manufacturer book?
Realistically, it is not in their Official Code Of Conduct In Being A Home Furnishings Manufacturer book. Their job, the manufacturer, as they see it is to produce product that sells which keeps their factories running at capacity in order to make a profit. After it is shipped to the dealer, their job is over. That's as far as they go. Fine! The end! The marketing communications part of the business is up to the dealer within their local marketplace. That does not make them bad. Is there a better head of a manufacturing company than Brent Kincaid of Broyhill, whose company has single handily produced arguably the best selling collection of home furnishings of all time in Fontana? Is there a more innovative producer than Ron Wanek of Ashley? Does anyone get product from order to delivery faster? Is there a more respected individual in manufacturing than Albert Prillaman of Stanley? Are there any two more creative than Darrell Ferguson and Fred Copeland in the business? Are there any three more focused in quality than John Jokinen, Ed Phifer and Joe Manderson at E.J. Victor? Is there anyone more understanding than Clyde Hooker? Is there one more inventive than Jacques Wayser at French Heritage? Is there a better executive at pushing innovation in standard items than Rob Sligh of Sligh when he brought out HomeWorks? Is there a better builder of business than Bill Hayes of Century? But none of these fine individuals are led by marketing communications nor are particularly worried about that part of the process. It's not their job. Advertising is an expense... not an investment which can build the brand with today's prospective buyers of home furnishings. It is not right or wrong. It is part of understanding that there are "quarks" in this world. And this basic business plan built by our manufacturers through the years has led us to a bit of a disadvantage. What kind of disadvantage? The disadvantage is that our industry is void of identifiable Brand Names which can assist in pushing traffic into the stores at the retail level. Thus the need for the local retailer to become the advertiser to the consuming public. And here rests one of the interesting "quarks" in our business. Many of our dealers' lack of knowledge of how marketing communications discipline works. This does not make them bad people... just as it does not make our manufacturers bad people. What it means is that marketing communications is not just something passed down and gained through osmosis. It is both a learned and studied science...inexact, perhaps, but it is a science. It is filled with mathematics, sociology, geography, psychology, the arts and street science. It is a living, breathing force which plays to the rhythm of our creative business soul. It is the climax of study and life which concludes with the idea that there is one, huge and overwhelming buying force in the universe of America. It is the target audience who could or would or should buy home furnishings.
But who is our identifiable target audience who could or would or should buy home furnishings?
There is this huge baby boomer audience (44% of today's population make-up) who not only are in the marketplace for new home furnishings but have money to spend. We already know that manufacturing will not willingly make this heavy investment. After all, who will justify to the board that their earnings are down because they invested in a substantial consumer advertising program for the first time. But you say, it is not the first time. There was a time back in the 60's when they did it. Well, back in the '60s (specifically on January 9, 1967), there were about 198,712,000 Americans. Today (as of December 9, 1997), there are 268,645,742 Americans. It will cost a lot more today to reach the audience and begin building a brand because nothing substantial was done along the way except using old formulas and old means.
Conventional wisdom was that nobody with any brains watched the idiot box. Meanwhile, an entire generation became fascinated with automobiles, watches, shaving instruments, perfumes, cosmetics, electronics and so much more by sitting in front of the box, more than any other generation in history. And nary a one saw anything about... can we say the word... furniture from the manufacturer.
Today, we have to "teach" the audience about our products and services, just like the automotive industry has done for the past century. We have to understand what the audience wants, just like the automotive industry has known for the past century. We have to learn that understanding our customer is the key to our success. How do we find this out? We ask them.
That is what key retailers have learned. They learned that their target audience is different in almost every aspect from what they thought it to be. They learned that this audience is different from their competitor down the street. They learned that their target really wants to buy product from them. The secret is them. Each retailer is the key to his/her own success.
And there is one retailer who has pioneered and understood the building of the brand in their local marketplace(s) better than most. That retailer asks their customers, what they want... how they want to see the product displayed... what kind of product they want to buy...what type of fabric they want on their sofa... what kind of sofa they want for their home...what room in their home they want the sofa in.
Since the inception of Robb & Stucky's new Scottsdale, AZ store in late May 1997, they have welcomed over 78,000 prospective customers (UPs) through their doors and registered record sales. And in January, 1998, they will host over 15,000 potential buyers into this single store without ever once saying the word sale....without ever mentioning the word sale...without having the buying public come into the store because of a sale.
Are they out of their minds? Don't they know you can't sell furniture without the magic four letters of the English language? Of course they don't know this because they don't use the English language. They use the Clive language. The Clive language is one of kindness and understanding, education and development, one of simpatico and non-formula... one of margins and better margins... one of competitive pricing and dazzling displays... one of grandness and exclusiveness... one of service and patience... one of grace and elegance.
The way they reach their potential customer is through heavy television coverage in all shapes and sizes. They are in sixty second lengths, thirty second lengths, fifteen second lengths, ten second lengths and eight minute direct mail videos. They are on CBS and NBC, ABC and FOX. They are on CNN and CNN Headline, A&E and Discovery. They are on PBS, TBS, TNT and TLC. They are everywhere the boomer has landed. Why? Because that is where the boomer has told them she will be. Doesn't everyone understand that the Boomer is the largest consumer group in history? She's the key. And she doesn't want to be shouted at... doesn't want to be talked down to... doesn't want to be filled with dribble. She wants to be romanced, cuddled, held and spoken softly to. She wants to be danced, dined and thrown bouquets. She wants to be understood and listened to and above all, not told something that isn't true. She is seeking loyalty and identification. And she wants to receive that through brands she knows and can trust in home furnishings. That is the key. That is why you don't have to sell SALE.
Robb & Stucky effectively reaches their audience through the tube. Hasn't anyone told them that people who watch television are not our kind of people? If anyone told Clive Lubner that, thank heavens, he didn't listen.
And besides television, there is a whole series of in-store involvement that happens nearly every day to create excitement within the store. It is all outlined in THE BOOK...the 'Robb & Stucky Total Contributory Retail Program' which builds the brand through involvement within the store. It is this inside/outside blanket of comfort and understanding Robb & Stucky provides for it's potential customers before they buy.
This is all developed because there is one truism that is absolute about the baby boomer... they are totally loyal to a BRAND. They want to believe in a BRAND. They have learned all about BRANDS through television, the medium of communications they prefer. And Robb & Stucky invites them in to experience what the BRAND is all about. Robb & Stucky is THE BRAND in Fort Myers, in Naples, in Sarasota, in Clearwater, in Orlando and all of Central and Western Florida, and in Scottsdale, Phoenix and all of Arizona. The language of Clive dictates that. The language of Clive talks to the people in terms they understand... and will accept. There is no word called SALE in the language of Clive... at least not now.
Those retailers who understand that there are "quarks" in this world can learn to speak this language. These few can establish their brand and break free of the cycle of the SALE and the NO NO NO.
(The language of Clive can be obtained at your nearest Robb & Stucky location. It is the language of home furnishings for the Twenty-First Century).
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at email@example.com.