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Dear Furniture Godfather

Furniture World Magazine


Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that answer reader’s questions about how to do the right thing in the retail furniture business. In the interest of full disclosure, we didn’t pay Don Gordon, but we do owe him a small favor! Send him questions at FurnitureGodfather@furninfo.com.

I have had several nicknames in my furniture career. I have been called “Bones” for my Las Vegas background and The Teflon Don for the ability to sell fabric protection. My latest moniker, “Godfather” was given to me by Mattress Industry Veteran Hank Hegert.

Dear Furniture Godfather: My store opens at 10 am but my sales team arrives between 9:55 and 10:15. Even then, they are pouring coffee, straightening ties, and chatting about some IDOL show on TV. How can I get them to be more prompt and prepared?  -Desperate in Dubuque

Dear DD: You can’t expect your team to be prepared unless you are prepared! Be a wartime Consigliere. There has to be a transition between personal time and work time. You can make your headcount easy and get your team ready for the business day at the same time. Start a Morning Round-up Meeting next week. Each morning have a short meeting, 10 minutes or so, scheduled for 15 minutes before store opening.

You will have the opportunity to review merchandise, advertising, and credit terms with your team. Always discuss team performance from the previous day and the sales goal for today. Point out any new merchandise and any floor changes.

The bonus for you is that when you start your meeting promptly, you will have a quick count on which RSAs are on time, and which are late. Keep in mind the Godfather’s first rule of management, “If you can’t get them to work on time, you won’t be able to train them to do anything else.”

Dear GF: I have always heard that 50% of all advertising money spent is wasted, but sometimes I think it is 80% at my store. We advertise a lot, and have great traffic, but our close rate is usually under 20%. How can I fix this? -Frazzled in Fresno

Dear Frazz: It sounds like your advertising IS working. The job of advertising is to bring shoppers to your store. Don’t cut off the head of the horse that is running for you! What isn’t working is your sales process. The job of the sales team is to convert shoppers into buyers. If you are not counting incoming traffic guests, or “ups”, per RSA, you need to do that today. Install a door counter to measure all traffic to match against your RSA traffic count.

Average or Good RSAs should be able to earn a living greeting 140-160 guests a month. If your sales team is averaging 180 to 200 or more guests in a month, then you are understaffed and need to add on to your team. Despite your current sales team’s objection, there is no finite pie to slice. Adding one extra RSA to your gang is worth $300-500 large in sales per month.

Also set up an RSA tracking sheet. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal, a simple legal pad and pen will work. Have columns for Guest arrival and departure time, who greeted them, and note if a sale was made. If a sale was not made, the RSA needs to note what the shopper’s objection was to purchasing.

Look for commonality in the Objection column. If Price is consistently noted, then your sales team needs to learn to build value. If “too long to wait” shows up, then you need to train on early discovery questions. Watch out for too many “Just Browsing” responses. This indicates that your RSAs can’t engage with the tons of paid-in-advance traffic that your store is getting.
Continue to invest in advertising. Just be sure to measure true results of the traffic you are bringing in.

Dear Don Gordon: Our company invests a lot of time and money in pre-delivery preparation of merchandise. Our goal is for every piece of furniture to leave our DC in near-perfect condition. We have a team of inspectors that have the authority to reject and repair or replace any item before it leaves our building for delivery. Despite all of our efforts we still experience a 10% refusal rate from our customers. We are drowning in returns. Please help!
-Picky in Poughkeepsie

Dear Picky: You are doing the right thing in doing a service to your customer, and no one should drown unnecessarily. Make every delivery experience a great experience. Here are three things that may help to reduce returns.

First, think like a customer. Chances are that your customers are mostly female. If your inspection team is mostly male then they are probably unable to look at delivered furniture with the same critical eye as your female customers. Take the next two weeks and ask your female associates to act as inspectors. They can work in customer service, cashiers, buyers, VPs, or accounting offices. Give them an hour’s training on your inspection process, and then let them be the final judge on merchandise appearance.

If you see a decrease in returns, get your “new” inspectors to train your current inspectors.
Next, look at your truck packing. Furniture pads and ties are a lot less expensive than furniture, so they should be used generously. Beware of cartons resting against upholstered pieces and be sure to fully wrap open case goods. Items that leave your DC in good shape and arrive in substandard condition are being damaged in transit. Also, be sure you are allowing your delivery teams enough time for each stop. Teams that are rushed will surely get careless and damage more merchandise.

Finally, be sure your home delivery team has a process for minor touch ups. Equip them with tools and training. Work with them on scripts for when minor issues appear. Look for the opportunity to repair in home rather than exchange product. Double exchanges rarely work and there has never been a successful cost-free, hassle free third-time even exchange!
Dear Godfather: Our stores are swimming in old and outdated accessories! This is affecting my open to buy and ability to refresh. I have tried mark-downs, even up to 70% off. Nothing seems to work. What liquidation techniques do you suggest? -Over-Lamped in Los Angeles

Dear LA LA:
The Godfather never liquidates, but knows some people who are in that business.

Accessories are one of the most difficult segments of our business. They help sell our merchandise, but most stores have difficulty selling lamps, rugs, pictures and small table items. For most stores, an inventory turn of ONE is a monumental achievement!

The ideal time to sell accessories is when your customer is buying their room. You will probably realize very few accessory-only sales, despite deep mark-downs. It is just easier for your shopper to envision accessories when shown with the furniture they are buying.

If your furniture store has a Visual Merchandiser on staff for store set-up, have that person be available to help RSAs and Shoppers select accessories at the time of purchase. Simply have the RSA introduce their shopper to the VM during the sales process. Shoppers who appreciate the appearance of your store will welcome professional guidance in completing their purchase.

Next, you should STOP using the word Accessories with your shoppers. Call them what they are-Lamps, Pictures, Mirrors, and so on. Forget percent discounts. Your shoppers are so immune to percent that 50% or even 70% mean nothing. Change your strategy to “Buy One-Get One”. Add FREE or $1.00 to the BOGO and you are moving two items at the same time.
For small tabletop items, group them by price on tables or shelves near the cash wrap area. Make one area EVERYTHING $9.95, and price the other areas at $19.95 and $29.95. You can use dots to verify pricing. This lets your shopper view the items and understand price without using a calculator. Holiday time is a great time to move these out. I have seen some stores add ribbon and a bow to small items to help with gift ideas.

Finally, if you want to dump the accessories at ANY COST, consider rewarding your past customers with a free accessory card. Identify your ten highest spending customers for 2013 and invite them in for $200 in FREE ACCESSORY items. These are your best customers, so chances are they will spend more than $200 and tell all of their friends how great your store is. Then e-mail all of your customers with a $50 gift card for any accessory item.

You can reward new customers with a 5% or 10% instant rebate on their purchase towards any lamps, pictures, et cetera, at the time of purchase. The Godfather always believes in giving merchandise instead of money to close a sale!

Another Editor’s Note: The Furniture Godfather told me to tell you that he is willing to offer his friendship and service to Furniture World Magazine readers. Send questions to Don Gordon Hecht at FurnitureGodfather@furninfo.com to get back an answer you can’t refuse!

About Gordon Hecht: Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.hecht@aol.com