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Give The Lady What She Wants!

Furniture World Magazine


“Give the lady what she wants” is a famous quote by Marshall Field, the pioneer Chicago retail legend. He had it displayed on a sign above his desk in his office in the store he built in 1887. 128 years later, this wisdom still rings true. However, it begs the question: “What does the lady want?”

My view is that the lady wants a beautiful, comfortable, functional home that is the best she can afford. Furniture is just one of the stepping stones to that goal, that dream, that place.

So, if you believe that the lady who tells your salesperson at the door; “I’m just looking” is simply trying to avoid engagement, you’re right, and wrong. And if you’ve had a salesperson tell you the reason her customer didn’t buy was because: “She didn’t know what she wanted” – she’s right too.

You Are Not In The Furniture Business

You’re not in the “furniture business”, you’re in the business of helping people fulfill dreams. When Tom Peters, the author of the great business book “In Search of Excellence” studied our industry 20 years ago, he said two things that have resonated with me since: “Your industry underperforms because you set your sights too low” and then, most significantly, he said “You sell too much furniture, and not enough dreams.” Peter’s tried to wake us up two decades ago.

In my continuing list of relevant quotes, Stephen Covey in “Principle Centered Leadership” said my favorite sage thing of all time: “Sometimes, the way you see the problem, is the problem.”

I’ve studied this industry from the sales metrics, performance management, and selling strategy points-of-view for 43 years, and still do to this day. When you carefully, photographically, accurately count your customer traffic and account for all potential buyers, closing ratios (conversion rates) are right around 20% with some great salespeople at around 30% and the poorest people as low as 15%. And, this is made more powerful by the fact that if as few as 20% of your monthly traffic consists of customers returning an additional time on the same project (dream), your close ratio on new, first-time-on-a-project shoppers is around 10% OR LESS, meaning that returning shoppers, those infamous Be-Backs, close at a far higher rate – measurably in the 70% to 90% range.

Bring Back Be-Backs

How, then, can you bring back more of the people you don’t sell the first time? The Be-Backs.

Now, remember that an old customer coming in on a new project for the first time, is the same as any other first-time customer. When they don’t buy, they become a potential “Be-Back”. This fact is a critical strategic point to consider if you want to increase your sales. And, it can only be accomplished by having a well thought out strategy and coaching to ensure that the strategy is applied to every customer, every time.

The simple, “top line” statement made by understanding these critical metrics is this: If your store’s overall close ratio is 20%, that means 80% of the shopping visits to your store do not result in a sale being closed. If you can reduce the number of non-buyers to only 70% of all opportunities, your sales go up by 50% with the same level of customer visits. You get a 50% sales increase by doing some things differently. Worth considering? You still have more non-buyers than buyers, but your sales go up 50%, and you do NOT have to spend an additional penny on advertising to bring in more shoppers.

Giving the Lady what she wants means first understanding what she wants. It means that you understand that for this sofa, this dining room set, this bed, this accessory, rug, – one thing or ten things – it’s all a “project” to her. You need to have a strategic approach to understanding everything about this project – like the room – and what’s in it, what’s changing, what’s staying, what she is struggling with. You need to connect to the project and to the people through their projects. You need to become her professional partner in completing this project.

Simply knowing and showing all the “technical” things about construction, materials, fabrics, color, pricing, delivery… won’t get you connected to the one thing you know nothing about: the room. And, it won’t connect you to the project or the person either. And it is in this disconnection where you lose people. You miss the point of “Give the Lady What She Wants.”

A strategic plan lays out how you want to deal with all of your customers. A strategy statement might say:

“We will provide services to our customers to help them achieve their goals for beautiful, functional, affordable rooms and homes. We’ll make every effort to fully understand their rooms and homes, and their desired outcomes, and provide room planning services to assist them at any level they require.”
Notice, I haven’t mentioned furniture in here once. Or “quality” or used the word “best”.

This is not a “mission statement” in the old sense. Not some high-minded thing. This is a statement of what you will actually do every day when dealing with customers. Remember that 70% to 80% of what you’re doing now doesn’t work.

Arsenal Of Furniture Selling Tools

Now that you’ve made this strategic statement, you have to back it up with the training for those people who will be dealing with your customers. And, with the on-the-floor coaching to help the players make it happen.

Unless you run a powerhouse promotional store where price is your prime driver and you’re cranking out carloads of furniture every day, here is my short list of things you need to have in your arsenal of selling tools:
  • A defined, scripted selling approach that people can learn and use when dealing with customers. The simplest of these has been around for as long as I can remember, and it’s simply to ask one thing: ”Tell me about your room.” And then you need a process to follow with what to do next, which is to sketch the room and then…
  • •A 2D room planning tool on several computers around the store. Everyone needs to be able to use this tool efficiently. Plus, know when and why to use it, depending on each customer’s needs. This is a powerful way to connect to customers and their projects.
  • Simple, old-school paper forms to document each customer opportunity with an area to make a hand sketch of a room. These will later be used by the sales coach to review the salesperson/ customer engagement. This also captures customer contact information for follow up to generate those important Be-Backs (70%+ close rate).

Coaching In The Game

Coaching-in-the-game means the coach watches the game – right there on the field with the players and makes adjustments and responds in real-time as things happen. Customer engagements are replayed between the salesperson and the coach, and this is all reflected against the person’s goals for sales and income – their goals first, not yours.

Selling Strategies based on solid understanding of, and the sincere desire to “give the lady what she wants” are a great way to build a common rallying point for diverse people to find common ground – when they fully understand what is it the lady wants.

Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.