Women In The Industry (and the secrets to their success)

August 7, 2014–

Bring three female home furnishings executives together and you don’t know what they’ll say. Sarah Lyke, Dorian Stacy Sims and Caroline Hipple, on the industry, Jane Fonda and the B-word.

From left: Sarah Lyke, Dorian Stacy Sims, Caroline Hipple

From left:
Sarah Lyke is the executive director of WithIt, a nonprofit group whose mission is to help women grow in the home furnishings industry.

Dorian Stacy Sims is president of Stacy Furniture & Design in Grapevine, Texas.

Caroline Hipple is the CEO of HB2 Resources, a management consulting firm whose clients are primarily in the home furnishings industry.

RetailerNOW: How has the industry changed since you first started?

Caroline: Imagine an hourglass. Big at the top, narrow in the waist and big at the bottom.  When I started in 1977, the population was big at the top and skinny at the waist of the hour glass. The furniture companies rode the wave of Baby Boomers—what was it 78 million?—all through their life stages and we sold a lot of furniture. I remember looking at the numbers more than 20 years ago and saying we need to be out of this business by 2008. There were only 42 million of the next generation going through their life cycle and we had built an industry and supply chain for 30 million more. But you know what? We weathered that period of ‘08 to ‘15 where demographics were so tough. It was hard, but I think the people who survived, that stayed relevant to their customers, they’re the ones who are going to benefit moving forward.

Dorian: But even if you weathered through this you still need to be constantly reinventing yourself because this generation is so different from the last in terms of what they want and how they want it.

Caroline: Exactly. It requires being there and listening to your customers, growing and changing along with them. My grandfather, who was an entrepreneur, once told me, “Honey, if you can develop one characteristic, you need to be adaptable.” I was 13 when he told me that. Who knows what that means at 13, but he was so right. For retailers today it’s all about adaptability and staying relevant, figuring out how your customers buy and who your customers are listening to and getting their information from.

Sara: I completely agree. It’s not easy—never has been—but isn’t it exciting?

Caroline: Oh, absolutely.  It’s not easy, but the best way to adapt and stay relevant is to keep asking questions of ourselves, our customers—anyone we do business with. I was watching a show …. where the American Film Institute was honoring Jane Fonda. She was talking to a packed house of actors and actresses and she said something that really stayed with me. “My last message to you is to always be asking questions.” She talked about how, in the whole room of actors and actresses, only one of them who worked with her ever asked how she did things or how she could improve or be a better actor and that person was Meryl Streep. Is it any wonder (Streep) is the best actress in our time?

RetailerNOW: What are some of the problems you’ve encountered as a woman in the home furnishings industry?

Dorian: It’s very difficult to be an outspoken and intelligent woman and not be perceived as a bitch. I’ve been surrounded by salesmen my whole life. My dad’s a salesman, my uncles are salesmen, too. When I first started as a buyer my dad said, “That person across the table is trying to make a living to feed and support his family. You always be courteous and respectful no matter what. Let him show you his stuff.” Well, OK, you do that. But at the same time I’d rather just let that salesman know that this is something that doesn’t need to be spelled out for me. But if you do—and I have—then you get to be known as the B-word. I truly believe the biggest advantage women can add to this industry is we can handle conversations in a respectful, professional win-win manner. If the manufacturers, the retailers and the reps could understand that women are working for the greater good of the industry and greater good for everyone’s business we’d be a stronger industry. Most women see that it’s not all about competition. It’s about the relationships along the way. If we communicated our needs and came off as professional, intelligent women, our industry, if they would listen, could grow by leaps and bounds.

RetailerNOW: Challenges—what have you faced along the way and how has it changed?

Dorian: I go back to the when I was a buyer. It was almost as though there was a light bulb that went on eight or 10 years ago with the industry that women are the end consumer.

Sara: But yet they still struggle to figure out what that end consumer, a women, wants for a home most of the time.

Dorian: Exactly! As a buyer I would be invited to a design meeting and I’d ask, “Well, why do you do tuck the sheets in like this?” Or, “That doesn’t work here because you can’t reach your alarm clock.” And when I’d say things like that from a woman’s perspective, the people in the room—mostly men—would look at me like the dog who just heard a weird siren. They’re finally starting to listen. It’s great to see that they are listening now, but it’s taken an evolutionary process to have them realize that we’re the end consumer.

Caroline: I was working for an investment banking firm during the day and I needed some Christmas money so I got a second job. That was 1977. When I became a (This End Up) store manager at 21, my father almost hung up on me when I told him about my job. I still remember him: saying, “I paid for you to have an expensive education and you’re going to sell shipping crates?” I was like so many other young women who had gone to girls schools in (This End Up’s) senior management ranks. We were taught by our parents and our schools that we could do anything we wanted and we believed this until we went into the working world.  But when I got out into the world, that’s when I realized there was no chance for me to be a broker. The industry just wouldn’t allow it. So I went looking for mentors and companies that were merit based and not gender based. I was really lucky.  At 23, I was managing nine stores but I still remember one man saying to me “Honey, does your husband run this company?” What I think I learned is to take a job get results and then take another job and get more results. I was always working and building my portfolio of skills. Yes, there was always blatant discrimination and there always will be, but if I focused on that I wouldn’t have been able to do my job well.

Sara: The biggest challenge I see for women is getting them to stay in the industry. What I see a lot of is they get to a certain point and they can’t go any further, but their skill sets are so great so they go to other industries and other industries are benefiting from it. If you’re creative—and women in our industry are extremely creative—every industry can use you. Just in my time with WithIt I’ve seen some of our most talented people leave and it hurts. As an industry we need to better leverage the skills women have.

RetailerNOW: What advice would you give women in the industry now?

Sara: When we go to the universities I’m always telling women to take business courses because when I sit on the advisory board at High Point University I’m hearing  that their graduates just don’t understand business. When women get out into the workforce they need the leaders of their company to take the time to teach them. But even then they can’t rely on others. They should already be somewhat intuitive on how to read the books [accounting] and what needs to be done and how to move forward. They need the business knowledge on top of their degrees.

Caroline: You still see a lot of women in the design field as buyers and we should be celebrating women who have taken on core skills sets like design and merchandising and buying because that is a talent that comes natural for many women. But they need to take jobs that help them manage P/L and operations and some of the other functional areas.

Dorian: That’s the best advice I’d give new people or young people coming into the industry. You may be excited by the design or the textiles side, but you would have such an advantage over others coming in if you at least concentrated on business and the financial  aspects.

RetailerNOW: Men aren’t asked to know the design side. Is more expected from women than men?

Sara: It isn’t a matter of them expecting you to know it. I can honestly tell you the way I promoted it in the software industry was I knew accounting and economics so it let me know how to look at your company and how to visualize it and what it needed next.

RetailerNOW: Mistakes—what have you learned from them?

Sara: I think back to my days in the software industry. What I learned when I decided to leave the industry was I had no network whatsoever.  I learned that one the hard way. I think relationships are so important now. Every job that I see people get in this industry is based on a relationships.  Building those relationships and having a network is extremely important.

Dorian: Even in the worst of storms if you treat those around you—whether it’s your employees or your manufacturing reps—as you want to be treated it makes life better.That sounds simple, but it’s not always practiced. You need to treat everyone like  “Hey, we’re all weathering the storm right now, but we’re weathering it together. I’ve got this end of the rope and I’m not going to let anything happen to you just like I’m not going to let anything happen to me.” That sense of working together has been the driving force of what’s gotten me through whatever storms we’ve faced. Those relationships from the owner of the company to the credit rep are very valuable to me and I don’t take them lightly.

Caroline: And isn’t that why we love this industry? Because it is so relationship driven?

RetailerNOW: What are some of the toughest decisions you have had to make?

Dorian: When you are working in a family business, even though some people are not family by blood or marriage they become part of the family. There are times when I sit down with good friends, friends who are almost like family me, and have to tell them its not working for them and it’s not working for me. Those kinds of conversations—whether it’s a longtime worker or family member—they just absolutely suck the life out of you. At the end of the day, my family is the most important thing to me and the people that work for me are encompassed in that family. I can handle leases going away and dealing with building damage from hail storms. It’s the people part that hurts your soul.

Sara: The decisions of business—that’s all very easy for me. But I think relationships are the main thing I struggled with. When I came into this business I worked with men. Men aren’t collaborative like women. They enter a room, they figure out their stuff, make a decision, get up and leave. I was very much that way. I’ve learned to appreciate the other side of this. Women are collaborative and they get together and discuss ideas back and forth. I always found the customers who complained the most were always the ones I learned from the most. Even in WithIt where the women may have the same goals and objectives they have many different opinions and I’ve learned to sit back and listen.

A Brave New World—Youth Furniture

August 7, 2014—

On a recent Saturday morning, Wendy Levine roamed the Priba Furniture and Interiors store in Greensboro, NC, shopping for her two children. Five-year-old twins Davis and Miller are about to become big brothers—baby Mariah is due in September—prompting Levine and her husband Paul to reconfigure the family’s current sleeping arrangements.

“We’re moving the boys upstairs and they need new furniture,” said Levine, who—the twins’ patience permitting—planned on hitting three more stores before the day was over. “They’ve outgrown their old beds and their dressers are really adult dressers my parents handed down to me. They can’t always open the top drawers. They need furniture their size.”

Retailers and manufacturers, painfully aware of the state of flux to the youth furniture industry, are hoping for more shoppers like Levine in the coming months.

That’s because the youth furniture industry—always a tough sell with many retailers—could use a much-needed boost these days. It’s been four months since Stanley announced it was ending its popular Young America youth brand. Less than two weeks later, La-Z-Boy officials dropped a similar bombshell, saying it would sell off Lea Industries, its youth label, as part of a restructuring of its casegoods business.

Since then opportunistic manufacturers have scrambled to fill the void by Stanley and Lea, while others are waiting to see how things shake out, according to longtime furniture analyst Jerry Epperson.

Youth furniture sales have slowly ticked upward in recent years though never in step with traditional furniture sales for adults. Furniture Today’s annual report on the sector in June projected a 15.8 percent growth over the next five years.

Epperson said that growth will come, but only if the economy continues improving. “What has happened with Stanley and Lea is sad, but the youth category is going to rebound, it’s just a matter of when,” Epperson said. “When a better economy comes along and unemployment goes down, the demand will flow in youth, but right now we’re just not seeing it.”

Not helping matters is a declining birth rate in the country, a key indicator of future youth sales. According to U.S. Census figures, just 3.9 million people were born last—year—the fewest since 1998, and a 10 percent drop from 2012.

The good news is Census officials expect the number to remain level this year before growing in the coming years. The United States will be home to more than 80 million children in 15 years, Census officials predict.

“If you want to sell youth furniture, you better have youths,” said Epperson. “And if you want youths you first need babies.”

Not all retailers and manufacturers are bearish on youth furniture. At a red-brick warehouse in rural Christiansburg, Va., NE-Kids employees scramble daily to fill orders from retailers, who, themselves, are scrambling to fill showroom floor space.

Doug Devine says the company he started has benefitted from the flux in the industry. Devine won’t go into specifics about his private company, but said NE-Kids is seeing “double-digit gains.”

“We’ve definitely added a number of new accounts,” Devine said. “People who had been looking at us, they turned to us after (High Point) market and everything that went down.”

Devine said his company, which has built reputation among retailers in recent years for its innovative looks and trendy finishes, already had a strong product mix for retailers to choose from.

In a sector where brown and white finishes dominate product, NE-Kids was one of the first manufacturers to recognize that grey finishes from adult furniture could be successfully transferred to youth furniture, too.

“Our mix, coupled with our reputation along with (Stanley and Lea’s announcements) has really propelled things for us,” Devine said.

“The big thing with Stanley and Lea is that it forced people to do something and do it fast,” Devine said. “If I can roll out six groups for you, the retailer, I’m suddenly looking pretty attractive.”

Earl Wang, president of Legacy Classic Kids, said his company was already in position to fill the void left by Stanley based on its already-strong market share of infant and youth furniture.

“That’s not to say I think Legacy is going to dominate the industry, but we’re confident there’s a lot of room to grow, both from a manufacturer and (retailer) standpoint,” said Wang, who left Lea earlier this year. “You’re not going to see one or two manufacturers come in and dominate market share in this industry. That’s good for retailers because they’re going to have choice.”

At Stacy Furniture & Design, which has three stores and a warehouse in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Rhonda Stacy has been buying youth furniture for the Texas company since 2002. She knows the difficulties of selling youth furniture. Parents aren’t always willing to invest as much in their children’s furniture as they are their own. They fear their kids will quickly physically and mentally outgrow the bunk beds that look like a circus big top.

Stacy calls youth furniture and her corner of the showroom floor the “be-back biz.” As Stacy tells it, customers browse the youth offerings, inform the salesperson they’ll be back and are never heard from again.

“It’s a hard product to sell,” said Stacy. “Parents will buy a $40,000 car over the weekend, but sweat out a kids bedroom suite forever and ever.”

Stacy and Wang believe youth furniture’s biggest supporters are Grandma and Grandpa.

“They’re willing to step in and help out when the parents might not be able to afford the furniture or they just want to do something for the grandkids,” Stacy said.

Epperson believes the last four anxious months in youth furniture will ultimately make the industry stronger.

“Change is hard, but change can also be good,” Epperson said.  “Sometimes the industry is slow to adapt to new styles, new ways of thinking. When one company leaves, two other companies are waiting to take its place. They usually bring different strategies and styles to the marketplace. That can only be good for everyone.”

Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool Might Surprise You

Here’s a hint: It’s you. Now go spread the word.

August 6, 2014—

Alex GoldfaynAlex Goldfayn thinks many businesses have it all wrong when it comes to marketing their company—that includes home furnishing retailers, too.

“Marketing is not about collecting followers or friends on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn or any other social media site,” he says. “Marketing is about communicating your value to people who can consistently pay you for that value.”

“Think about it,” he says. “What good does it do to have the best customer service, the best value in furnishings if you don’t get those messages out to people?”

Put down the laptop. At June’s Home Furnishings Network Conference in in Chandler, Ariz., Goldfayn told attendees that marketing has nothing to do with perfecting your website and everything to do with perfecting your communication skills.

“Effective marketing, the kind of marketing that helps you sell more furnishings, more accessories than your competitor, comes from letting more buyers know about your value this week compared to those who knew about it last week,” says Goldfayn.

Goldfayn is a marketing consultant whose clients are as large as Sprint, Lenovo and T-Mobile all the way down to small-business retailers.

“Marketing doesn’t have to be difficult” Goldfayn says.  “People will try to make it difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Just keep it simple. Communicate your message of how you can help people and you’ll be marketing.”

Goldfayn offered conference attendees nine marketing tips that any retailer can implement within a month—some within the next few days. “Follow up on these strategies and your revenue won’t have a choice but to grow,” he says.

Increase awareness

Goldfayn believes you and your employees are the best marketing tools your store can buy to get your message to customers. But too many times retailers fail to communicate what they can offer the customer. “If (the customer) doesn’t know they can buy something from you they can’t buy it,” Goldfayn says.

Goldfayn says every home furnishings retailer should ask this question of his or her customers: “Did you know you can also buy ….” Or “Did you know we can also furnish…” Don’t be limited to one sale. Let the customer know you can offer more than just a sofa.

 Obtain testimonials to market your business

“If they’re buying from you, your customers must love you,” Goldfayn says. “So why wouldn’t they offer a testimonial to help you?

Target those testimonials to prospects

“It doesn’t matter if you have great testimonials if you don’t communicate them,” Goldfayn says. “Nothing leaves your store—emails, flyers, whatever—without your message on it.”

Create case studies

Create about a dozen or more short quick case studies with your testimonials. Goldfayn says each study should address four points: 1) Identify the problem; 2) How your product or service solved the problem; 3) Show the value the customer received; 3) Include a testimonial quote from the client.

Target your case studies

Now that you’ve created your case studies, you need to make sure the right testimonial is going to the right customer. Goldfayn suggests you categorize your testimonials based on the customer, the size of their home, the room they are purchasing for, etc. “Let them know that other people just like them have come to your store for help and have walked away satisfied with what you were able to do for them,” he says.

Ask for referrals

There’s a reason the customer purchased that dining room set from you, says Goldfayn. “Maybe they enjoyed their experience in your store or they trusted you or you gave them a great value. Maybe it was all of those reasons.”

Now you need to seize on that opportunity by asking that customer for a referral. Give them time, Goldfayn says. “If they can’t give you a name at the store, tell them you’ll call them in a few days. When you call them, don’t just ask for a name—help them think of somebody. Goldfayn says one-third of customers will give you a lead.

Grow your list

You need a list of current and past customers. You need a list of current and past prospects. “I’m not wanting phone numbers,” says Goldfayn. “Besides, people aren’t likely to give out their phone numbers. But you must find a way to get their email at checkout or before they leave the store.”

Reach out

Send emails every two to three weeks that are meaningful and not just self serving. Your potential customers need a reason to open your emails. Offer them tips, tricks, ideas, advice for around the house or in their lives. Include one of your customer testimonials and add a feature product with a link.

Throw a party

Don’t pitch it as a sale, but rather an event. Take your pick: an open house around the holidays, a tailgating party before or after a big football game. And don’t just invite your customers and prospects—invite the media, too.

The New Way of Marketing

July 17, 2014

Marketing changes seemingly overnight. It seems we wake up and discover some type of new marketing tool that is going to change advertising as we know it. But before you purchase that cool new digital software they say has all the capabilities you will ever need, take a step back to think about the way you and your consumer interact, buy things and even think about things.

What did you think about? Did your mind go directly to products, price, place and promotion? The new way of marketing isn’t about getting rid of what you have done in the past. It’s about taking what you have done great in the past and creating marketing that changes the way you communicate with prospects and customers.

There are four dynamic ways in which you develop a comprehensive marketing campaign that will satisfy Ms. Jones and ultimately drive traffic into the store to help you sell more stuff.

Consumer wants and needs (vs. Products)

Ms. Jones is not buying a sofa just to buy a sofa. She is buying a sofa to sit, read, sleep or lounge on. Any furnishing decision she makes is to take care of what she needs. Imagine a world where the headline “Fabulous Brand New Sofas” turned into “The greatest way to watch primetime TV available only at ABC Furniture.”

Cost to satisfy (vs. Price)

Guess what? If we make our advertising about price, Ms. Jones is going to want price. If we make our advertising about how an item is going to satisfy Ms. Jones then price is no longer a concern. Turn the headline “Mattresses starting at $399” into “How much is that aspirin costing you when this new mattress could take that cost (and pain) away?”

Convenience to buy (vs. Place)

How do you buy your product from your manufacturer partners? It is probably a safe bet that it could be done electronically, by fax, over the phone or in person.  How can Ms. Jones buy from you? The more options a consumer is given in convenience the more likely she is going to make a purchase with you.  If convenience to buy becomes a selling point for you then Ms. Jones will have more of a reason to buy from you.

Communication (vs. Promotion)

“I am winning.”
“I am going to win.”
“I won.”

All three of these statements relate to the same concept. However, based on the tense we are speaking it is obvious which one has become the truth. How we communicate through our advertising vehicles is the most important aspect versus what does it look like. Think back to your most successful events. Were they successful because of the name of the event? Or were they successful because of what they communicated to Ms. Jones?

In today’s digital marketplace, authenticity is the new form of payment. Without it, you won’t be able to get Ms. Jones to react to any communication. You won’t be able to sell your products or services. And you won’t be able to build a strong community of customers who think of you as their go-to resource.

The best way to build authenticity is to start thinking about marketing a little differently. It takes a blend of the four Ps (Products, Price, Place, Promotion) and the four Cs (Consumer wants, Cost to satisfy, Convenience to buy and Communication) to create a strong sales process. You can’t get by with only two or three of them.

When your message is right, any media will work. When your message is wrong, all the media in the world won’t help. By building a strong message and strategy for spreading that message, you will continue to deliver useful, actionable content. Thus, you’ll easily rise to the top and capture your market.

Kevin Doran is the CEO of R&A Marketing. Armed with more than 25 years of furniture retail marketing experience as a full-service traditional and digital marketing company, R&A works with retailers in the home furnishings, appliances, and electronics industries.Visit www.ramarketing.com or email info@ramarketing.com for more information.

Into The Great Wide Open

June 1, 2014 —

In case you haven’t noticed, outdoor furniture has become a hot category in home furnishings. According to an upcoming Freedonia study, Outdoor Furniture & Grills, U.S. demand for this segment is expected to rise 4 percent annually through 2017.

Lee Beatrous, production manager for Groovystuff says, “I have seen reports that the U.S. outdoor furniture industry is expected to reach $4.4 Billion by 2015. With steady growth throughout the early and mid-2000s (with the exception of the 2008 hiccup) the outdoor market has remained strong in its growth pattern.”

Beatrous attributes this growth to “the change in lifestyle and the general population’s idea of the importance of spending more time with family and enjoying the present place and moment. The hurried pace lifestyle that people are living is also an encouragement to enjoy the luxuries of home when time is spent there.”

ProductFocusOutdoorLaneVenture ABOVE: This grouping from Lane Venture includes the Clare sofa, with a marine-grade wood frame, removable slipcovers, and aluminum legs; chairs and woven tables from the St. Simons collection with hand-woven polyethylene synthetic fiber on cold-drawn premium aluminum frames; and a cocktail table from the Industrial Renaissance collection, with a solid aluminum top with sound padding and an extruded aluminum base.

Weather obviously has a big impact on outdoor furniture sales. Teresa Buelin, vice president of sales and marketing for Heritage Home Group/Lane Venture says the “long bad winter didn’t help with first quarter sales, but that means there’s pent-up demand.”

Distribution channels for outdoor furniture have changed in the last several years as more traditional furniture retailers jumped into the category.

“Traditional furniture stores are looking for a new revenue source and outdoor living is such huge category now,” Buelin says. “There are so many complimentary products that help sell the furniture: outdoor lighting, rugs and accessories. Selling outdoor typically means a larger sale—at least five or six pieces.”

PFOutdoorGroovystuffoutdoorpicTF-1027

Rory Rehmert, vice president sales and marketing for Pride Family Brands and past chairman of the International Casual Furnishings Association, adds that retailers are recognizing that the sales-per-square-foot for outdoor are almost double that of other furnishings categories.

Adding outdoor furniture comes with a bigger learning curve than does another category such as youth for example. The materials, construction, warranties, vendors and markets are different.

One of the challenges retailers face is in competing with casual furniture retailers, according to Beatrous. “The competition is tough,” he says. “A few [casual] retailers have a stronghold on the market so you need proper knowledge and research to break into it.”

Rehmert says while traditional retailers do need to “learn about the attributes of the products, components and construction,” there are many opportunities for education including trade shows such as the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market.

Outdoor furniture styles and designs has become as on-trend and fashion-forward as indoor furniture as consumers embrace the idea of extending their living spaces with outdoor rooms. Buelin says conversation seating, especially surrounding the increasingly popular fire pit, is big right now as is the use of mixed materials a woven sofa with an upholstered chair and aluminum table. “Consumers want their outdoor living space to be eclectic, just like indoors,” she says.

ProductFocusOutdoorPrideFamily

ABOVE: The English Garden Collection from Pride Family Brands features hand-woven aluminum, original castings, hand-painted detailing and tailored cushioning. Castelle luxury fire pit features state-of-the-art functionality and durable cast and extruded aluminum construction. 

“The luxury outdoor furnishing category continues to grow,” Rehmert says. “For those buyers, the ability to purchase custom designed furnishings is a growing trend. Nearly 50 percent of our production is driven by custom orders. We’re also seeing tremendous popularity in our fire features in the luxury category. The entertainment factor incorporated into these features creates an add-on interest from homeowners.”

Beatrous says trends vary depending on location and changing lifestyles, but one trend he sees as universal among all furniture categories is the “desire for eco-friendly furniture.”

The facts are there—the outdoor market is growing. More traditional furniture retailers are cashing in on this once ignored segment. Maybe it’s time to find out if exploring the great wide open makes sense for your business.

April 2014 High Point Market Wrap Up

June 1, 2014 —

The April 2014 High Point Market has come and gone. The mix of styles, colors, materials and designs offered something for everyone and are bound to entice even the most discerning consumer. Here’s a snapshot of what vendors had to offer.

Bernhard Sutton Cocktail Table CR Laine Chloe Chair
Bernhardt celebrates its 125th anniversary this year and commemorates the occasion with activities honoring culture, heritage and a legacy of giving. Culture certainly abounds in its London Calling collection, an eclectic English-style mash up of wood and metal forms. The Sutton cocktail table, described as “fashion architecture for the rock star next door,” is a Greek key wood frame, plated in antiqued brass with profiles outlined in tiny rivets. Suggested retail is $3,297. Bernhardt.com The Chloe Chair from CR Laine features a cotton/linen print with a whimsical interpretation of a polka dot; the large circles feature designer Tilton Fenwick’s peacock logo. The chair legs have a warm walnut finish and the suggested retail is $1,250. CRLaine.com
Curry & Company Zephyr table lamp Florence-Broadhurst-Bedding---Surya---Kabuki-Design-in-Teal-&-White
The Zephyr table lamp from Currey & Company is crafted in glass and features a lux off-white Shantung shade. The curvy green base has a lustrous finish and stands 34” high. Suggested retail is $600. Curreycodealers.com In case you hadn’t noticed, Surya is much, much more than a rug company. It has expanded its popular Florence Broadhurst line of rugs and pillows into bedding. This Japanese-inspired Kabuki fan motif bedding, shown in teal and white, is a duvet and pillow sham set available in twin, double, queen, and king. Suggested retail for queen duvet set is $179. Surya.com
Gus-BoltonMultiSectional-Summit01 Legacy Classic Brownstone Village
Gus Design Group’s Bolton Multi-Sectional brings new meaning to the word versatile with 19 possible configurations. The arms can easily be removed and reattached, the chaise fits on either side, and the sectional can even be two completely separate pieces of furniture—a chaise and an apartment-sized sofa. It’s available in Varsity Charcoal or Burnaby Summit and features a bench-made, brushed stainless steel base. Suggested retail is $3199. gusmodern.com The Brownstone Village collection of bedroom, dining and casual dining from Legacy Classic has a comfortable, uncomplicated look that hints at elegance with its aged patina finish. The leg table extends to 86” and seats eight comfortably. It’s crafted from rubberwood solids and oak veneers and features oil-rubbed bronze hardware. Suggested retail is $3,599 for the leg table, six chairs, and credenza. LegacyClassic.com
HowardElliot-Blur-Magenta-Manhattan-Chair HookerNina-Bombe-Chest
The Manhattan corner chair from Howard Elliott takes glam to a new level with its unusual silhouette and choice of 16 fabrics or COM. Blur Magenta, shown here, features a roomy 27” seat and a tone-on-tone vine pattern with peg feet in a dark espresso finish. Suggested retail is $738. Howardelliott.com The Nina Bombe, part of Hooker Furniture’s Mélange accents collection, offers a brilliant pop of color. Nina is available in a red or turquoise, shown here. The multi-step, high-sheen finish emulates the finish found on electric guitars, giving a nod to the resurgence of lacquer finishes. The chest is crafted of poplar solids, figured sycamore and maple veneers and MDF with wallpaper lining in the drawers. Suggested retail is $1,799. Hooker.com
NorwalkTribeca-3-piece-sectional MichaelClement-Constance
Norwalk’s Tribeca is a modern take on the sectional. The set includes left- and right-arm L-shaped loveseat chaises (62”) and a bumper ottoman. When used together, the matching bumper ottoman nestles snugly between them, creating comfortable four-person chaise, for the ultimate media room seating. Suggested retail for the three pieces is $3,699. Norwalk.com A noticeable trend this season is the use of metallic finishes and embellishments. Michael Clement’s accessories and lighting meld classic shapes and designs with antiqued gold leaf banding for a custom look. Each piece, such as the Constance lamp, is hand-crafted and custom finished is the artist’s New Orleans studio. Suggested retail price $725. Michaeljclement.com

We’re Making Sausages

June 1, 2014 —

We’ve probably all heard the quote from Otto von Bismark (a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890), “Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made.”

For the most part I think this is true—mainly because the process can be off-putting, even boring. Let’s face it, unless a law or regulation pertains to you, you really don’t care. And sometimes, even if it does pertain to you, you don’t care until it’s too late—until you end up in court, get served a compliance notice or face a fine. You care when it affects your wallet, and I can respect that.

I can also respect the fact that you’re busy. Reading over legislative updates or attending a seminar or responding to a call to action are not on the top of your To Do list. I’m here to tell you that—you have to move it to the top of your list. You have to be informed or designate someone in your company to be informed.

I recently attended a legislative summit hosted by Furniture Today. Of the 140 or so people who attended, only four were retailers. The agenda included information on Prop 65 and TB117-2013—information that’s been available on nahfa.org for more than a year and updates on both have been provided to NAHFA members on a regular basis since I started working with the association last year (and before that by the respective organizations that merged to form the NAHFA). The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) has been working on these and myriad other compliance issues for decades.

Granted, for now, Prop 65 and TB117-2013 technically only affect California retailers. But—these regulations also affect manufacturers who sell into California, most of whom either struggle with maintaining two sets of inventory or who just make everything they sell comply with California regulations. The issue of chemicals in furniture—whether we’re talking formaldehyde or flame retardants—is not going away. If anything it’s heating up—Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York are watching California and either already have or are in the process of adopting similar regulations. The federal agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission—are also paying attention to California.

For all of you retailers outside of California—guess what? These issues will affect you, either through higher product costs (because the manufacturers can’t absorb all of the fiscal responsibility required to be compliant) or, at some point in the near future, through federal regulations similar to California’s. You cannot afford to ignore these issues and think they will go away.

One of the speakers at the summit, Michael Sullivan, a leading toxic tort attorney from Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP, said it best—and I paraphrase—in order to change the dialog, you have to participate in the conversation.

During the summit, various attorneys touched on issues like product liability, risk management and compliance. A spokesperson from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce talked about the National Labor Relations Board and the Ambush Rule, which enhances unions’ ability to organize.

One thing I heard over and over again was the industry needs to work together to tackle these issues. Guess what folks? We are and we have been, and we will continue to work together.

The NAHFA and the AHFA have been working together earnestly on flammability and formaldehyde issues—both in California and with the EPA and CPSC. We also work with coalitions outside the industry that include the National Retail Federation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, California Chamber of Commerce, California Retail Association, and the list goes on. There are phone calls with key staff members to work at crafting language on proposed bills and regulations; there are meetings on the Hill; there are workshops and seminars—we’re working behind the scenes, making the sausages.

We provide detailed information to our respective members. We rally them and call them to action when it’s time.

Another thing I took away from the summit was that some companies are trying to go it alone. And while those efforts are to be commended, you should know that your respective associations are already strategically working on these issues in the most effective ways possible. We work with lobbyists, with each other, with outside groups, and non-government organizations. We’re doing the work for you—based on due diligence, years of experience, member guidance, and strategic thinking—so we effect positive, realistic change with minimal negative impact. We’re charged to do this work for you, and we’re committed to the task.

Lisa-C-photo-lores

 

Lisa Casinger is NAHFA’s government relations liaison.

You can reach her at lcasinger@nahfa.org or (800) 422-3778 x305

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Simply Irresistable

June 1, 2014 —

In the May issue I encouraged you to focus on the first and last impression that customers experience when they visit your store. Hopefully, you’ve already begun revamping and are ready for what’s next!

Every so often, a song hits the airwaves and sets off a cultural phenomenon, and in the relentless winter we just endured, Pharrel Williams’ song “Happy” set the world in motion. As they used to say on American Bandstand, that song “has got a beat you can dance to.” But I think there’s something more to the overwhelming popularity of that irresistible tune. Williams tapped into the cultural climate of our times, times when people are searching for joy, peace, and beauty in their lives.

Why else would they be shopping your furniture store? Seriously folks, the women who walk through your doors—your potential customers—are on a journey, looking for something beautiful to fall in love with and take home. This means that to be a winner in today’s marketplace, your store must speak her visual language. My book, A Beautiful Room Will Change Your Life, said it all: Psychologically speaking, purchasing products to decorate a home is little different than the hope we purchase at the department store make-up counter. We’re all chasing beauty, and our outlooks are improved—yes, we’re happy!—when we feel beautiful, wear beautiful, listen to beautiful, and surround ourselves with beautiful.

Defining Beautiful

So what’s beautiful? Poets have had a field day with this one for centuries, so I’ll skip the philosophical arguments and break it down for you. You’ll find the answer while waiting to pay for your groceries at the supermarket. Some smart merchant figured out that the best place to position magazines for sale was the eye-level rack at the check-out line, and if you have the slightest doubt about what your customers are attracted to now, I encourage you to put a few shelter publications in your cart.

Beautiful rooms abound on the magazine covers, along with catchy phrases like “Cheery and Bright: Have Fun with Blue and White” (the May issue of Country Living). No wonder that blue, the color 47 percent of the populace would choose as their “favorite” color, made the cover.

If blue is the favorite color of nearly half the population, it would make sense to put your best foot forward and lead with blue after you’ve flat-out wowed them in the first 1,000 square feet of your store. Paint a wall blue! Create a blue-themed vignette, and capture her visually and emotionally with blue accessories.

Flip a little further through the May Country Living, and you’ll find the blues keep on coming, blue sofas, blue rugs, even stair steps painted blue. Incidentally, if it’s been a while since you’ve picked up the magazine, you’ll be surprised by how country is defined today. Modern chevron patterns, or as some designers today like to call it, zig-zag, greet you on the cover, and the publication’s pages are full of headings like, “Family Fun, Who Says Decorating Needs to be Serious?

We need to be serious about decorating our stores if we hope to capture and hold her attention, and color—on product, on walls, or on the floors—is essential to ensuring your store reads modern, and yes, beautiful. So, walk past your first 1,000 square feet and take a long, hard look at what customers see after the initial excitement of your entry. If you’re faced with a sea of beige and brown, jazz up the presentation with pops of color. Yes, 50 to 60 percent of your upholstery sales will still be made in neutral covers, but the point is you’ll make those sales if you super-charge your overall presentation with visually pleasing color.

Whose Lifestyle Is It Anyway?

Next lesson: If you spend any time at all watching HGTV (and if not, why not?), you will learn quite a lot about the expectations of today’s home buyers. It doesn’t matter whether the budget is $189,000 or $890,000, everyone wants wood floors, stainless steel appliances, double sinks, walk-in-closets and wait for it, wait for it…an open floor plan in the kitchen, breakfast, living and dining areas. What’s the take-away for you in terms of presentation? Your store needs to show plenty of lifestyle-driven settings that include the rooms I just called out, in which every single piece works together seamlessly.

In other words, to appeal to the modern customer bent on happiness and beauty, you need to focus on sight lines, specifically removing any walls that intrude upon her ability to see down the middle of the store when she’s facing toward the rear of your showroom. By the way, when I say modern customer, I don’t mean young. I use that label to refer to someone who is educated and savvy and who understands what they want and don’t want. And one thing they don’t want is to shop an outdated store. So open up your presentation and create floor plans that mirror the layouts of today’s homes.

Trust me, it will be a beautiful thing and beauty is simply irresistible!

Retail design strategist, trend expert, author, and idea merchant Connie Post has nearly 30 years of experience in the home furnishings industry and is responsible for the look of more than 18 million square feet of retail and wholesale space around the globe. Connie is also a speaker, columnist, and a founding member of WithIt (Women in the Home Industries Today). Email her at conniepost@conniepost.com.

Getting More Big Bang for your Small Bucks

June 1, 2014 –

When asked to write this article on maximizing your results with a small advertising and marketing budget, I jumped at the opportunity. Here’s why: The way you get a big return with a small advertising budget is no different than how you maximize your return on a larger advertising and marketing budget.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The way a company grows to have a big advertising budget is from doing everything correctly when they were a smaller company and had to make a small advertising budget give them big results.

So, if getting a bigger return on your marketing and advertising investment is important to you—read on.

Here are several important strategies that will help you get a bigger return with your advertising and marketing investment.

First, and I cannot say this strongly enough—be selective to be effective!

One of the biggest problems I see with retailers is that they want to “spread it around.” A little here and a little there does not work! Unless you are the big retailer in the marketplace, you cannot afford to do everything.

Instead of a shotgun approach you need to think like a sniper. You must define your core target and then develop a “laser” strategy that will allow you to reach your target with the greatest frequency and efficiency.

In some rural markets we have had to invest our entire budget in as few as two communication mediums, with one of the mediums being online media. In addition to a website, you should try to allocate budget for Facebook, Pay Per Click (PPC), as well as other digital strategies.

Next, you must break through the clutter! If the consumer does not see you…you don’t exist! Your creative message must grab the attention of the consumer and it must resonate with your core target.

The smaller you are…the stronger your brand promise and message must be!

If your message does not separate you from your competitors you will not be successful. Important questions that must be answered include, “What makes you different from your competitors?” And, “What is your unique advantage to the consumer if they shop your store?”

For example, we have a client with an 8,000-square-foot store. Surrounded by mega retailers and with limited space, they had to be selective to be effective. They had to find a way to be meaningful enough that the consumer would see their message and say, “That’s what I have been looking for!” After looking at the competition they found a niche as a higher-end, custom-order store that excelled in exceptional service and value. Results—a profitable and growing retailer.

Analysis is Key. What gets measured improves! Whether you are a small or large retailer, you cannot afford to waste any of your precious advertising dollars. You must define your core market and find the most effective and efficient way to reach them with the greatest frequency.

When you consider how much it cost to get the customer into your store, it becomes clear how important it is to analyze every part of your business. You must put measuring devices on your advertising, sales team, merchandising, and operations. For example, GMROI (gross margin-return on inventory) plays a major role in holding your merchandising effective and reducing inventory costs.

Do you track every up? Do you know why customers who left the store did not buy? Do you ask each customer who did not buy for their ZIP code so you can track this for marketing purposes? Analysis allows you to effectively grow your business and generate greater profitably.

To grow, you need to have a clear understanding of where your target customers are and develop a way to measure results and growth.

Develop a primary market that you know you can own and where you believe you can get the greatest return on your advertising investment. Direct mail may be the best “outbound marketing” tool to use to reach your primary market. Studies continue to show that targeted direct mail is popular among all age groups and that well positioned direct mail gets a good return with every dollar invested.

Direct mail is also easy to hold accountable. It allows you to control frequency and it is easy to analyze results. By measuring return on investment (ROI) from each ZIP code and based on previous results, you can adjust both the message and ZIP targets. A big success story for retailers of every size is trigger mailings (a retargeting tool). See the May edition of RetailerNOW for more information on triggers.

I believe every retailer needs to get the customer who just purchased back into the store because the first purchase the customer makes rarely signifies they are finished with the buying process. In most cases, the cost of trigger mail advertising runs less than two percent of additional sales.

Digital strategies are also important. Online has taken center stage and we believe you should invest at least 5 to 10 percent of your budget to online (“inbound marketing”) strategies. We believe this will continue to grow in the coming years. However, outbound media is still crucial for building awareness and helping direct people to your web and social media sites.

Big Saver! Negotiating annual media commitments before the year begins should save you at least 20 percent. Media likes to fill time or space so they can know how to plan for the upcoming year and they are willing to negotiate to lock-in those advertising dollars.

Don’t forget public relations. Public relations is all about promoting news that will be of interest to the consumer. We propose doing a quarterly PR news release to mass media (and include it on your blog). For example, you could write your own after-market review about colors/fashions/style trends, write about a charitable donation you are making, etc. Share this with your local and industry media.

In closing, remember big gorillas started as little gorillas! Big retailers like Art Van and Nebraska Furniture Mart started out much smaller, but had a BIG VISION and followed many of the principles we are suggesting in this article. Wishing you a very successful 2014!

Douglas Knorr, known as a “retail marketing activist” is president of Knorr Marketing (www.knorrmarketing.com), a full-service marketing and advertising agency specializing in the home furnishings industry. The agency provides strategic planning, creative production, public relations, sales promotions, website development, social media, and media buying services.

It’s All in the Details

May 2, 2014

I’ve found that if I want a quality cup of coffee, I have to look for it. Wherever I travel, I like to find little gems—local coffee shops that are known for their atmosphere, music, servers, and, of course, quality coffee. Interesting presentation and/or packaging doesn’t hurt either.

I’m all about getting the best experience with a product. You might not realize it, but we have experiences with almost every product we buy. We research the company, learn a little about them, decide to buy their product, and have a personal connection. From the food at our local grocery store, to the furniture in our home, we are constantly having an experience from beginning to end.

Recently these companies have impressed me, either with their packaging, follow-through, or story. While these aren’t furniture stores, there is a lesson to be learned from each.

Knot & Splice: This Chicago-based, jewelry store sells hand-made pieces, and the owner, Nicole, sources stones and materials from independent collectors as well as American suppliers. Knot & SpliceI found a nice, simple ring that was different from anything I have and bought it.

The best thing about my purchase was her follow-up. Nicole sent me an email right away and let me know when I’d receive my purchase. (Furniture retailers could just as easily email customers thanking them and confirming delivery details). A week later, my ring arrived and even though I wasn’t giving it as a gift, it was nicely wrapped in a little box and inside was a canvas bag holding my ring. Nicole even left a personal thank-you note.

Nicole’s website and Instagram are constantly updated and show her pieces in-progress, involving customers with her process. Communication is key—and important for all retailers.

Kind SnacksKIND Snacks: I’m a bit of a health nut. I pay attention to ingredients. In my search for healthy snacks I found KIND bars. I love these bars not just because of the variety of flavors, but also because I like being able to read (and understand) the list of ingredients.

Seeing the ingredients is part of the KIND trademark. Aside from providing a tasty treat and great packaging, KIND believes in acts of kindness. The company showcases individuals who give back to their communities. I also like the bars themselves, and the thought that I’m supporting a company that I feel believes in me (and being kind) when I purchase their products.

This brand knows how to walk the walk and talk the talk. CONSUMERS LIKE SUPPORTING COMPANIES THAT DO GOOD THINGS. If your business is of this mindset, make sure you share your mission and your story—customers will appreciate it.

Shinola: On Instagram one day, I saw a gorgeous watch. It had a tomboy style that appealed to me and it was just overall beautifully made. The watch was from Shinola, a Detroit-based watch, bicycle, and leather manufacturer. ShinolaShinola not only strives to make the best possible products, the owners want to help rebuild and rejuvenate the city and contribute to its rich heritage.

I was already in love with their designs and then fell even further in love with the mere fact that I was vicariously contributing to the growth of a struggling U.S. city with my purchase. Shinola’s packaging is also exceptional. Each watch comes in a wooden box that includes information not just on the watch itself, but also information on who made it! Their follow-through with purchase is undeniably personal.

Shinola has also created a social community—they post about the history of Detroit, new products they’re working on, photos of their workers, and if you post a photo of yourself with their product, while using the hashtag #MyShinola, they share it. Shinola has definitely created a new way of appreciating their consumers.

Companies that impress customers (like me) with a friendly (and immediate) follow up, striking packaging, locally and U.S. sourced materials, and the ability to engage us where and how we want to be engaged will come out on top. Take a lesson from these companies and start following up with and engaging your customers.

Brooke Feldman, Contributing Editor

 

 

Brooke Feldman is an Instagram fanatic, yogi, opera goer, coffee lover, and writer of the blog, The Seed, which focuses on social good and innovation. She is also the digital marketing coordinator for Nourison Industries