Roving Reporter: Hannah Rowell, High Point University

January 13, 2014

You know it’s market when the seemingly empty streets of downtown High Point are filled to the brim with sophisticated business people from all over the world and the crowd in the elevator makes you realize that all of these people are here for one thing. Every year thousands of people in the furniture industry congregate to enjoy yet another furniture market full of diverse and unique displays in the “furniture capital of the world.” With this being my first time encountering such an event, I was amazed at what I saw.

As a freshman studying visual merchandising and design at High Point University, let’s be honest—I had no idea what the furniture market had to offer. Not only that, but I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into when I signed up to job shadow a professional there. All I knew was that I would get to have lunch with some of the best professionals in the industry, and then job shadow someone. So I said, “Why not?”

My day began with a slightly longer than normal bus drive to the International Home Furnishings Center in downtown High Point, where I had the good fortune of being able to have lunch and listen to a discussion, hosted by editor-in-chief of Furniture Today, Ray Allegrezza, including speakers like Kerry Lebensburger (president of sales at Ashley Furniture Industries), Seth Goldberg (VP of business development at Raymour & Flanigan) and Rod Gordon (VP of technology at MicroD Inc.). They gave ample insight into what it takes to be a professional in the industry and shared their personal stories of how they made it to where they are now.

After lunch, I was able to job shadow Lael Thompson, COO at Broyhill Home Collections in the greater Denver area. Luckily I was paired with the right person. Not only did Lael show me some of the most amazing showrooms including Michael Amini and Surya, but he also introduced me to some truly unique professionals. Our most memorable stop was at the Nourison Industries showroom, where I met Jeff González, director of furniture and store sales.

As we walked into the chic showroom full of rugs, pillows and other textiles, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. But after a minute and a lesson later, I realized why Lael brought me there. There’s more to interior design than just picking out pillows and slapping down a rug. No, interior design is much greater than that. There is a whole industry that devotes its services to creating not just a room, but also a complete and cohesive atmosphere, including textiles, lighting, accessories, furniture, electronics and so much more. It was impressive to see all these industries come together in one place to network and share their ideas.

As the day progressed, Lael eventually led me to Ashley Furniture’s Urbanology display. This quickly became my favorite part of the day due to the displays and outlook on design. It is exactly what I want to do with my career. It was fitting that earlier in the day, one of the panelists at the luncheon suggested we “present a lifestyle, not just a price,” because Urbanology displayed a convenient and unique lifestyle that most Americans can afford.

The displays included elements showing creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The use of raw materials and upcycled items such as old books, paint-chipped doors and worn-out shutters brought a new and inspirational aspect to the idea of design. Design doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and buy the most expensive items on the market. No, design can be created out of almost anything, including items you could find at a flea market or thrift shop.

Taking everything into account, the day was full of new experiences, acquaintances and opportunities. I was able to mingle with some of the most inspirational professionals in the industry, including designer Barclay Butera and Satya Tiwari (president and founder of Surya). I got the opportunity to shadow someone with real experience and wisdom in the furniture industry and I was able to experience, for the first time in my life, what it’s like to go to my first furniture market. Not a bad start to my career.

Are you visiting a show or new market event? Let us know at jennifer@retailerNOWmag.com!

Furniture Today Leadership Conference 2014

January 10, 2014

NAHFA attends FT Conference with Honors

The 17th annual Furniture|Today Leadership conference in Naples, Fla., enjoyed a record turnout for the show. From December 3-5, 2013, more than 470 industry leaders descended on the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort to enjoy an itinerary packed full of panels and presentations, all following the theme of “Mastering the Game.”

 

2014 FT Masters of the Industry Winners

Ron Wanek, left, of Ashley Furniture, Bernie Moray of Gorman’s, Art Van Elslander of Art Van Furniture, Simon Kaplan of Crest Furniture and Jake Jabs of American Furniture Warehouse received lifetime achievement awards at Furniture/Today’s Leadership Conference and Masters of the Game Awards dinner.

NAHFA held a strong presence among the attendees, with several of the association’s members being honored with awards. Four out of five recipients of the Masters of the Industry Award are members:

Art Van Elslander; Art Van Furniture; Warren, Michigan
Jake Jabs; American Furniture Warehouse; Englewood, Colorado
Bernie Moray; Gorman’s; Farmington, Michigan
Ron Wanek; Ashley Furniture HomeStores; Arcadia, Wisconsin

Simon Kaplan of Dayton, New Jersey-based Crest Furniture also received this award.

The Masters of the Industry Award is presented to retailers who have been industry visionaries, taking leadership to a new level and acting as ideal role models for the furnishings world.

 

2014 FT / Leggett & Platt Rising Star Award Winners

Tackling the subject of attracting young consumers and employees to the furniture industry. Seth Goldberg, left, Raymour & Flanigan; Will Daughtrey, Badcock Home Furniture & more; Jessica Tubman, Circle Furniture; Mark Mueller, Mueller Furniture; and Becca Sudbeck, Nebraska Furniture Mart.

The next generation of retailers also came out on top, with three out of the five of the Furniture|Today – Leggett & Platt Rising Star Awards going to NAHFA member stores:

Jessica Tubman; Circle Furniture; Boston
Will Daughtrey; Badcock Home Furniture; Mulberry, Florida
Seth Goldberg; Raymour & Flanigan; Liverpool, New York

Non-member store winners were Becca Sudbeck of Omaha, Neb.-based Nebraska Furniture Mart and Mark Mueller of Bellville, Ill.-based Mueller Furniture.

This award is specifically for young retailers who display exceptional levels of leadership, creativity, vision and innovation.

 

 

Congratulations to these shining NAHFA stars!

 

Words of Wisdom

The FT conference panels offered some easy-to-remember tips to success. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorites.

  • → If you take risk out of life, you take opportunity out of life.
  • → The magic lies in execution, not in ideas.
  • → Be relentless with your quest to change the world.
  • → Execute or be executed.

NAHFA Hires New Lobbying Firm; Strengthens Commitment to Government Relations

Grayling, a leading government relations company, as its lobbying firm of record, replacing long-term lobbyist, John Satagaj, who’s retiring.

“John diligently served as the lobbyist for the home furnishings retail industry for decades and we wish him all the best in his much-deserved retirement,” said Sharron Bradley, NAHFA’s CEO. “As we began our search for a new lobbying firm, it became clear to us that Grayling was a perfect fit for the Association.”

Grayling’s lobbyists and staff are not only well-entrenched within the Beltway, they also have staff in key metros across the country, and they have years of experience lobbying in the home furnishings industry with the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA).

Grayling’s lobbyists are already working on issues that affect the industry as a whole, such as the EPA formaldehyde and CPSC flammability regulations for furniture, and they are well-connected and prepared to work on issues that affect NAHFA members specifically, such as the Marketplace Fairness Act, tax reform, and Hours of Service regulations, among others.

“Working with Grayling solidifies our commitment to keeping our members informed about the issues that affect their businesses and armed with the knowledge and tools to respond when needed,” Bradley said. “It also builds upon the relationship we have with AHFA and its leadership and helps create an even more relevant and persuasive voice for the industry in Washington.”

About the North American Home Furnishings Association:
The North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) was founded in 2013 with the merger of the three largest home furnishings retailer associations in the U.S. The NAHFA is the nation’s largest organization devoted specifically to the needs and interests of home furnishings retailers, with more than 1,800 members representing more than 7,000 storefronts across all 50 states and several foreign countries. Association offices in the East, West, and Central United States provide its members with programs, resources, services, and a unified voice in government relations by partnering with home furnishings industry suppliers, vendors, affiliates, and other organizations. For more information on the NAHFA visit www.nahfa.org.

Hidden Statements: What Your Showroom Property is Telling Customers

November 20, 2013

In our omni-channel retail universe, much of our focus tends to be on the condition of our online presence. And with good reason—online commerce may only be 7 percent of overall retail sales right now, but it is the primary driver for many industries, and has the greatest potential for growth. Even those entrenched brick-and-mortar businesses (grocery stores, car dealers, hardware stores, etc.) tend to focus much more on their product offerings, pricing and promotions. Our attention wavers when it comes to presentation of the product (particularly important in our home furnishings vertical), and we can be downright neglectful when it comes to the less glamorous components of our retail space. Though not as exciting as floor merchandising, the condition of our public areas—storefront, parking area, restrooms, front counter, customer pick-up—makes a hidden statement about our business. If you take a look at these areas in your own operation, what do you think they may be telling customers?

 

Store Entrance

adult-woman-standing-in-entrance-to-shop-with-arms-crossed

image courtesy of Thinkstock

Your storefront and entrance are the first and most obvious areas of initial customer contact and your single biggest opportunity to create the right impression. Successful retailers excel at storefront display and signage, changing these visuals according to season, new product arrivals or promotional events. But what else does your storefront area say about your business? If you are a freestanding store, you will have to maintain a clean, code-compliant parking area, with landscaping and conveniences like outside trash disposal and perhaps some benches for seating. However, if you are part of a strip mall, indoor mall or redeveloped textile mill (like in our case), you will have to grapple with the landlord’s standards for your property. This may not necessarily be consistent with the statement you are trying to make about your business. For example, our storefront has a perfectly nice entrance, clean and accessible, but with a smoking station by the door. This is not what I would choose for the entrance, but we have little say in the matter. Could this be sending a Hidden Statement about the facility? Are we saying “Smokers Welcome” or “Smokers Stop Here”?

Front Counter

Years ago, we had a front counter that ran the width of the store. It was an obvious spot to help our customers, but it was also a barrier. Our business model is not highly transactional; it is more collaborative. We work with customers who are customizing furniture, and we need to show customers that we are on their side in the process. The counter was a barrier and sent the wrong signal, so we replaced it with some table and chair sets. We eliminated our cash register as well, using our online order management systems to receive payment and generate receipts (cash is a rarity in our business, due to the high Average Order Value). We took the hidden signal of “this is you and this is us” and flipped it around, making the process more participatory.

We could still improve, though. With our open floor plan, customers were able to walk around our office, and some would hover over our shoulders as we entered in information. Since we don’t want customers to have access to our pricing, we tried to corral them away from the office area with a rather truculent sign. What was the Hidden Statement? Stay Out!

To tone this down and keep more consistent with our business philosophy, we softened things up and made a waiting area, complete with two very comfy chairs and a table, with a more polite sign that asks customers to wait where they are for service. We’ve still kept a barrier, but its not so in-your-face. What message does your front counter send?

man-standing-alone-at-counter

image courtesy of Thinkstock

 

Restrooms

restroomsIf you are a full-service standalone retail store, it is imperative that you have restrooms. Retailers in enclosed malls can get away with directing customers to the common area restrooms, but otherwise, it’s a necessity. In our business, we are relatively low on foot traffic and this allows us to monitor and maintain clean, orderly restrooms. This was not always the case, however. Before our last store expansion, we relied on the common area restrooms, which were not maintained to our standards due to high usage. As our discomfort with the restroom situation grew, we took the opportunity to work with our landlord and build in two brand new restrooms in our third showroom. The result? No Hidden Statements about our business: The restrooms are decorated with our own product, down to the mirrors and vanity, and maintained to impeccable standards. There is no possibility of a negative experience in this unsung portion of our showroom.

 

Common Areas

family-at-shopping-plaza

image courtesy of Thinkstock

Retail tenants in covered malls, shopping plazas, strip malls and hybrids such as our business share common areas. We are located in a historic building with several other tenants. We are the only retail operation on our floor, and with relatively light foot traffic, we need to make sure that the common areas are welcoming to Carolina Rustica customers. Even a spacious common area may not necessarily be welcoming to customers. We try to adapt to that situation by placing group settings outside of our store. Most shopping center managers try to create a clean, welcoming environment for their retailer, so in a majority of cases, there is little that can (or should) be done. However, there are surely many retailers like us who live with mundane or lackluster common areas. Remember that customers see these areas before they enter your store, so do everything you can to create the right impression before they ever set foot in your domain.

 

As retailers and business owners, we are typically flooded with a hundred things to do during the day, and re-examining the state of our restrooms or common areas is usually not even on the list.

However, our customers see everything in our business, and we can be sending Hidden Statements that work against our own diligent efforts to create the right impression. It can be something as simple as signage, for example. In one of our galleries, we have a roll-down door when we are understaffed and not able to have someone seated out front. Realizing this made us looked rather unapproachable, we simply had a sign made directing our customers to our other galleries. We want to be as inviting as possible, and all it took was some simple signage to change the Hidden Statement.

Look at your environment with a shopper’s critical eye and see what can be realistically improved upon. Take a neutral or negative Hidden Statement and turn it into a positive one. Make it your own!

4 Devices—1 Website: Be Responsive and Win

November 19, 2013

Convert more website leads into sales with an adaptive presence

When I look at retailer websites today, I’m finding a growing roster of great pages. Searchable inventory, current sales promotions, embedded video, clear contact information, directions, maps and other features are making websites into impactful gateways to sales.

What retailers don’t control, however, is how shoppers view their websites.

Consider these quick facts illustrating the changing reality of consumer connectivity today:

  • In June 2013, 1 in 3 hits on local retailer websites came from mobile devices (comScore)
  • Smartphones and tablets doubled the amount of time people spent online daily between 2010 and 2013 (Gartner)
  • Today people use smartphones more often than PCs to get online (Cisco)
  • 31% of people who own smartphones say it’s the only way they access the internet (Karen McGrane, BA+S)
  • During Facebook’s latest earnings call, the firm reported that 40% of Americans log into Facebook every day; 79% of those do so from a smartphone

Multi-Screen Experiences

The fact is, your best customers move between four or more devices every day. “You don’t get to decide which platform or device your customers use to access your content: they do,” says Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile.

It’s time to get real and fix your online presence to match where and how your ideal shoppers access information.

Keep in mind, mobile doesn’t just mean smartphones, and it doesn’t necessarily mean on the move. It encompasses a proliferation of devices, platforms and screen sizes—from the tiniest “dumb” phones to smartphones, iPods and tablets, and from notebook computers to laptops that provide a near-PC experience. Any device that can easily be moved is mobile.

Try this exercise. Pull up your website on a standard old PC, then grab the window and make it progressively smaller (less wide). What happens as the window gets narrower? Your site may look great in widescreen, but on a tablet it may break. On a mobile phone, it may be impossible to navigate or read with cumbersome pinching and zooming. This is what your prospects are seeing across their range of devices, and you may have already lost them due to sheer frustration.

These days, the odds are good that your website provider has a separate mobile website ready for your domain. On the one hand, that will provide better engagement from mobile devices. On the other hand, you have to maintain two separate websites and work to reconcile the two.

Consider Responsive Design

Retailers must retool their websites to deliver the right product information and a clean, professional shopping experience to all visitors regardless of what platforms they choose. How can you be sure your content will work everywhere, all the time? Start thinking about having one universal structure that would be designed from the start to cover the full range of cases.

It’s time to embrace adaptive content and responsive web design. Responsive web design is the approach that suggests design and development should respond to user behavior as well as screen size, platform and orientation. This consists of using a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images, and an intelligent use of code. As the user switches from one device to another, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. Responsive web design is the sweetheart of web designers right now, and with good reason. It allows businesses to be cross-platform without sacrificing content or redesigning from the ground up every time a new device comes out.

 

Transitioning your Website

If responsive web design makes sense for your stores, take a stair-stepped approach to this opportunity.

Start with a plan

Moving to responsive design requires an investment of time to think through your web strategy. Envision what you want the user’s experience to be on each platform. New technology makes it possible to put both text and images on the same site and render them correctly across all devices.

If you don’t have a good mobile presence today, try starting with DudaMobile (www.dudamobile.com) to establish a mobile website, and then work into the responsive site, which will take time. Setting up a DudaMobile site with very basic functionality takes about an hour.

Work with a specialist

You’ll want to work with a web design firm that can look at your current site and see what’s salvageable for a new responsive site. In some cases you may need to start with a fresh site from top to bottom.

Your association may suggest a specific website vendor who offers new, responsive templates to update your site. You may need to broaden your vendor search to agencies and site developers who are more up-to-date in this area.

Think through functionality

Think hard about what you want mobile users to be able to do on your site. Ask your customers what they want/expect to be able to do on your website from a smaller device. Do your homework.

Be patient

A good website vendor will require three to four months to create your new site and achieve responsive bliss. Costs will vary depending upon the scope of work and your goals for the site.

When your site is working its way through coding, it may be time to reconsider your online advertising approach to maximize the responsive opportunity. Search, display and mobile ads working together across devices lead to more qualified clicks and closed sales if the user experience is solid across devices.

Finally, be sure to install Google’s new universal analytics code on your website. This will give you maximum flexibility to apply unique advertising tracking codes and other elements across your site without having to change the tags applied to individual web pages. With your new website up and running and this code applied, you’ll be able to easily track every click back to the device it came from, and establish a baseline return on investment number to your website redesign costs and online advertising program.

Regina Dinning is a business development director for home goods at Netsertive (netsertive.com). Dinning (rdinning@netsertive.com) is a seasoned professional with more than 15 years’ experience in marketing and advertising, including several years specifically in home furnishings.

Q: How do you determine an appropriate conversion rate or close ratio?

November 15, 2013 

David-GunnA: Most published data seems to be from the wish list rather than reality, and the calculation is less obvious than you would expect. Stores that use measured door traffic counters in some impartial way (like literal door swings) will generally show a lower number. If you rely on salesperson up data, it will artificially inflate the number. Find a baseline and use that as a starting point to measure whether your store or salesperson is getting better or worse, regardless of whatever known flaws are incorporated in the number, so long as you measure the same way each time.

Store location can impact the baseline, too. A mall or busy shopping center might have a lower close ratio due to more casual lookers who just happen by, versus an out-of-the-way standalone destination store that will have a higher percentage of purposeful shoppers.

David Gunn, Knight Furniture

 

Dave Harkness

 

A: We have the sales staff keep track of ups and we have a camera on the entry doors that an office employee uses to do a traffic count. Then the sales manager comes up with final figures by balancing out the two. Without having a full-time greeter, I think the camera format works the best for us and is pretty accurate.

 —Dave Harkness, Harkness Furniture

 

 

Haimsohn H1_thumbA: Generally, I find industry averages to be inaccurate. Each store is unique. We determine an acceptable closing rate based on historical data and current data, and take the average as what is generally accepted as a minimum. If you ask 10 different retailers exactly how they track and exactly who is counted as an up, you will get at least seven different responses—maybe 10.

—Howard Haimsohn, Lawrance Furniture

 

 

Casey EvansA: Ups can often be skewed by the sales staff’s interpretation of a true “up.” We provide in-house financing so we have a large amount of traffic every day in the form of customers who come in simply to make a paymenton their account. Some of these customers paying on account turn into true ups that never get written down. Likewise, we have customers who come in regarding a service issue and end up looking at merchandise. There are so many scenarios outside of your regular Joe walking in the front door asking about a recliner. It’s, unfortunately, just not that simple.

 —Casey Evans, Pedigo Furniture

 

Marty Cramer

A: For new staff I use a starting goal to achieve after 120 days. For current staff we use an average of the previous three years.

Marty Cramer, Cramer’s Home Furnishings

Being on Social Media Doesn’t Make You Social

November 15, 2013

You’ve jumped on the bandwagon and have added social media marketing to your business. You made your business a Facebook page, Twitter account and a YouTube channel. You added some fans, followers and subscribers to it. Great! Then you got busy with the other 100 different jobs you do as a retailer. Sound like you?

There is nothing worse than a customer (especially a Gen Y or millennial) landing on your social media outlets and seeing nothing has been posted since last year. Their first thought is “Oh… They must have gone out of business.” They won’t bother looking at your website to see that you’re really still in business, because they landed on your social media site first and saw nothing.

So how do you fix this? What’s next? How do you make them talk to you? How do you get them to keep coming back? More importantly, how can you get them to buy from you?

Unfortunately, there is no exact science to make your social media outlets be the best they can be. The most successful Facebook pages are and always will be those of big-name companies. However, you can be like a rock and crush those larger brands in your local community.

Follow these social steps to help tip the odds in your favor.

Update Your Facebook Content Daily!

The key to Facebook is consistency, consistency and, you guessed it, consistency. Don’t do three posts on Monday and then post nothing again until Friday. The best way to keep your fans engaged is to stay consistent and fresh in their minds. However, this can be a double-edged sword. If you publish too often with content that your fans don’t care about, they will hide you from their wall feed. Facebook users have the ability to block all status updates and any information posted by a Facebook page. The purpose of your page is lost once they hide you from their feed. So tread lightly with what you post and how often you post. Try posting one to two times maximum per day. If your content is good, people will notice it.

Be a Resource on Twitter

If you really want people to follow and continue following you, make it impossible for them to leave by providing them with high-quality and interesting updates. This can be done via linking out to an informative article or by giving a thoughtful opinion in a wider discussion.

Use Playlists to Your Advantage with YouTube

Your YouTube channel does not need to be populated solely with videos that you create. Pool a listing (or several lists) of videos through YouTube’s playlist feature. Your playlists will include videos made by other YouTubers and could include other videos such as useful industry resources. For example, maybe Serta released a new commercial about the counting sheep or they are running some sort of promotion. Your YouTube channel could feature these videos to keep your audience informed. Obviously, you want to stay away from promoting competitors’ videos, but any content that you consider to be complementary can be linked to a playlist and promoted on the homepage of your channel.

Quick-Fire Marketing is brought to you by 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 is the industry’s premier agency for retailers in the home furnishings and appliances/electronics industries. Visit us on the web at www.ramarketing.com or email us at info@ramarketing.com.

Trends in Dining Upholstery

November 15, 2013

The dining room is making a comeback. Where once people preferred dining spaces to be located within great rooms, homeowners are now looking for formal dining rooms they can use to entertain friends or host holiday meals.

Whether it’s casual family meals or more formal gatherings like intimate dinner parties, comfortable seating is important. This is leading to a demand from consumers for luxury chairs with detailed upholstering that are not only comfortable but that make a statement.

The traditional hard-surfaced, plain dining room chairs are on their way out. Replacing them are chairs that are softer, larger and overall more comfortable. People are looking to experience a more lounge-type feel when dining at home.

In order to accommodate the increased time people are spending around the dining room table, homeowners want custom chairs to match personal taste and needed comfort. A variety of dining upholstery trends make their debut as a result.

Fashion-inspired dressmaker details

Dining Room, Kristin Drohan

Homeowners are looking for details such as tufting, nailhead trim and buttons, which play a major part in the overall look of upholstery. These details once served as part of the construction process in furniture upholstery, but now double as a major element in the design process of dining room seating.

This emphasis on detailing is a testament to the continued relationship between fashion design and furniture design. Dressmaker details add texture to the solid and neutral color choices commonly found in kitchen and dining fabric selection.

 

Neutral color choices in dining room chairs

MaliAzima_KristanDrohan_small

 

People are taking fewer risks in choosing colors and prefer to stick to a neutral palette to ensure the pieces will be a staple, permanent part of the room that won’t go out of style. Black and white is an example of a classic color palette that is popular in dining room interior design today. Black and white upholstered chairs give the room a combination of added depth and contrast.

 

Brighter color choices in smaller seating

As the economy picks up, homeowners tend to incorporate bright color into their homes in small doses to play off other details such as knobs and backsplashes. They are more likely to take risks with these brighter colors in smaller seating such as bar and counter stools. Examples of these colors are gold, saffron and mulberry.

 

Cleanable, durable high-quality textiles take priority

KDC-Kathryn Bar Stool, Sensuede CrimsonAccording to interior designer Kristin Drohan, clients no longer want to sacrifice or compromise on either their style or the function that dining rooms and kitchens need to possess. Fortunately they don’t have to. “We are using a lot of high-end, impactful chic fabrics on the out-back. On the in-back and seat, we use durable, cleanable fabrics,” says Drohan, owner of the Kristin Drohan Collection, a company that designs custom, high-end, environmentally friendly furniture.

People don’t want to invest in luxurious, stylish dining room seating that is going to be easily ruined after guests leave. This must be leveraged with fabric that is cleanable and user friendly. Homeowners rank function up there with personal taste in terms of priority.

In kitchen and dining areas, hard surfaces make up much of the space. Cabinets, countertops, and tables don’t always allow for much creative detailing in the design process.  It makes sense that people are now looking to add details to their kitchen and dining rooms through stylish upholstery work that is noticeable.

“People really like to jazz up the chairs, including the fabric choices and detailing, for some special touches,” says Drohan. “People are sitting around the dining table longer nowadays so chairs are getting more use. People are more willing to make an investment in high-quality custom pieces for ultimate function, longevity and style.”

Aaron Luck is responsible for brand direction and public relations for Sensuede. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University College of Textiles.

May the Circle be Unbroken

November 2013

Our businesses, no matter how professionally they are organized and how wonderful our products and services are, require incredible attention to detail in order to succeed. All of our customers are special. Each has their vision of how they want their surroundings to match their lifestyle needs. Our designers have to pick up on this vision, to make the finished products come together matching their goal.

As we all know, there can be a lot of bumps in the road from the time the sales order is written until products are in our customers’ homes. The second half of the process involves the “Back of the House”—the unsung heroes of our businesses. The translation of the designer’s order to a purchase order must be written, checked and reviewed before it is sent to the supplier. Without this crucial step, we run a much higher risk of having special orders arrive incorrectly, and the frustration and negativity is very hard on a store’s credibility.

Our “Back Room” employees look after order expediting to ensure timely deliveries or work through issues with the suppliers if delays should arise. We must have competitive rates to insure that we are able to make the gross margins that are so important to the health of our businesses.

Once the truck arrives at our warehouse, the product is unloaded and inspected, received in our systems, racked and added to our inventory. If it is a single item, it can be cross-docked and delivered the next day, but if it is part of a larger order, it must be stored until the balance of the items arrive. This can get complicated as many vendors have different lead times. This process can be exacerbated by client construction delays and other factors out of our control. A superb team of experts balances all of this with great agility and, for the most part, makes it look easy.

The process of setting up the delivery and collecting the balance demands skill and a practiced set of disciplines to insure success. Routing must be correctly conceived and efficient or the driver’s frustration may impact our customers.

All of the product must then be picked, prepped, deluxed and readied for the load out. The next very important group, the delivery team, is now the final touch with the customer. Each team must have a practiced toolkit of skills. Negotiating traffic in our major cities is a nightmare for most of us, but it is much tougher for a truck trying to meet delivery windows in a routing schedule. Once they reach the customer’s home, they need to take a deep breath, put on white gloves and booties, and smile. They are now ready to make the delivery such a pleasant experience that it rekindles the excitement the customer felt when they made their purchase.

Too often the conditions at the home are not what was reported, and the delivery team must employ Houdini-like tactics to get the product into the home without damage. On occasion, issues occur that require follow-up service. Customer service people must have patience and determination to get to the bottom of the issue, send a technician and reassure the customer. How we manage the resolution oftentimes cements a long-term relationship.

A high level of service requires working with our Back Room partners to ensure customer satisfaction. The goal is to have them return and refer our stores to their friends and families.

This issue is dedicated to the back of the house, and it is my belief that these employee teams are where we reach the highest level of our client care. The back of the house staff does not see the glamorous side of the business, so we must find ways to show our appreciation and let them know how vital they are to the company’s success and customers’ satisfaction. The winning formula is a superb front and back end.

May the circle be unbroken!

rick howard signature

 

 

 

Rick Howard

Back of the House

November 2013

Maybe it’s my distant culinary background of catering, making pastries and waiting tables, but when I hear “back of the house,” I think about restaurants. The kitchen, the cooler, the delivery operations… all the things that, aside from the waitstaff, keep the business running. Without those pieces of the puzzle, any restaurant, even a Michelin-starred place, would founder and run itself out of business. You can’t run a café without food, right?

It’s a cross-industry standard. You may not have functioning kitchens in your store (if you do, I’m coming by for lunch!), but every home furnishings retail operation has back-end processes. Without computer software or someone watching the door, you won’t know your traffic. Without a warehouse, you may not have stock available. Without delivery options, no one is going to get their furniture. Without manufacturer partners, you may not have furniture at all! And just like that—it’s the demise of a business.

So here’s to the delivery drivers. The great manufacturer partners. The staff sprucing up the bathrooms. Here’s to the warehouse managers and employees. Here’s to all the employees you keep to make your business run as smooth as glass. This issue’s for you! We’re sharing what you want to know, from investigating warehouse safety programs to accurately tracking customer traffic to making low-traffic areas pop. And we’d love to hear some more of your ideas. If you’ve got a great back-of-house strategy, email me or catch up with us on Facebook or Twitter.

RetailerNOW in Barr's Fine Home FurnishingsThanks to our Facebook and Twitter “where are we now” campaign, we’re continuing to see where RetailerNOW is popping up across North America. Here we are in McMinnville, Tenn., at Barr’s Fine Home Furnishings! You’ll notice the striped velvet pillow matches our September cover perfectly. Barr’s is certainly in vogue!

Take a photo of us in your store, and you can be part of the fun!

Jennifer Billock Signature

 

 

 

(224) 627-3288
jennifer@retailerNOWmag.com
@retailerNOW