December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13
By Steven Feldman
Ever wonder what goes through your customers’ heads when they walk into your store? I’m not talking about those who may have logged days and months on the Internet and have some knowledge about what they want. I’m talking about those who become dazed and confused within five minutes, a percentage I believe is greater than you think.
If you ever want a full understanding of what they are experiencing, try walking into a furniture store. I recently gained a newfound appreciation for your customers’ plights—because I became one of them. Sort of.
Let’s start from the beginning. I decided to finally grow up and take an apartment in Manhattan. That was the easy part. The hard part was furnishing it. Here’s what I knew: I needed bedroom furniture (because every once in while I am not traveling on business), a living room (because I need something on which to park my rear when watching the game) and something to eat on (in case I decide to cook someday). And of course the essentials: TVs and surround sound.
Now here’s a little secret: I’m in my 50s and have never bought furniture alone. I’m sure a percentage of your flooring customers find themselves in the same boat. The thought of this was daunting, if not overwhelming. What was a reasonable budget? Where do I shop? How many stores do I visit? Sound familiar?
I have to tell you, it’s a horrendous experience. Where to shop? I asked people (word of mouth) and had a few stores in mind that I may have driven or walked past over the years. I knew I wanted modern/contemporary, so that eliminated places like Ethan Allen. I had always been a fan of Restoration Hardware, but when they told me I’d have to wait 10 to 12 weeks for anything to arrive, I was out the door in 10 to 12 seconds.
Speaking of which, that’s probably the most frustrating part of the process. I’m not ordering a $20,000 custom piece from Italy. I found nobody stocks anything except a few large chains. Everything else is simply a showroom and you have to wait months for delivery. It’s like the days where your customers had to wait eight weeks for ceramic tile because it had to be ordered from Spain or Italy.
One store was not too fond of me. When they told me I needed to wait eight weeks, I told them I would just take the floor sample and they could give me a discount. They declined because they said they would then have no sample to demo for customers. I suggested they wait eight weeks for their new sample to arrive.
Another store told me the furniture was manufactured in Texas, but it wouldn’t ship until they could fill a truck. I asked if they ever heard of UPS or FedEx Ground. That wasn’t an option. Why not? Policy. I asked if the policy to which they were referring had anything to do with the $200 delivery charge slapped onto every order. That store wasn’t too fond of me either.
My favorite line quickly became, “What do you have in your warehouse that I can have next week?”
But probably the most frustrating part of the process is I couldn’t set a budget because I had no idea what anything was supposed to cost. Is a couch $1,000 or $5,000. How much for a sectional? What about a sleeper? Is that an additional $500 or $1,000? And is a better mattress worth $500 or $1,000? And when you tell me about all the add-ons, do I really need them or are you putting me on the elevator?
Throughout the process, I had not encountered one salesperson who I would recommend for your store. I’m hoping this industry is better. Actually, I know it is doing a better job.
So here is my city apartment that contains nothing but a dining room table and chairs, a couple of oversized TVs with surround sound and a great view. I’m spending my free time these days, what little I have of it, in furniture showrooms with that same dumb look on my face. And not making many friends.