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Community matters in retail, Chris Cooley says

Chris Cooley, Ron Robinson

Retail is all about community, Chris Cooley (left, in photo above) told an audience at Las Vegas Market July 29.

Cooley, owner of Home Furnishings Association member Michael Alan Furniture & Design in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., participated in Retail Titans & Innovators, a discussion of retail trends and challenges co-sponsored by LVM and Furniture Today. Other panelists were Ron Robinson (right, in photo above) of RonRobinson in Los Angeles and Tara Riceberg of Best Gift Store Ever in Los Angeles. Furniture Today Editor in Chief Bill McLaughlin moderated.

One of the best ways to draw people to her store, said Cooley, is to hold a fundraiser.

“It’s not a sales event, it’s a ‘We are giving back’ event,” she said. “Unless you’re giving back to your community or to the industry you’re part of, why are you doing it?”

The business has already begun promoting its September 24-hour “Sleepless in Havasu” fundraiser to support the battle against breast cancer. Sponsors pay participants for staying awake, Cooley said.

Young consumers respond to community events

That’s one event of many. Some retailers find it a challenge to reach millennials, but Cooley has discovered that they respond to a good cause. “Every time we have a fundraiser, they’re there,” she said. And they’re welcome to have their own. If parents want to hold a pancake fundraiser for their kids’ soccer team in her parking lot, that’s great.

Participation extends to her staff. Cooley wants them to get involved in their own community activities. Any civic club they join, she’ll gladly pay the dues. It’s not only good business in a small town, it’s part of the culture at Michael Alan, which was founded by Cooley’s parents in 1980 as a manufacturer. As owner, “you need to be there and set an example,” Cooley said. “It starts at the top.”

Robinson and Riceberg offered their own observations about the importance of creating enjoyment and satisfaction for customers in ways they can’t find by shopping online. Cooley provides positive experiences in other ways, too – with design services, for example. “A $500 value, for free,” she said.

Make it unique, and sprinkle in fun

“Most people, they need help,” she explained. They could pick out a beautiful sofa, but if they don’t add the right lamp or rug to go with it they could end up frustrated because it won’t look the same as it did in the store.

Her collections are unique, even if the pieces themselves aren’t one of a kind. She calls her approach “sprinkling and layering.” It amounts to mixing things up a little. “Why have the same table and chairs as someone else?” A lot of different chairs can look great with that table. “Do whatever it takes to make it unique to your store, and sprinkle fun in there.

 “Plus, I serve wine in wine glasses and beer in frosty mugs, so that helps,” she said.

Read about HFA members in the Shop Talk blog.

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