Fresh eyes… when you’ve seen it all

Operating a decades-old home furnishings business is similar to having seniority on an association staff. There’s little satisfaction in bragging rights when your years on the job sound as much like a liability as they do an asset.

When the Home Furnishings Association was formed from the merger of three retail organizations in May 2013, there were many staff members with lots of years in the home furnishings association business. As one of them, the challenge to me has always been to use my experience to the organization’s benefit while avoiding saying anything that resembles “we’ve tried that before” or “we used to do it this way.”

Perhaps you find yourself in a position of using fresh eyes with your business even when it feels like you’ve seen it all. The experience you’ve gained with your company and the contacts you have are invaluable. But you may also be challenged to look for new, more effective ways to do what you’ve always done. Accepting the challenge and looking for ways to do things differently can be worth the effort.

There are many areas where fresh eyes can be effective but for this article, I’ve chosen five—sales coaching, advertising, visual merchandising, delivery, and succession planning.

Sales coaching. There’s plenty of information available online, at conferences and market seminars, and from networking when retailers get together. But fine-tuning this information for your company’s purposes takes some contemplation.

Maybe you can’t step far enough away to gain the perspective you need to identify the one thing that will set your sales team on a course of new accomplishments. This industry is blessed with generous observers (consultants) who are well worth the investment for them to spend time with you and your staff. The discussion and coaching produced can cover the cost many times over.

Advertising. You may have grown up in your company and took over the advertising responsibilities when “good ol’ Joe” retired. You learned what to do by working at his elbow, with some help from the ad guy from the newspaper. That young go-getter with the radio station had some good ideas, too, but he’s not so young anymore. With traditional advertising methods losing their effectiveness, it may be time to interview several of the industry’s tremendous advertising service providers. Because they work with retailers across the country, you’ll have access to a variety of solutions and can focus on the methods that appeal to you and that you understand. You may need to stretch a little for the social media side of things, but go ahead, it hardly hurts at all and you’ll love the results when you see new customers coming in that you never saw before.

Visual merchandising. Does your showroom serve as a source of inspiration for your customers? Does it look like any of the manufacturers’ showrooms you see when you go to market?

To stay on top of creating excitement on your showroom floor requires paying attention to product placement, styles and collections, color combinations, sight lines, traffic patterns that lead to purchase decisions, and so much that may be beyond your current staff that has visual merchandising responsibilities. There are consultants who can help you, but you also buy from manufacturers who have a vested interest in their product being shown in your store in the very best way possible. If you haven’t asked your vendors for help in making your showroom look fresh and fabulous, ask them now. All they can say is, “No, we can’t help you.” And hearing this may be a reason to look for a vendor who can help you.

Delivery. Does your delivery operation run like a well-oiled machine or like it’s spitting oil? A retailer once told me she should write a thank-you note to the thief who stole her delivery truck. The loss led to her contracting with an outside delivery service and it was great for her business. Whether you find that to be true or not, you should periodically interview delivery companies to determine if your customers could be better served by another method than your current in-house team. Just because you explore an outside service doesn’t mean you have to change what you are doing. You might learn some points of improvement that make your own delivery service better.

Succession planning. While you could develop a plan on your own for what happens to your business when you don’t want to “do it” anymore, there are experts who can do part or all of developing a plan that can help you end your career and/or hand off this part of your life’s work so you can begin your next adventure. If you have no destination, any road will get your there. Your business deserves a destination.

If your head is reeling from these thoughts, take a deep breath and rest assured help is available. If you’re a member of the Home Furnishings Association, we’re only a click away. If you aren’t a member, our membership team can open the door to lots of business solutions. We’re here to help.

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