Twenty years ago, Home Furnishings Association member Randy Coconis joined a performance group – nine other furniture retailers like himself – with the hopes of making the family business more efficient and profitable. It remains one of the best business decisions he’s ever made.
“I just love being in the same room for three days with a group of smart, successful furniture retailers,” says Coconis, owner of Coconis Furniture in South Zanesville, Ohio. “Every time we meet, I walk away with three or four ideas that I try to implement back home.”
This time of year, many furniture retailers are on the road meeting with other retailers who are part of their performance group. Coconis’ group, Premiere Group, met last week at Steger’s Furniture in Peoria, Ill. The 16 participating furniture retailers included HFA members Dave Harkness of Harkness Furniture in Spokane, Wash., Steve Nye of Engle’s Furniture in North Bend, Ore., and Chris Cooley of Michael Alan Furniture & Design in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
The group meets four times a year. Next stop: Infinger Furniture in Goose Creek, S.C., later this summer.
Performance groups don’t come cheap. Coconis estimates he spends about $6,000 a year traveling to member stores, but he says the return is well worth the investment. “You’d spend more than that on bringing in a consultant to work with your staff for a week,” he says. “This is like getting 15 consultants who are successful in the business you’re in. Everyone is sharing ideas, helping each other grow.”
Performance groups got their start with, of all people, John DeLorean. Before DeLorean made futuristic sports cars, he was credited with starting “20 Group” – putting 20 Chevrolet dealers together for regular meetings to share ideas. Since none of the dealers competed against each other, they didn’t hold back.
Coconis says the principle of openly sharing your information works like a charm. Everybody in the group gets better by virtue of their participation. To remain a member, you must share real operating numbers.
What’s your close ratio? How much furniture do you sell per salesperson? Are mattress sales up or down for the year? What are your sales per square foot?
“It only works if everyone is open and honest,” says Coconis.
No stone is left unturned at a Premiere Group performance meeting. Last week, members broke up into four groups and spent two days interviewing staff at Steger’s. What would you do if you were running the show? What problems do you have in your job? What problems do you have with other departments?
“The (store owner) gets a good honest review of where things stand in their store by the time the week is over,” says Coconis.
The store owner isn’t the only one who benefits. Premiere Group members each put $20 in a pot and share the best idea that’s currently working in their store. Each retailer gets a brief sales pitch. Retailers vote on the best idea, and the winner gets two-thirds of the pot with the runner-up getting the rest.
This year’s winning idea involves a new software program that allows real-estate agents to give new homeowners a $100 gift card to a furniture retailer after they close on their home. The software keeps track of how much business each agent sends to their store and rewards the agent with his or her own store credit.
Coconis has a similar program in place at his store but records are kept by hand. The new software program takes that headache away. “That’s an idea I would never have gotten by staying in my store and not meeting with my peers,” said Coconis.
How a performance group works
Most retail furniture groups feature a similar general setup:
- You’re placed in a group of 10 to 20 retailers. Everyone meets regularly at each other’s stores on a rotating schedule.
- You have access to one-on-one training from dedicated business coaches and group facilitators.
- You can expect flight costs when traveling to meetings and conferences, but retailers say the investment is well worth it.