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The 9 Biggest Mistakes that Furniture Stores Make & How to Avoid Them

Incidentally I could just as easily substituted mattress stores for furniture stores. These are my observations that I have made in the past twenty nine years. I have seen great success stories and witnessed some tragedies that could have been avoided. Here is to your success.

Wrong Location-

Is it possible to make a relatively bad location work? Yes. But rarely does it work out. Stores that are 40 to 50 years old in the same location can succeed. The old adage in real estate is location, location, and location. The more you learn about real estate the better. Always sign the shortest lease possible. Always have a way out of a lease. For example, you can negotiate a clause in your lease that lets you out of it if the shopping center anchor vacates. Always get the best location you can. Never become emotionally attached to a location. You need to be able to walk away if the deal is not right. Never pay too much for a location. If there was a furniture store there before, you can usually find out how much business they did if you ask the right people the right questions.

Insufficient Advertising-

The single biggest mistake furniture stores make is they do not advertise enough. They believe that because they are in a high traffic location they will not have to advertise as much or perhaps at all. Traditionally furniture stores were able to contain their advertising costs to 6% of their sales volume. Now if you can keep it under 15% you are lucky. You need to invest at least 10% of your projected sales volume in advertising.

Inefficient Advertising-

A great way to go out of business is to throw money at traditional advertising without tracking it. You will run out of money before you figure it out. Before you ever open a store you should have worked in our industry for at least seven years. The education as an employee is much less painful than the education you will receive as an owner. Become a student of advertising and explore new avenues such as sign programs, sign walkers, Craigslist, and social media. The future belongs to those who dare. Be sure to track all your advertising. Always question your assumptions and be flexible enough to change when your tracking indicates it is necessary. I will post future blogs on this.

Minimal Sales Training-

Most stores do not train their salespeople. Not only should stores train their salespeople, but they should have their best salespeople help design the program. Your training program should be flexible to adapt to an ever changing retail landscape. What gets measured gets improved. Salespeople’s closing percentages and average tickets must be measured and over time improved. To start, invest 1% of your sales volume in training. Increase it 1% every year until you are investing 3% of your sales volume in sales training.

Excess Inventory-

While some stores do not carry enough inventory most have too much inventory. When a store ties up too much money in their inventory they soon cut back on advertising. This is the beginning of the end. Advertising is the life blood of any furniture or mattress store. When advertising is reeled in because of cash flow problems sales are directly impacted in a negative way. One of the biggest mistakes small stores make is trying to buy containers when they really cannot afford to have that much money tied up for that long. The average inventory turns per year for mattresses is traditionally 8 turns. Most mattress manufacturers deliver weekly. A well managed mattress inventory should achieve 12 to 15 turns per year. By properly managing your inventory you free up money to advertise. Advertising is the key to your business’s success.

Low Mark-Up-

Some stores in the hopes of selling more volume sell at too low of a mark-up. The result is they do not have the money to effectively advertise. Another result of this misguided strategy is there is no money for sales education which also negatively impacts sales. Most stores need 55 to 60 percent profit ratio to be marginally profitable.

Poor Merchandising-

They do not buy the right looks. Buying looks that are knocked off at lower prices can put your salespeople at a competitive disadvantage. It is not easy but you must find items for your store that give you the mark-up you need and still have a strong enough value proposition with your customers to sell the required volume of goods to achieve your sales goals. The last two biggest mistakes affect all the other mistakes including this one.

No Intel-

You cannot effectively address the other mistakes without the knowledge of what your competition sells, how they advertise, and how they sell against your store. Granted you can learn a lot by asking your customers; however, there is no substitute for shopping your competition. If you are too well known then have someone shop your competition for you.

No Experience-

Most of the mistakes I have listed here can be avoided if you work in a store as a salesperson and/or as a store manager for at least 7 years. The lessons you will learn will serve you well as a future owner of a furniture store. Investing in your apprenticeship before you open your store will dramatically increase your chances of success.

I welcome everyone’s insights and comments.

Wishing You Success,

Pete

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Comments (22)

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  1. Chris Taylor says:

    I had one suggestion that I ended up turning into three separate points:
    1. Development of People – Identify the best talend on your team and make a commitment to their development – otherwise, someone else will.
    2. Set and Enforce Sales Targets
    3. Compensation Models – One size doesn’t fit all. Make sure you’re offering the right set of incentives (or disincentives) to encourage the performance levels you need from your team to make your business thrive.

  2. Pete,
    I think you would love the book, “How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors”, by Larry Steinmetz. Simmons Co. paid him $17,000 to speak to the sales force for an hour……………..twice! It was the best presentation I ever attended. He literally shows you a math formula that proves that “you can’t make it up in volume”. I believe that the books formula shows a 10% cut in price requires an additional 23% more customers just to break even and then you still have to deliver and service them. The book also directly addresses when a customer says, “Yeah, but the guy up the road is selling the identical item for less”. Steinmetz says that when a customer says that to you he is essentially telling you he wants to buy from you and there are 1-3 things that have prevented him from buying from the other guy.

    The reasons for not buying from other guy are
    1.The customer can’t get it. (Seller doesn’t have it in stock)
    2. The customer can’t get it ( Buyer couldn’t get financing approved)
    3. The customer doesn’t want it ( Seller has terrible reputation)
    So now what is happening is the customer is essentially asking for your inventory,reputation and financing options but at the other guys price! Now you stop talking price and start selling your company and the benefits of buying from you.

    Lots of other very interesting stuff in this great book.

    Drew Reichart
    Mattress Man
    Augusta, Ga.
    Aiken, SC

    • Pete says:

      Drew,
      Thank you. I will order the book. Thank you for sharing a small fraction of your knowledge with us. Your success as a Rep and now as a retailer gives you a unique perspective.

      Thanks,
      Pete

  3. Rick Lynch says:

    Pete,

    Great article and thanks for moving the agenda forward trying to improve the professionlism of this industry. My comments would be surrounding sales training and sales presentaions. I think that sales training is paramount in todays economy. There are too many places one can buy mattresses today, and every store has the same prices for the square rectangles that we all sell.Lets face it, most everyone has a $ 399 queen, $ 499 queen, etc right on up the price ladder. So why do customers buy from one store over the other ? Well there may “some” very distinct reason one buys from here or there occasionally regardless of the sales help or experience,it may be convienence or location or previously purchased from that store in he past. Lets face it anyone can get lucky every now and then and sell a mattress, but to be successful on a regular basis and close a high percentage at high margins you must have excellent sales training and sales skills. Do not be afraid of “price”, do not be afraid to show customers “better” products that will enhance and improve their sleep. As a salesperson,you should be afraid to do those things if you do not understand how to justify the price and if you are not prepared to help the customer understand the benefit of a “better” nights sleep.Knowledge without arrogance will go a long way with a customer, knowledge of your stores product and even as important, knowledge of your competitors product without knocking your competition will earn you sales.Confidence without arrogance about who you are and about what you offer will help you close sales. Customers do not want to be “sold” they want helpful,truthful insight into helping them understand the process and choosing the product that best fits their needs. Any salesperson that thinks that asking the customer how much they want to spend and then finding them a product at that price regardless of whether its the correct product for them or not is sadly mistaken and will probably never have another opportunity to assist that customer again.Its high time that stores, and sales people invest the time and money needed to educate customers about sleep and not just about price.

    Thanks , Rick

    • Pete says:

      Rick,
      Thank you for your comments. Your success in both retail and wholesale furniture and mattress sales gives a great deal of gravity to your perspective. I couldn’t agree with you more!

      Thanks,
      Pete

  4. Belen Mckown says:

    What youre saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what youre trying to say. Im sure youll reach so many people with what youve got to say.

  5. wray says:

    We agree completely with these nine things that were mentioned.
    Sometimes we already know these things but fail to apply them as soon as the customer walk through the door.
    the key we believe is to take the emotions out of it until the sale is complete.

    Thanks peter!
    wray & fidel.

  6. Tanushri says:

    Thanks a lot for the valuable pointers.
    I have started a furniture boutique store just a few months back and i am looking for right guidance.
    I am sure your suggestions would certainly help.

  7. Mujahid says:

    Guide me to successfully run a furniture showroom with in-house production (workshop).

    Looking forward to getting some tips on the above-mentioned subject.

    Thank You

    Regards,

  8. Michelle says:

    Also being too pushy is one I find can ruin a business. I’m from a small town so people talk and get shopping opinions from each other. My boss makes us push questions at customers as soon as they walk into the door and continue to ask them every few minutes. I feel very annoying when I do this and I can tell it irritates people. But the thing is if I don’t do it I get in trouble because I “lost a sale”. In my opinion I lose more sales being annoying and pushy then when I let people breathe. Anyway just a small note to any furniture store owners/managers, don’t be too pushy with the customers because I am a sales rep and I know from experience of being on the floor that it rarely works out. Thanks for reading if you did!

  9. Michelle says:

    PS thank you for pointing these things out it was very helpful!

  10. Zach says:

    Im 22 years old and im running a furniture business. I think my location is fine, we have been for 6 years, and we advertise a bunch. Nothing is working anymore. I need help bringing customers through the door..

    • Pete says:

      Zach,
      Sorry for the late response. I’m taking this offline so I can ask you some questions to get to the bottom of the challenge you are facing. Thank You for reaching out. I can help you diagnose this problem.

      Sell A Million,
      Pete

  11. Benjamin says:

    If you are in a dense populated urban area, like I am (NYC), location isn’t that important as one may think. People will first look online or google map business listing before going to the store location. I run a futon store out of a storage facility that’s only 650 square feet. People will visit the website first. Since we are not ground level and located inside a building, people will call before coming (appointment). I close nearly 75% of the appointments resulting in a sale. Much less stressful, no long term leases, NO three months rent down, I pay month to month, easily scaleable if I need to expand or stock merchandise, I can rent another storage room. No browsers coming in, nobody saying “just looking”. The key is destination shopping, not casually passing by. First day of opening, I made 2 sales in cash. Average sale is between $500-$800. This is an entrepreneur’s dream when you have very little working capital and you’re starting out. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever want to have a store front street level. Too much of headache. I pay $3,000/month for two storage rooms. One for the showroom and a smaller room for stock and staging furniture before delivery. HOWEVER, this only works if you are a niche or specialty furniture. You can’t be a general furniture store in a small space. In the city, the average closing ratio of foot traffic coming into a furniture store is about 10%. Suburbs is bit higher, especially if they have their own parking lot.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Benjamin! I am familiar with that model. You are 100% correct in your model you will spend less in rent on a non retail location. I actually wrote this article for the traditional retail model. Thanks for sharing. There are many successful alternate retail models. They all have merit if they are executed well.

  12. Vivian says:

    Hi Pete,
    We have a great location right in the middle of all the other furniture stores. (NYC) It is where everyone comes to buy furniture. We opened up this new location after running a smaller shop in the country for 10 years because all our customers kept on bringing us back down to the city. We underestimated how excessive our overhead costs would be and now need a life line to continue on.

    Trying to bring people into the door with minimal budget. Can you give us some extra pointers because we are definitely doing it all wrong.

    Thanks

  13. Francisco says:

    Hey pete great pointers also wanted to ask for a few more i am 26 yrs old and about to open our first furniture store in a small town want to make sure we start off on the right path

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