Hit the road, Jack

Factory Tour

February/March, 2017—

And don’t you come back until your sales staff has seen up close and personal how the furniture they sell is actually made.

Do you recall the first field trip you took to a museum when you suddenly became a passionate and knowledgeable expert on dinosaurs or mammals of North America? Touring a furniture factory or mattress factory can transform your selling team into passionate experts on the products they’re presenting to customers. Something magical occurs in the selling situation when confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm come together.

Why is it many bedding manufacturers offer retail salespeople discounted premium beds for personal use? Of course they want to ignite the enthusiasm and testimonial that the sales person conveys to customers about a particular model or brand. “Hey, I sleep on this brand and I love it” is a powerful endorsement that guides and reassures customers as they make a buying decision. Why not take product knowledge and enthusiasm to a new level? Assemble a group of employees to visit and tour a mattress or furniture factory that serves your store.

I’ve had the good fortune of visiting more factories (both furniture and bedding) than I can count or remember over the course of my career. Each time I visit a factory my knowledge and appreciation for the products and values put forth by our industry increases. When you take your salespeople and other employees on a factory tour you’ll experience the following benefits in your store and on your selling floor.

Overcome price objections more easily

One tour of a furniture or mattress manufacturer’s buildings and you realize it requires a great deal of overhead and machinery to operate factories. What appears to be a simple product on display in your store takes on new value when employees see the physical, mechanical and human assets dedicated to producing it. Being able to convey to a customer the amount of effort and resources required in manufacturing allows your salesperson to say with conviction that this item represents tremendous value. As your team learns about all aspects of manufacturing from design and manufacturing to transportation and selecting the best raw materials, they can say with confidence your store is offering tremendous values.

Set realistic customer service expectations

Unlike industries that rely on robots and automation to produce items such as electronics, appliances and vehicles, furniture and mattresses still involve the human element. Watching a group of people sewing cushion covers or witnessing giant buns of foam being cut for cushion cores reminds those on the front line of your sales floor that there is a human element in the making of the products you sell. Witnessing sofa frames being assembled reinforces the nature of wood including knots and season splits. Watching an employee running a tape edge machine on a mattress reflects acquired skill. This is not to say your salespeople would want or need to point out the potential for quality issues but provides a basis by which a customer can be reminded that it is still handmade in many ways by real people.

However, YOUR store’s legendary customer service is there in the event of a problem. Besides, the factory also does product testing and has quality control procedures in place. Just ask your customer service team how challenging it is to satisfy a customer if they’ve been sold an item as being perfect. Visiting a factory will once and for all dispel any lingering notion that all of the products you sell are perfect.

Improve team work and rapport

When your team spends time together outside of the store there is opportunity for everyone to let their hair down and learn more about one another. It’s said that shared experiences bring people together. Use travel time and meal time as a way for your team to learn about and better understand the people they work with. Plan some ice-breaking games to stimulate this process. Consider a mini contest to reward those who learn the most during the factory tour.

Establish direct factory contacts for better service

I’ve found that the employees in the factories love to meet those who are selling their products. Factory managers, line managers and customer service employees often tell visitors to call them if they have problems. I’ve found factory employees want to please retailers and welcome feedback on ways to better serve the store and ultimately the consumer. Be sure to compliment the factory staff when appropriate about good or superior service.

Capture photos and video for future training

Assign a reporter or scribe from your team to document and photograph/video important aspects of the factory tour. Use this information for new hire training and follow up sales meetings. If you use current employees in the training process this material will allow them to re-live the experience and convey the enthusiasm that was generated from the tour.

Geographically it might be challenging to arrange factory tours. I know it’s painful to think about having part of your sales team away from the store. You’ll likely do two trips to keep coverage in the store and you may want to pay them for the trip and time away from the store. However, weigh the benefits of a tour. Inspiring your team to learn more about the products they sell and then presenting them with confidence and enthusiasm to your customers has value.

When buying customers tell their friends and neighbors about the great products and values from your store can that possibly be a bad thing? Another benefit is that knowledge of basic construction and materials is transferable from one manufacturer to the next. When you attend the furniture market why not select some of your key vendors that are logical to visit and tell them that you have an offer they can’t refuse. Perhaps they’ll partner with you to fund or share the cost of arranging a tour. I think you’ll be surprised at the willingness you’ll find from your furniture partners. After all, they benefit too. Now on another note, if we ever meet I can tell you everything you ever needed or wanted to know about foxes of North America. I have been an enthusiastic fox expert since third grade. The red one is my favorite.

About the Author

Marty Grosse
Marty Grosse, an industry veteran held executive positions across 6 top tier furniture retailers. His website, Furniche.com provides furniture shoppers real, relevant and timely shopping advice while researching local furniture stores and manufacturer information. Email martygrosse@furniche.com to learn more.