Retailers don’t need a crystal ball to determine the future. Sometimes the answers are right in front of—OK, behind—you.
Why is Back to the Future a favorite movie of mine? Aside from the Marty McFly comments I receive when meeting people, the concept of traveling in time to protect or change the future is intriguing. How many times in the history of your furniture store could you have changed how your business is today or how it might be in the future with a time travel opportunity? Until technology gives us this option, we still have old reliable 20/20 hindsight to help us set the future by learning from the past. Let’s look at some of the key areas in your store that could benefit from a peek in the rear-view mirror.
The future of financing could be defined by saying “the more things change the more they stay the same.” Furniture is a big-ticket purchase and I believe that financing will always be needed. However, the types of finance offers and methods for processing have changed. If you had a dedicated person or dedicated resources for this important category years ago would you be better positioned today? Are you lagging in learning about two of the most recent financing innovations (in-store kiosks and waterfall technology) which distribute credit applications to multiple sources?
Has your credit program expanded to include rent or lease-to-own offers? Remember the good-old days of No, No, No Interest finance offers? Recently a top-10 retailer offered 100 months interest free on a bedding category. Are you prepared to offer the new, exciting promotional offers of the future? Can your current primary financing partner provide new and fresh promotions? Face it, financing is important and requires dedicated focus and the ability to recognize trends and current changes. Now is the time to dedicate staff or resources to adapt to financing changes that have occurred and begin to anticipate changes in the future.
Your online presence is the future of marketing. If there was ever a way to go back and change the future, this would be a key area. If you proudly launched your website at the cusp of this newfangled internet thing but have not updated to new technology in years, then you have missed the future. Today’s consumer expects—some would suggest demands—the ability to learn online about your store and the products and services your offer.
A tired-looking website sends the message of a tired store. Are your products up to date and do you offer some form of decorating advice or help? If you had known that YouTube videos and Live Online Support would become so important, would you have built those into your platform? In my experience, most furniture folks are not tech savvy, and need dedicated help to build and enhance the online aspect of their stores. Integrating social media into your marketing schemes is a detailed and time-consuming process. You must be able to engage socially with customers before, during and after the shopping process.
I am not sure even Doc Brown or Marty McFly could have anticipated the future in this critical area. Do you have some form of verified reviews built into your online marketing? Becoming “5 Star” is not easy but many retailers are achieving this in a meaningful way by delivering great products and results then providing customers the avenue to share their experience.
As we know, Amazon was built on the review process and now it’s exploring ways to enter the home furnishings arena. Behemoth online retailers like Wayfair and Overstock are your new competitors. They have tremendous marketing reach and are never closed. We could debate for days the importance of touching, feeling and trying furniture and bedding in the store, but you must be able to compete with these giants as well as your fellow brick-and-mortar competitors. Look to places such as buying groups and organizations like the Home Furnishings Association for the support and resources you need to get up to speed. Study competitors and find out who they use for support. Don’t wait for a bolt of lightning on the courthouse to charge the DeLorean batteries to get this process going. The future in this area is already here.
Merchandise may be the quickest element in your store to benefit from a back-to-the-future approach. Some of us have held on to those paisley ties or bell bottom jeans in hopes they will come back in style. Unfortunately, you can’t wait for your furniture and merchandising to come back in style. The onset of home improvement shows and designer-inspired products bring new looks, colors and styles to the consumer market place faster than ever.
Sit down with vendors and use historical reports to determine the staples and must-haves in your ongoing merchandise assortment. I know one retailer who offered an upholstery frame style for more than 10 years. Of course, he kept updating it with fresh fabrics to keep up with current trends. Designate a portion of your assortment to turn over quickly and keep new stylish looks on your floor.
Do you need to update floor coverings and paint in your store? Perhaps a major remodel is in order. Get on your skateboard just like Marty McFly and race through showroom after showroom (both promotional and higher end) at the markets. Pay attention to the new products being designed by celebrities and home improvement stars and ride the wave of popular culture provided the merchandise is saleable and of acceptable quality. A name alone will not ensure selling success, but it certainly helps. As an example, here in Texas, the Magnolia Home Market in Waco by Chip and Joanna Gaines of the hit show Fixer Upper attracted more than two million visitors last year. Have you seen the Magnolia Home Furniture Collection? Might be worthy of consideration. Yes, the concept of fresh and current styling applies to rugs, lighting and accessories too.
Likely the most difficult area for you or your store to confront is the status of your attitude and perspective. Do you need to re-examine it for the future? It’s easy to wax nostalgic for the days when you simply had to run a newspaper ad or flight of television and wait for the traffic.
Customers had to work at comparison shopping by going from store to store and employees seemed to have a stronger work ethic and dedication to the tasks at hand. Retail is just plain hard work. In reality, you have likely been going back to the future since the day you opened your doors. Every month and every year you stopped to evaluate where you were and where you wanted your business to be. Time has a way of glossing over the details but your business has been changing and evolving the entire time.
Maintaining an open mind with a willingness to change while being honest about results and situations is really what back to the future is all about. You might say it’s back to the drawing board on a regular basis to make your store and your business the best it can be. At the end of the movie Doc Brown, dressed in a futuristic suit, jumps into the DeLorean and heads for 2015 to fix a future family problem. Since we already passed 2015, let’s put on skinny jeans complete with designer tears in the knees and head toward 2025. God willing, I will meet you there with some new thoughts for the future.