Every retailer has one. Getting yours out in front of your customers can be the start to a happy ending.
“The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Brady Bunch” and “The Fresh Prince of Belair” are three iconic television shows spanning the generations of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials. Do you know what these three shows all have in common? Aside from having theme songs many of us can sing from memory, they all have the word “story” in the first line of those songs.
Every week, those shows opened by telling a story. Depending on your age, you might have been reminded to “Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed.” Or maybe you tuned in for “Here’s a story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls.” Younger television watchers might remember the Fresh Prince song: “Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.”
So, what does this have to do with the furniture business? Story-telling is as old as the world itself. Modern retail stories conjure up images of Jeff Bezos driving Amazon packages to the post office from his garage. For more mature furniture retailers, we cite those retailers who started out by driving around and selling furniture from carts and trucks and growing to dozens of stores or even Top 100 status. Rags-to-riches stories always get our attention, and we want to hear more.
You can use story-telling in your business to make your store, your merchandise and, yes, even your salespeople memorable and credible.
What is the story of your store? How did it begin, how has it grown, what do you offer and what does the future hold? I’m willing to bet that posing these questions to you as the owner would generate a long and interesting story.
The issue with good stories in retail is how to tell customers your story quickly, succinctly and memorably. I’m not suggesting your sales staff sing a song to every customer, but wouldn’t that be a novel approach? One of the best greetings I have experienced when visiting a store is: “Welcome to our store — have you been in before?”
Regardless of the customer’s answer, the salesperson can respond in one of two ways: “No? Well, hello! Let me tell you our story and what we offer.” Or, “Welcome back! Let me remind you of our story and what we offer.”
Just as those TV shows did, you set the stage for what the customer will experience over a broad range of topics. Boil the story down to the elevator speech or a set of points you want to make with every customer. The point is that your story helps differentiate you from your competitors. Yes, that can be your brick-and-mortar competitors as well as those online. At the very least your salespeople will begin with something other than, “Can I help you?”
What is your salesperson’s story? Why is this important? Selling is always about building rapport with customers, uncovering their needs and then finding solutions to meet those needs. I’m not suggesting that salespeople tell their own personal stories, although a little of that may aid the rapport-building process. Rather, they should tell a knowledge or training story. For example, have your sales staff relate how they were trained or describe factories they have visited. They could mention their longevity with your organization or any specialized certifications they have. Help each salesperson tell a story that establishes credibility long before he begins showing merchandise to consumers.
If you have spent the time and money to train your salespeople, then take credit with your customers for this effort. Help each salesperson convey a level of expertise that puts customers at ease and assures them they have come to the right place. This will require one-on-one development for each salesperson and role-playing to hone a concise story.
What are your customers’ stories? Ask them to tell you a little bit about their merchandise needs. Often, furniture and bedding purchases are stimulated by a life event such as marriage, moving, college, downsizing, job promotions, death, divorce, grandchildren or other significant change.
These stories will help you learn more about customers and uncover their needs. By asking these questions, a skilled and concerned sales professional will build rapport and advance a relationship that has already begun. I have retail friends who would suggest this should be the first story in the selling process, but I beg to differ.
Many customers come in guarded and skeptical of the selling environment. By building an initial rapport with a story about your store followed by a salesperson’s story, shoppers will feel more at ease when you ask them about their stories. As a salesperson gathers information, she can more effectively guide the customer through the selection process.
Face it, if you sell a customer who has children at home a product that isn’t kid-friendly, the chances of her satisfaction might not be so good. You get the point. Find out why they need it, how they might use it and how long they expect it to last, all with the goal of satisfying a customer who will come back and recommend you to her friends.
So far, we have only talked about in-store stories. Think about using stories and customer testimonials in your marketing and advertising. Those could be a whole other story. I did not mention my story, and I will not bore you completely. I started on a furniture delivery truck, found I loved this business, advanced through the ranks to executive-level positions and now run my own home furnishings website and finance consulting business. To my surprise, I find myself writing articles for a furniture trade magazine on the side. That’s my little story, and I’m sticking to it! By the way, what’s your story?