How are furniture retailers combatting sales doldrums of sluggish 2023?

HIGH POINT — Plenty has been written about the less-than-stellar sales environment of 2023.

Gone are the days of demand outstripping supply. Consumers have returned to more normal shopping patterns of waiting for sales, and inflation and other economic worries have slowed purchasing. But considering how much of anomaly 2020 through early 2022 were for sales, the category is performing well compared with pre-pandemic figures.

Furniture Today asked retailers what they can control in times when business and traffic are off the year-over-year mark and what they’re doing to maximize close rates when there’s a little less meat on the bone.

Caleb Miskelly, chief retail officer, Miskelly Furniture, Pearl, Miss.

Caleb Miskelly
Caleb Miskelly

We’re striving to meet customers where they are in their journey by crafting marketing messages that are easily digestible and relatable. We’re shaking things up by offering a range of promotions that we’ve never tried before. Our aim is to keep things fresh and captivating in an ever-changing digital world.

We’ve essentially gone back to the basics and made RSA training our top priority. When it comes to our sales process, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on financing. In times where interest-free money is hard to come by, we see financing as a huge opportunity for us to help customers meet their wants and needs.

Paige Streiff, owner, 5th & Home and Ashley licensee, Victoria, Texas

Paige Streiff
Paige Streiff

We took the approach in January to say no matter what traffic was going to come our way, we were going to focus on the follow up. That’s our big important goal this year.

We have designed events on different cadences. I have one event that runs once a month, one event that runs once a quarter and one event that runs twice a quarter. All those events are follow-up driven.

We’ve seen our close rate increase by about 3%, our average ticket has gone up by $50. More importantly, it’s been relationship creation between the sales professional and the customer. Before, it was transactional. Now, we’ve got the contact information, and we’ll follow up with what you need and, by the way, we have a one day sale Thursday, so let’s go ahead and finish the deal.

We’ve always talked about what you’re doing when sales are down. We have fewer people walking through the door; how do we create a relationship to bring them back in so they’re not that 70% that don’t close and we never see them again. We’re up 15% over last year. That has propelled us to be in this position.

Randi Schachter, co-owner, Biltrite Furniture-Leather-Mattresses, Greenfield, Wis.

Randi Schachter

We get down and dirty with direct mail to our customer base, and we are becoming much stronger with digital marketing.

Being flexible and, as we always say to our team, there is black, white and gray (gray gets deals done)! We don’t participate in recessions.

Bo Coconis, buyer, merchandiser, general manager, Coconis Furniture, Zanesville, Ohio

Bo Coconis
Bo Coconis

Fortunately, we are up for the year even though traffic is down some. We have definitely seen a little slowdown in traffic, but the customers coming in the store are ready to buy, and we are selling better-end goods! Close ratio and average sale is the focus to help make up for less traffic.

The past couple years it was all about what you had in stock, and now we are getting our special-order business back as it is has doubled over 2022. We have been focusing heavily on training as a portion of our staff has had to learn how to special order. The good news is that lead times have come back down to normal for the most part; almost every vendor for us is back to what lead times were before the pandemic, if not better.

Raising the close ratio starts with getting back to the basics and training, and it starts a proper greeting. We have to work harder for what we sell more than we used to but the quicker we come to understand this the better we all will be. I don’t believe traffic is going to come back anytime soon; this is a the new normal, and we have to maximize what opportunities we get.

Over the past couple of years we have put a big focus to get our managers on the floor to help the staff. We coach them to understand their job as a manager is to help close sales. It almost becomes like a team selling opportunity for the salesperson and manager. It has really worked well for us, and our close ratio is higher than it has ever been.

Another focus we have made over the past year is our website. Our business has more than doubled on our website this year over last, and we already beat what we did all of last year at the beginning of June. You have to make it easy for your customer to buy; some people don’t care or come in the store if they like what they see and the price is right, then they are buying it online.

We used to only use our website to drive traffic to our stores. Now it has to do that, and it also has to be a place to shop. We have made the effort to get almost all the product we carry in store on our website. Our clearance page and in stock specials have been our biggest growth portions of our website.  We still have some improvements to make but we are getting there.

Joe Bright, owner, Dunk & Bright, Syracuse, N.Y.

Joe Bright
Joe Bright

Retailers may need to advertise more. We control the offers, creative and amount of advertising we do. Increasing your advertising spend when competitors are pulling back will get you an outsized impression share.

Better offers, financing and faster delivery help close sales. Take the money you saved on a container and offer a juicy coupon to the customer, and deliver it faster than they expect.

July has been rock solid.  We’re up in written business over last year.

Michael Turner, owner, Huck & Peck, Chattanooga, Tenn.

turner, michael
Michael Turner

Reach out to loyal customers: If you have a list of your top customers from last year, send them a personal discount that they can use or that they can share with a friend. These are already your clients. I repeat, these are already your customers.

Ask a customer, “Maria, what would you like to see, within reason, to close this sale today,” and you might be surprised. Sometimes it’s free delivery, sometimes it’s a number you can live with. Regardless, with the info they have provided, you can at least see how far apart you are.

Dave Harkness
Dave Harkness

Dave Harkness, Harkness Furniture, Tacoma, Wash.

I think consistency is the key. We know traffic is down all over so we have lowered our expectations and tried to maximize the experience for every customer that walks through the door.  We need to be attentive to each opportunity and be as professional as possible to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

Russell Turner, CEO, 1915 South, Thomasville, Ga.

Russell Turner

We have not been panicking but making sure the customers that we drive into the store remain relevant to our product that we have available. I know people think traffic is traffic but not at the expense of paying for customers that won’t like what we have to offer and therefore we can’t sell them. That just drives up expense without additional sales.

We feel like the customer still has needs and desires but may need help getting it financed, and that may require several different sources and options. That, too, has been tough since the cost to provide that financing to them has been increasing.

Although the costs have been increasing, we still believe that having financing options are the best way to help the customer get what they need and want. We also monitor our traffic closely and make certain that we have the sales staff needed to take care of them while still allowing them to make money.

On another note, we are focusing over the next 18 months on perfecting our processes and facilities. We have a master plan that we have used to sort and triage where our spending gets the fastest return on our investment while questioning all processes to improve and perfect the customer experience.

Robert Van Hoose, CEO, Big Sandy Superstore, Franklin Furnace, Ohio

robert van hoose 2021
Robert Van Hoose

Things we can control: marketing and message. Customers are looking for compelling values to buy now, which is why we made a large Lane liquidation buyout. We have done well with that. We also have focused the majority of our budget on digital marketing – its more targeted. Facebook, OTT and Google have performed better than any other vehicle for us.

How do we increase close rate? We focus on it every day, even tracking dollars per ups. We have managed to generate $1,000-plus per opportunity in most of our locations, which is driven by offering a compelling reason to buy along with a focused approach on following up on people who didn’t buy today using Perq.

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