After sitting through an ice storm this past weekend, a trip to Las Vegas does not sound like that bad of a deal. That is until I realize we are ostensibly going there to work. By some standards what we do would not be considered work… Hanging out in well displayed, climate controlled showrooms, tell jokes while waiting for customers, enjoying the company of the retailers and vendors you deal with, and going out at night to some great places (if we so choose).
As glamorous as that sounds, I believe reps are the pure essence of free enterprise. We get to enjoy the largesse of factories spending on nice showrooms while at market, but ultimately if we don’t sell something to help them pay for their investment, we will starve. The great sales motivator Zig Ziglar summed it up when he said “Timid salesmen have skinny kids”.
So let’s consider doing more with our market time then waiting around to make that one big pitch to that one big customer. Markets are a great place to hone our skills and network. Let’s consider a few opportunities that market affords us…
- Our job is to provide the link in the furniture distribution channel between manufacturer and retailer. We have to make retailers aware of our product offerings and we have to find new retailers for manufacturers to sell their wares. In both cases, the markets are an important aspect of this relationship and important for us to be on our toes rather than spending all night at the craps table. Wining and dining customers is great but remember why you are there.
- It is important for reps to network with other reps in the industry. There are a number of things we can learn from guys and gals doing the same thing as we are doing in other areas of the country. We may learn of a major retailer who is thinking of expanding into our territory. We may learn of a new or existing line that may be looking for sales representation in our territory. Or we may hear about some supply chain problems that we could warn our customers about. A great place to meet fellow reps would be at the IHFRA sponsored Las Vegas Market Social on January 21, 2017 from 5-8pm at the Gold Diggers Lounge in the Golden Nugget.
- It is important for reps to have contacts with manufacturers and retailers not necessarily in your territory. Retailer friends have tipped us off in the past of lines that are becoming available in the territory. Manufacturers may share their success stories of a new collection or color line that is working particularly well. The market is a great place to pay attention to new offerings or what retailers are saying is “hot” so you can let your factories know and also share with your retailers that did not attend the market. A great gathering spot for many in the industry at market sponsored by the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) is the Retailer Resource Center on the tenth floor of Building B. Between the free seminars and the booths, it is an excellent place for anyone in the industry to get together and learn.
Let’s go to Las Vegas looking for new opportunities. While you are there make sure you check in with Kathy and Jennifer from IHFRA at their space in the lobby of Building A in the World Market Center.
Hope to see you in Las Vegas.
I think have been very good this year and I am very much hoping this will reflect well when you are delivering the presents. Here are a few things to consider when you and the elves are divvying up the Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve.
1. I listened attentively at all the sales meetings about the new product from my factories. I know sometimes I would tune out when the sales manager went on and on about how this was going to be a “homerun” when it looked more like a strikeout, but really Santa chartreuse is not this year’s Pantene color of choice for any furniture
2. I presented product in a professional fashion at market even when my customers were staring at the ceiling like it was the Sistine Chapel.
3. I gave all the sales meetings I could possibly give and gained 20 pounds because of the donuts I brought. I’m not sure if retail sales associates will like yogurt and fruit for breakfast but I have to come up with something besides Krispy Kremes.
4. I wrote up orders and submitted them in the proper fashion. It’s really not my fault they got lost when I faxed them in. How was I supposed to know no one uses a fax anymore?
So Santa, this year I am asking for some very practical gifts.
1. I would like a NetJets card so I can have my own jet. Yeah I know I am A-List preferred on Southwest and that’s almost as good as flying private. But NetJets would really make my job a lot easier by allowing me to fly direct without those stupid layovers and don’t get me started on the TSA lines which I could avoid altogether.
2. Could you make the furniture industry be cool like Apple? Can you imagine how much fun us sales reps would have if people were lined up for blocks to wait in line for our newest offerings. Imagine if they got excited about dishing out 100’s of bucks annually for the newest furniture instead of the newest high tech goodie.
3. I would like all my furniture to be perfect when it gets to the customer’s home. Processing paperwork for freight claims or returns is just not efficient for anyone so the best solution is just to get it to the end user in one piece. I Know that is a tall order, but you are Santa Clause.
4. Finally, not to be too greedy, but could you help our industry make a little more on the transactions so we can attract good talent and promote our industry. Squeezing retailer’s margins, factory profits and sales rep’s commissions makes it tough to market our products and compete against exciting products like travel and tech toys. Just a few bucks, here and there Santa to tell consumers all the great reasons why they need new furniture.
Thanks, Santa. I’ll leave some homemade cookies, a few week old Krispy Kremes from my last sales meeting, and a glass of special egg nog with rum in case the night is not going so well.
Your true believer, Mike
PS. To all my readers, thank you all for support and comments of my column this past year. I had a little fun today with the Christmas letter, and feel free to add your Christmas wishes for our industry below.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and all other seasonal greetings for you and your family this time of year.
My hat’s off to Furniture Today for assembling an excellent conference bringing together many inside and outside the industry to discuss future trends. Many influential retailers were there discussing their successes in 2016 and plans for 2017. Forward thinking resources both product driven, like Cozzia, and information technology driven to help retailers master the new marketing landscape. The themes discussed were versions of what we discuss in this newsletter monthly. Here were some top takeaways to consider going into 2017.
1. The industry is in major upheaval driven by the internet. Though many consider it a channel of distribution, it really is another way to show what you have. Customers are not distinguishing between online and in the store. They are looking at the overall experience. Only retailers separate the two.
2. Need to have a digital mindset to survive. Mobile is big and you need to be optimized for it. Social media is im-portant as a realignment between us and the customer making the communication two way.
3. Demographics for the furniture industry are going to improve dramatically as the Millennials form households; 62 mil-lion new households, but they will be different than years past. More renting than buying of houses. Millennials spend 47% of the time in the bedroom suggesting smaller living spaces and calling for different type of furniture. Technology is second nature to this generation as they have grown up with it. But that requires accommodations for it in furniture offerings.
4. But don’t forget the 10 Million baby boomers going into retirement years. Lift chairs, massage chairs, outdoor living spaces and remodeling will drag furniture sales along.
These are indeed interesting times to navigate the massive changes that will be coming to our industry. At Furniture Sales over the past year led by Jay we have invested in help-ing brick and mortar and online retailers get our products on-to their websites. We see the great advancement of the inter-net as an important channel for selling furniture and we are determined to be the best there is to help you win this game.
We also have positioned products that appeal to Millennials as well as products that are geared for Baby Boomers. We have excellent companies that understand the demographics and are creating products de-signed to appeal to the end consumer’s changing needs.
In 2017 we are going to work diligently to be more proactive with technology to be a better supplier. If there is one thing I came away from the conference, it was that things are changing so rapidly, but in many cases the right investment will actually make us more productive and effective in helping meet your needs. It is an exciting time to be involved in the furniture business. As al-ways let us know how we can help.
As the year winds down I want to thank all our great customers, our terrific factory partners as well as our company personnel shown to the left. Merry Christ-mas and Happy New Year to all.
Market is a perfect time to look outside of your current situation and stretch your center of influence within the industry. There are three important Points you should focus on during this market: Product Presentation, Analysis of your Factories Fit, and Overall Networking.
Point One: Certainly putting on the most professional presentation you can during market is one key to your success. Spend the time to learn the product, position it for your customers that you will see, and how the product competes in the marketplace are all important elements of a professional sales associate. If you do the work upfront, it makes your job just that much easier when you go home and try and present in your territory.
Talking with your vendors with positive feedback of the new offerings, how to improve operationally or flow goods smoother to your customers is also always appreciated. Market time, especially after the first couple hectic days, will be filled with downtime waiting for retailers to come in. Don’t waste this time complaining about what could have or should have been. Use this time to help position your offerings with management so you can help your retailers see why your offerings are the best solution for their customer.
Another way you can be a better sales person is by checking out the free educational seminars at market. Maybe, it’s tough to get away from the space for a whole hour to sit through seminars. But walking the Retailer Resource Center will give you ideas on services your dealers back home may need.
Point Two: It is always important to review how your factories all fit together in your bag. Do you have too many, not enough, right price points for your customers, are the lines productive, etc. Frankly if your offerings are not the best for the retail consumer and you see no way to ever have that happen, then it is a time you should begin to look at market for something new to represent. If you are looking for a new line, then keep your ears open to other rep’s comments or walk the floors of the buildings and see who is looking to increase their business in your territory. You’ll be face to face with your dealers big and small. Ask them what lines they have heard good things about, or what lines might be looking.
Lines are “hot” one market and “cold” another. Some of it has to do with the new offerings, some has to do with logistics or lack thereof, and a lot of it has to do with the rep. You can have a line in one territory that is strong and in the next territory it has nobody flooring any product. Floor placements show the true potential of a good rep. Be that guy or gal who understands their retailer’s needs and craft products with the help of your factories to meet their customer’s needs and wants.
Point Three: The best way for Reps to Stretch their business career is through networking. One of the best things I have ever done in our industry was to get involved with IHFRA – the International Home Furnishings Representative’s Association. The benefits and cost savings are great but the true value of the organization is found in the people you meet and the networking that leads to. Hearing from other reps what works and what doesn’t work makes our business better. Check in with the great staff of Kathy Parks and Jennifer Sova at the IHFRA office in the basement of the Main Building to see what opportunities, benefit packages, or training might be available for you to advance your career in the home furnishings business.
High Point is a reunion of old friends and future opportunities. Don’t waste your time complaining about the past or worrying about the future. Make this market a pivotal step in the success of your career.
Look forward to connecting with you at market, through IHFRA or through Linked In. As always feel free to leave your positive comments below…
Over the last several decades, the demise of the independent factory sales person has always been rumored. It has concerned forward thinking reps over the last fifty years.
First came Levitz and the Big Box Furniture stores. They were going to take over the landscape of the furniture world and negate the need of sales reps. My father and his generation had to sell around these guys who would drop stores in a marketplace and screw up distribution patterns. The worry always was they were going to run the independent furniture store out of business, and thereby run the reps out of business. But of course by and large that model fell apart when among other reasons they couldn’t figure out how to take consistent merchandising nationwide. By trying to go factory direct or having a national salaried factory agent, they lost the insights of the boots on the street and their merchandising made no sense for certain regions of the country.
Next came the rise of the Independent regional furniture store. Again as I was learning the business I was concerned if one of my factories could not sell a Top 100 what would that mean? Would factories go direct? Well some did, but many still trust their representation to the local commissioned sales representative. They understand the customer and the market better than someone who is responsible for 100’s of accounts. They know the people, they know what product will work for their markets and customers, and they know the factory quirks. So when all communication fails, the independent sales rep can step into the void and get things moving in the right direction. Or more appropriately for which the sales reps get little credit, the rep does such a good job that things flow smoothly and problems get solved before anyone knows there’s an issue. A good rep has been an important cog in the distribution chain.
A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Shift to Web Hits Factory Middlemen”. It talks about the fashion industry reps who work from China to major retailers like Target. As consumers increase their online shopping it squeezes retailer’s margins which then are passed backward down the chain so that factories and reps get squeezed as well. Granted this is a different business because they speak of a publicly traded middleman who saw their earning drop more than 50% down to $72 million. Now I would love to have a $72 million bottom line but I certainly would not be pleased with a 50% decline in earnings. In response this company is adding more services, factory inspections, etc. in order to stay relevant.
So the question I have for you as we prepare for market is what is your take on the rise of ecommerce in the furniture industry as it pertains to sales reps? Certainly marginal retailers over a period of time will not survive and therefore reduce the number of potential customer’s sales reps have the opportunity to sell. But my father has always said and I truly believe and run our business as though we work for both the factory and the retailer. what ideas can good reps employ to better their factories business and that of their retail customers? As always, leave your positive comments below.