Today I read of the passing of one of our industries entrepreneurs. John Lawhon, a true furniture “pitch” man, who passed away at the age of 86. John opened his first furniture store in Waco, Texas in the 1960’s and later opened stores in a number of cities including Tulsa, Nashville, Phoenix, and Detroit.
I came to meet John after he closed his stores and developed Sales Education Systems, a learning system for retail furniture stores. At the time I had a retail store and was hungry for how to enhance the performance of our sales staff. After I left retail stores I lost track of John, but still keep a copy of his first book, “Selling Retail,” which sold more than 1 million copies.
Even though I am not directly in retail, to this day I still refer to the book if there are questions I might get asked from a retailer, or if I am going to give a new sales meeting. It is worth the read for those of us in the furniture business.
I have had a personal business practice that I attribute to John Lawhon. As simple as it may seem to experienced business people, as a young guy just getting started this one phrase has stuck with me all these years: “What gets measured gets improved.” John was big on an up system and all kinds of other performance measurement tools in a time before computers were as pervasive as they are now. But measurement is important whether you are a rep, retailer or factory and the more sophisticated you get your numbers the more successful you will become.
Granted the book was written back in 1986, well before maybe many of you readers were even contemplating a career in furniture. But many of the ideas were timeless as to how to qualify the customer, establish rapport, etc. The best part of this book was John’s furniture background so all the examples are furniture related. He talked right to what we deal with daily.
John had a certain way about him that he could take a negative and turn it into a positive which is a great attribute to a sales man. For example on his website he makes no apology for only selling the book as a hard back which of course commands a few more dollars than a paperback or a kindle edition. Here’s the rationale: “Selling Retail© is available only in best quality hard cover because it was written to be an interactive tool and to get a lot of wear.” Nice copy!
Like many who came before us, John had an impact on the industry leaving a legacy through his teachings. I may just have to go dig my old “Selling Retail” book off the bookshelf and page through it again in honor of John’s memory.