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  • Larry Thomas

Retailers reveal what strategies work for them

CHANDLER, Ariz. - In the early 2000s, bedding retailer Nelson Bercier didn't bother to evaluate the business practices that were successful and the ones that needed some work. (See photo highlights of the Bedding Conference. Click here and here.)
His statement probably surprised attendees at Furniture/Today's annual Bedding Conference, but the president of Gardena, Calif.-based Sit ‘n Sleep had a very reasonable explanation.
"I didn't worry about what was working because everything was working," Bercier said.
But then the Great Recession landed in 2007, and sales tumbled 23% the following year. He said it didn't take long to realize that a lot of things weren't working.
That led to several changes in the product lineup, and more importantly, a first-ever accountability system for the company's sales associates.
The new system included specific sales goals and increased emphasis on non-mattress products such as adjustable bed bases and sleep accessories. Those who didn't meet their targets were held accountable for the first time, he told the audience.
"I had to fire some people who had been with us for a long time," Bercier said.
But the results of the accountability program make it clear that it is working. He said adjustable bed bases and accessories now account for 16% of sales, and the average ticket has increased about $300 since 2009.
Bercier told his story as part of a panel discussion on What's Working at Retail that also included Lisa Stansbury, president of Wilmington, N.C.-based Fred's Beds and Steven Stone, president of Wilsonville, Ore.-based BedMart.
Stone agreed that accountability is key to a salesperson's success, but said it's also critical for each one to feel like they're an important part of a team.
"I work for our sales team. We serve our customers after we serve our sales team," Stone told the audience. "They can't win and I can't win unless we work together."
Stansbury said the importance of partnerships also extends to the relationships between the manufacturer and the retailers. If those two entities don't get along, the consumer will be the worse for it, she told the group.
"The relationship you have between the manufacturer and the retailer is related to the relationship you have between the retailer and the consumer," Stansbury said. "All the products I have on my floor are products I truly believe in."
In response to a question from the audience, Stone said he wished manufacturers would end MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) policies, saying he doesn't understand their purpose.
"With an MSRP, every retailer has the same price. Is that really protecting anyone?" he asked.
In response to a question about the importance of specialty bedding, Bercier said he considers the category "mainstream" because it now makes up more than half of Sit ‘n Sleep's sales.
Bercier said he believes traditional innerspring bedding will eventually be limited to promotional price points in his stores, while newer hybrid mattresses that combine innerspring and specialty bedding features will be "the next evolution of innerspring."

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