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Clint Engel

FMG: Engage your customers

Bill Carpenter, leftBill Carpenter, left, Classic Home; Warren Page, Wells Fargo Retail Services; and Gary Steinhafel, Steinhafel’s, Waukesha, Wis.
LAS VEGAS - Throughout Furniture Marketing Group's 2013 Symposium here, one theme was driven home time and again:
     The days of sitting back and watching the traffic rush into your store are gone. Retailers need to lift their game, becoming that competitor they dread, and pull out all the stops when it comes to engaging their customers.
     Some 200 retailers, suppliers, service providers and guests were at the three day FMG conference at the Venetian Resort just before the Las Vegas Market, networking and garnering tips from their peers in the industry and from leaders in economics, marketing and marketing technology.
     In a presentation on proactive marketing, author, speaker and former retailer Rick Segel asked his audience to raise their hands if they offer bad service, a weak selection or are known for price gouging. When no one raised a hand, he congratulated them for having "pretty good" businesses.
     Consumers expect every store to have good service, great selection and fair prices, and Segel said he's tired of listening to commercials that proclaim these types of supposed advantages. The same goes for retailers promoting their 58 years in business.
     "The consumer doesn't care," he said. "It used to be important. Not anymore."
     Instead, retailers need to focus marketing on what truly sets them apart. He pointed to retailers both inside and outside the industry that are using qualities other than price and reputation to generate business.
     As an example, he noted Taunton, Mass.-based Jordan's Furniture and its experience oriented business model featuring everything from an in-store movie theater to light shows to blueberry muffins for sale.
     "That's proactive marketing on steroids," he said.
     Outside the industry, clever merchants capturing the consumer's attention include a toy store with its baby dolls displayed as if they're in a maternity ward and a wine seller that categorizes the product differently than most, under headings such as "fizzy," "juicy" and "smooth."
     And then there's the gym that invited customers to join with this billboard message: "Are you fat and ugly? Would you just like to be ugly?"
Larry Rubin, left, BernieLarry Rubin, left, Bernie & Phyl’s Furniture, Norton, Mass.; Bill Daniels, Furniture Fair, Fairfield, Ohio; Chrissi Kriner and Joe Beiter, Beiter’s Home Center, South Williamsport, Pa.; Liz Zimmermann, Presidential Seating; and Alan Kramer, Star Furniture, Houston.

     Keynote speaker Kim Yost, CEO of Warren, Mich.-based Art Van Furniture, encouraged the group to embrace change and a "constant and never-ending quest for improvement."
     That was at the top of Yost's "10 steps to a 20% sales increase." Others included setting up a war room to gather information on the company's business and its competitors, including history, failures and successes; creating a "game book" with a limited number of initiatives to propel an amazing year in business; working on getting team buy-in and communicating clearly so everyone in the organization is on the same page; executing; and rewarding achievement.
     "Imagine a new competitor has moved into your market and they're fierce," he said, "and then create it for yourself."
     FMG also hosted sessions on non-promotional marketing strategies, digital marketing and website development, text message marketing and technology that enables online chatting with potential customers.
     David Radcliffe, CEO of Sumner, Wash.-based The Old Cannery, showed attendees examples of non-promotional marketing with a video of events the store holds during the year. Children's photos with the Easter Bunny, clowns and petting zoo, take what would normally be an average furniture selling weekend "and makes it great for us," he said.
     On Christmas, people line up for hours to see Santa at The Old Cannery, he said.
     During the digital marking session, Seth Weisblatt, owner of Sam's Furniture & Appliance in Haltom City, Texas, demonstrated a program his store is using that determines which online shoppers are most likely to be open to a chat invitation from the retailer.
     Weisblatt said he has been impressed with the program from Live Person, noting that his store is getting 100 to 120 chats a month and through careful tracking, he can attribute about $50,000 a month in business to the feature. One danger: you can find yourself spending hours watching a computer screen filled with live information on who's viewing the website and what's seems to be attracting their interest.
     FMG attendees also heard a retail panel that delved into how to build great promotional events, and Wells Fargo economist Tim Quinlan on what to look for "beyond the fiscal cliff."

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