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Cindy Hodnett

Panel: Millennials thrive on new technology

Young retailers on theYoung retailers on the Leadership panel included Alex Macias, left, Amy Albert, Lael Thompson, fourth from left, and Nick Gates. Thompson’s wife, Savannah, is in the center.
NAPLES, Fla. - Millennials, the sought-after consumer between the ages of 18 and 31, don't want to shop where their parents shop, according to Amy Albert, Nick Gates, Alex Macias and Lael Thompson, second-generation retailers.
     During a panel discussion at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference, the young retailers - who are members of Next Generation Now, a community of young home furnishings professionals hosted by the National and Western Home Furnishings Associations - told the audience that young furniture buyers want retail associates and companies to respect their consumer habits and to incorporate new strategies that address their preferences.
     "No one wants to go to a store that is rows and rows of furniture," said Albert, with Pilgrim Furniture City of Southington, Conn. "We have a carousel and a café in our store, and the high school kids come in and take their pictures on the carousel for prom. They're growing up with us."
     The four young retailers said technology is a major lifestyle factor for the next generation of furniture consumers, and emphasized the importance of incorporating technology into retail strategies. Whether branding through social media or deciding on advertising avenues, retailers can focus on marketing to the post-Baby Boomer customer.
     "Some retailers have not made any changes, and it's important to be relevant," said Macias, with Del Sol Furniture in Phoenix. "Ninety percent of people our age are canceling cable in favor of Netflix and they are listening to Pandora (an online music station), not radio. There are reasonable ways to reach out - Pandora is not that expensive and we're doing a lot of search engine marketing."
     Thompson, with Broyhill Home Gallery in Denver, said that while the Millennials are not yet at their peak purchasing power, they are still influencing furniture sales. He encouraged dealers to connect with the group now.
     "We're just now talking about new technologies and smartphones in our industry," Thompson said. "But approximately 40% of the Millennials are still living at home, so a transitional period is still available."
     Gates agreed and added that Millennials aren't the only ones using new technologies.
     "When you have kids spending more time with their parents, the technology rubs off on the parents," said Gates, of Gates Furniture in Grants Pass, Ore. "The kids are getting their parents iPads for Christmas, so mobile plans and social media are very relevant - not just for Millennials but for the next generation as well."
     The panelists said social media tools like Facebook and Twitter should be used as a branding effort instead of a call for action. They said it's difficult to measure the return on investment in social media, but that it is mandatory for retailers to have a presence.
     "If you don't see the Facebook logo on a company's site, they're outdated," Macias said. "The hardest thing (on social media) is to find that love for your company. You have to put posts up that are relevant - put your charitable and community endeavors on the page."
     "Target does a really good job of posting consistently and posting what their customers want to hear," Albert said. "It's important to keep in mind that social media is relatively inexpensive and you don't have to spend a lot of money on it."
     Gates added, "Social media is really a line of communication rather than a selling point, but you have to have it. It's like having a phone in your store."
     When asked about showrooming - the practice of visiting a furniture store and using a smartphone to compare prices - the panel said that store sales associates can use the practice to their advantage.
     "If they are in your showroom, you have a good chance to win them over," Albert said. "If you find something online, the next thing you are doing is finding a local store where you can see it."
     Thompson said that he doesn't believe price is the only factor driving a sale. Instead, he thinks that suppliers and retailers should work together to enhance the consumer's experience.
     "Get us that product CD immediately," he said. "Don't make us spend hours downloading images - give us the tools that allow us to get to work."
     "Sharing information is key," Macias said. "We don't want to find a new product on our website before we've seen it in the showroom. We want our information right now, and we don't want to have to email our rep and wait two weeks. If we have to wait, we have already gotten the information from a vendor doing it right."
     Thompson added that the industry needs to remember that every transaction is about making the customers' homes better and improving their lives.
     "We forget that this is a people industry," he said. "When we sell a sectional, we're setting up the next family movie night. When we sell a dining room table, we're setting up Thanksgiving."
     The panelists said the people-first message should start with the sales staff.
     "You can't enchant your customers without enchanting your staff first," Gates said. "Once you enchant your staff, you can do amazing things."

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