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Clint Engel

Mega USA draws 1,200 to meeting

MegaJim Sumpter, England; with Greg Law and Katy Law, Sweet Dreams Mattress, Mooresville, N.C.
SAN ANTONIO — Retailers attending the Mega Group USA's national convention here this month were treated to a program heavily promoting the importance of the customer experience - from the first online visit to follow-ups in the store.

The four-day convention at the Grand Hyatt downtown attracted about 800 member retailers of the furniture, electronics and appliance buying group. In addition, some 400 people with supplier partners of the group showed products and services in the 100,000-square-foot exhibit space.

Many of the educational sessions, as well as the keynote presentation from motivational speaker and author Scott Deming, emphasized how retailers should be driving business by providing a special and superior experience rather than, say, by just offering the best price.

"You're selling commodities," Deming told the group. "I can get what you sell anywhere."

So how do these retailers - primarily independent stores - succeed in a world increasingly dominated by big-box competitors?

"I get people to love me and promote me," Deming said. "You're selling trust, relationships, freedom, security, a better quality of life, peace of mind."

He said several companies have successfully created what he called a "powerful, emotional, one-of-a-kind, unexpected brand," including Starbucks and Harley- Davidson.

"Some corporate executives even have the Harley logo tattooed on their butts," he said. "You figure out a way to get customers to tattoo your brand on their butts ... then you've made it."

Mega USA also unveiled highlights to the Mega WebFronts retailer website program, described as an important way of reaching consumers (see story on page 74).

Educational sessions covered topics such as color trends, advertising and the right way to delegate tasks to employees.

On the exhibit floor, participating vendors included about 30 furniture and bedding sources including both new sources and longtime partners bringing new exclusive deals to the Mega members.

Mega Group USA has about 1,500 member dealers with 2,500 stores. About 1,050 members sell furniture.

Jerry Honea, Mega USA's chief operating officer, said that bedding - led by specialty bedding, such as memory foam - has been a standout category for the industry, recovering faster than other home furnishing categories. Several new offerings in the category include Klaussner's recently introduced Enso Sleep Products, new supplier partner Anatomic Global's memory foam mattresses, and additions to the Paula Deen Home mattresses by Serta, exclusive to Mega members.

Eric Greene, Simmons' director of sales for buying groups, said he was seeing a lot of excitement around the branded exclusive collection Simmons created for Mega dealers using its existing Beautyrest line but with a sub-brand Dream Sleep label and "featuring Fit4U technology" (referring to the addition of memory foam or latex to the lumbar region). While the technology isn't brand new, The Fit4U name and logo were created just for the group.

Greene said the San Antonio show was the busiest Mega show ever for Simmons, which has partnered with the group for years.

Todd Theissen, national sales manager for massage and zero gravity chair supplier Inner Balance Wellness - new to Mega - said he was pleased with traffic at the show. He said several Mega members even called the company in advance to make sure they would get to see the product.

Theissen said he saw a lot of interest from sleep center retailers here.

"There seems to be some synergies between people willing to spend $2,000 to $3,000 on a Tempur-Pedic (mattress) and another $2,000 on a massage chair," he said. Most dealers interviewed at the show were upbeat, too.

"Not withstanding all of the headwinds (the industry is facing) I think most (members) have bounced off the bottom and are seeing increases off their lows," Honea said. The problem has been maintaining those improvements quarter after quarter, but he added, "I still think we're going to have a decent year."

Greg and Katy Law, owners of Mooresville, N.C.-based Sweet Dreams Mattress, said 2010 was a record year for their three stores and that this year is showing increases.

They attributed their success in tough times to an emphasis on service as well as the addition of add-on products, such as adjustable bases from Leggett & Platt and Tempur-Pedic.

"It was a significant reason why our sales went up," Greg Law said. He said that when consumers are shown the power bases in action, they move beyond price objections, and it helps transform the retailer from boring mattress store to something more exciting and helpful.

"It's like (Scott Deming) said," Katy Law said. "It's all about the experience."

Bill Peters, owner of Peters Family Living in Russellville, Ark., said too many retailers use the weak economy as an excuse for bad business.

MegaRonald Rodenbaugh, left, Rodenbaugh’s, Allen, Texas; Bill Peters and Jodi Peters, Peters Family Living, Russellville, Ark.

He said his 30,000-squarefoot furniture and appliance showroom enjoyed its best year in 2010, and he said sales this February were another record.

"The economy has nothing to do with it," Peters said. "People are still spending money, but they expect to get more for their dollars, and I'm not talking about lower prices. The consumer is looking for people who care about them, people interested in their family and their problems and who will take the time to help them solve their problems.

"And that's something that big-box stores cannot provide."

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