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Mastering Our Image: Retailers, manufactures must communicate

Retail Editor 5 -- Furniture Today, December 20, 2013

Daniel LubnerDaniel Lubner, left, Clive Daniel Home, Naples, Fla.; Jason Harris, Furnitureland South, High Point, N.C.; Alexa Hampton, Mark Hampton LLC; and Al Wight, Strategic Decisions.
NAPLES, Fla. - Call it a brand; call it an image.
     When Al Wight of Strategic Decisions joined designer Alexa Hampton of Mark Hampton LLC, High Point-based Furniture land South's Jason Harris and Daniel Lubner of retailer Clive Daniel Home, Naples, Fla., for the Mastering Our Image panel discussion at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference, the conversation was all about how retailers and manufacturers can create a stronger market.
     "The industry challenge is how to develop and profitably move more product," said Wight. "Of the hundreds of products introduced at market, 40% of those shown never make production. Another 40% don't retail. That leaves 20% that sells. This is the only durable goods industry that doesn't involve the consumer in the process."
     Wight said that many consumers are uninspired by the "sameness" they see at retail, adding that the only way to get the sought-after Millennial consumer in the store is to have something in the store that they want to buy.
     "We have bored consumers and bored salespeople," he said. "The home furnishings industry is a fashion industry that is becoming less and less fashionable."
     Hampton said that she thinks a lot of manufacturers and retailers forget about the ultimate end user. "When I took over furniture décor, the lifestyle and culture was becoming much more casual," she said.
     Hampton reminded the audience that the furniture consumer is usually female. Stressing the importance of communication between manufacturers and suppliers, she said she won't put her name on a product unless it looks great and fulfills a purpose.
     "It has to be on some level a need to be fulfilled," she said.
     Harris said the he thinks the industry can do a better job of promoting what it does.
     "I had an epiphany when I realized that the biggest problem we face in business today is that we are closed off as an industry, and I want to include her," Harris said, pointing to a female face on a screen. "Fashion, creativity and craftsmanship exist, but I don't believe we do a good job of serving it up to the consumer."
     Lubner said the industry needs to adopt a business strategy of disruptive innovation.
     "There is a disconnect between promoting the brand and getting the consumer to come to the store," he said.   "Retailers are guilty of touting the manufacturers' names and falling short of doing what used to be an advertising campaign. You have to be able to tell your story, separate yourself from the crowd and craft a campaign to explain your passion for the product."
     Harris agreed.
     "Let the designer tell the story," he said. "It is lost in translation the way we are set up now. The upside to all of this is that there are masterminds in this audience, and this is an entrepreneurial industry. The Internet is changing it all; we're all connected now."
     Wight added that a focus on lowest price has hurt the industry unnecessarily.
     "Consumers are being offered a product at a price they never asked for or appreciate," he said. "Retailers leave so much money on the table today trying to be cheaper."
     Hampton said that creating new marketing techniques is also important.
     "Being ‘sold' is the problem," she said. "I don't want to be sold, and neither do my clients. We want access, but we don't need to be sold on a product."
     All of the panelists agreed that innovative showroom floors are a must for suppliers and dealers, along with the type of visual drama that will attract attention.
     "When manufacturers develop a product, they must tell the retailer theirs is the product a certain demographic wants to buy," Wight said. "In most stores, consumers don't find stores where they will see challenging ideas."

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