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Cindy Hodnett

When Mom wants a sofa…

May 13, 2014

One of the great things about not being famous is anonymity — the type of anonymity that allows one to walk into a furniture retail store to take a look at what’s on the floor and to experience customer service firsthand. These unscheduled excursions offer a rare opportunity for those of us immersed in the furniture business to put on a different hat and see the world of furniture from the consumer’s viewpoint, often illuminating why some stores continue to perform well even when consumers are reigning in their spending.

Ashley's Mother's Day promotion

Following a recent visit to a large fabric manufacturer, I decided to take a look at three different furniture retailers in the same area. I won’t name all of them, but one certainly deserves a public “way to go!” for reasons that will follow.

The first visit was to a large retail destination with numerous brands represented under one sprawling roof. For a Friday afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, but the greeting was friendly when I entered and the reception attendant provided a great overview of where specific products could be found.

For each manufacturer represented, window displays offered a pretty good visual overview of the product inside. However, in most areas (approximately eight out of ten), I wasn’t greeted by a salesperson at all after entering, and while I enjoy relaxed store-browsing a great deal, no one offered any reason for me to seriously consider buying that day. There was one exception — a salesperson who let me know about a discount on accessories and who was very friendly and approachable in her offer to assist me if needed.

At another multi-gallery retailer, the greeting was again warm, friendly and relaxed — a great way to kick off the visit. However, as I wound my way through the huge complex, I was not approached again for any kind of follow-up. To reiterate, I understand that no one wants to be hounded by salespeople, myself included. But this was an opportunity for someone to convince me that I should buy now, not later, and to transform “just looking” into “well, yes, maybe you’re right, I should think about buying this now instead of later.” It didn’t happen.

Now for the third visit — the one I’ll name. I walked into an Ashley Furniture HomeStore, and it quickly became apparent that the sales staff knew they had a limited, valuable opportunity to make a sale.

After entering, I was immediately approached by a friendly gentleman who welcomed me, said he wasn’t going to stalk my every move and then offered up an 8 by 11 page of coupons, all good only for the Mother’s Day weekend and ranging in savings value from $50 to $300. This salesman smiled, said he’d catch up with me halfway around the store and pointed out specific style areas — modern, transitional, traditional. With yet another friendly smile and a nod, he encouraged me to take a look with coupons in hand.

He did so many things right.

First, he made me feel welcome and established a connection. Next, he offered information, appealing to my style preferences for feathering the nest by pointing out all the key design categories that were available. Finally, he created a sense of immediacy — an idea that it was better for me to act now than later. Whether or not I really did want a sofa for Mother’s Day, the Ashley rep prompted me, and the other shoppers in the store, to think about buying. (Hey, what a great present! And…it’s $300 off this weekend to celebrate mothers everywhere!)

It’s not rocket science, but it was working. People were buying — and enthusiastically.

If you’re still skeptical, take a look at Ashley’s numbers in our Top 100 list that publishes next week. Consistently ranked as a top retailer, the company understands that there has to be a compelling reason for people to purchase furniture in a marketplace where so many other products compete for the same dollar. Every consumer visit is an opportunity at Ashley, and they make the most of it.