From A Rep's Perspective

Mike Root

Your value proposition

June 13, 2017

As furniture sales reps, we are exposed to a number of different retailing strategies in the stores we service. Some are high volume, promotionally driven operators who depend on a steady stream of customers and lots of activity. On the other end of the spectrum is a high-touch, high-margin, lower-volume operator. The vast majority of furniture purveyors fall somewhere in between. And we have to craft our marketing message for our products to best fit the right retail format.

As I write this post on my 20th Southwest jet of the year, I realize some similarities between success in the airline industry and furniture. Most every flight I have been on has had more than 90% seat occupancy. People gravitate to this mode of transportation because of convenience, locations serviced, loyalty status. In the early days, Southwest was about price, but I don't think that drives it as much anymore. It has found its niche and a customer base looking for an efficient way to move from one spot to another.

It markets with the hook of “Bags fly free” in an environment of competitors nickel and diming every charge. The airline make it easy with no cost for people to change flights, while legacy carriers charge large fees if your plans force you to change your ticket. On the flip side, the planes are usually packed, there is no first class, and you may end up in a middle seat between big strangers because there are no reserved seats. It's the high volume, not too much pampering model. Good for some customers but not that good for others.

The other large carriers have higher priced options like business and first class that are a more high-touch experiences to get you from point A to point B. This many times is filled with the airlines’ best customers, who get upgrades into business or first class because of their loyalty. Interestingly I cannot really tell you what these airlines marketing message is since “fly the friendly skies” doesn't resonate much when passengers are getting pulled off overbooked planes.

So how does this relate to furniture you ask?

As reps I think we should try to take the best of both models of volume combined with high touch where needed. Be much more like Southwest with ease of doing business but offer a premium experience for those customers that merit the extra attention. Your customers should understand what your “Bags Fly Free” value proposition is in terms of your deliverables. In our case, we offer good value, in-stock, quick-shipping products that we believe in. If a line does not meet these criteria, we won't represent it. Another rep may offer lines to designers or higher end stores with the best selection of special order options across a variety of furniture categories.

Where a problem will occur in drilling down to your succinct marketing message is when you carry disparate lines having to call on high end, low end and everything in between. It can be done, but some synergies of having like product to represent to similar retailers will be lost.

Retailers place value on understanding what you offer so if they have a specific need for a product they know they can call you. But your name may not come to the top of mind if your message is not clear. It's like the big airlines that see they are losing market share to the budget airlines. They want to offer first class and business class, but they also want to offer a price competitive fare charging extra for baggage and sometimes carry-on bags. It confuses and sometimes upsets the infrequent customer who thinks these airlines are a premium experience driving them to competing offerings.

With summer now in full swing, you will probably have some extra time to think through your positioning. What is it now? What should it be? Who is your ideal customer? What steps can you take between now and October market to start fine tuning your brand to make it more understandable to your target customer?

Or you can keep doing things the way you always have and continue to get the results you have always gotten or worse. Over time, new competitors will emerge, lines will get cold, buyers will change and any number of other disruptive events occur. With a plan in place, you’ll know what you need to do to continue building your key relationships.

Good luck. As always feel free to leave your positive comments below.