Furniture Everyday

Bill McLoughlin

The first change is the hardest, but could be the best

August 10, 2017

Ever have an idea that you thought was great?

You did the research, consulted the experts, put together a strategic plan … and then life intervened.

Events that seemed certain didn’t materialize. Reasonable, even cautious projections of economic conditions met with a shifting reality, and you were faced with a choice — push through and hope for the best or regroup, reassess and adapt to the needs of a new reality.

That’s the choice many retailers are facing this year.

January’s optimism to start the year seems like such a long time ago. A new administration in Washington was going to usher in a wave of fresh thinking, reduce regulation, support business expansion and take the incremental improvements the economy had been undergoing and jumpstart a renewed wave of more rapid growth.

Economic conditions seemed ripe for furniture industry success. Consumer confidence was good, the stock market was setting records, and the housing market was finally regaining momentum lost to the Great Recession. Eight months later, with a few significant exceptions, the industry continues to be challenged by inconsistent and, at times, declining foot traffic.

Despite national economic conditions that historically have driven robust sales, the situation today varies widely from region to region and from city to city. And, even in areas that seem to be experiencing revitalization, furniture store traffic remains off, in some cases substantially.

It would be easy to stay the course, believing that things will change, that the tried-and-true norms will reassert themselves. Unfortunately, demographic, psychographic and economic trends suggest otherwise. We are a society undergoing seismic shifts: the transition of purchasing power from one generation to the next, rapid technological developments that are unleashing disruptive lifestyle changes and fundamental realignments in the distribution models for goods and services.

In such an environment, it is nearly impossible to see the course, let alone stay the course.

And while making a change can be daunting, avoiding one in the face of shifting conditions can be far worse. The first step, and often the hardest, is acknowledging the need. It’s much easier to worry about sunk costs, external perceptions or the potential negative outcomes that always seem more intimidating than the security of the tried and true.

But that’s the trap.

Instead, try to imagine the opportunities created by a fresh approach, focus on the excitement that can be created for customers whose expectations you are now going to exceed. It’s one of the oldest beliefs in retail that customers always want something new. That doesn’t have to just mean product. It can mean format and services where any point of contact or interaction is an opportunity for delight.

There has never been a better time to explore new approaches … or a worse time to avoid them.