Young retailers say embracing technology key to future growth

TechnologyAUSTIN, Texas — Embracing new technology has been a key part of the future growth plan for young retailers Cassandra Novosel of Stoney Creek Furniture in Ontario, Canada, and Aaron Ruby of Ruby-Gordon Home of Rochester, N.Y.

Novosel is purchasing manager at the company her father started in 1969, while Ruby is president of two-store Ruby-Gordon Home, founded by his grandfather in 1936. Both retailers took part in a panel of industry leaders who discussed the importance of seamless retail at Progressive Business Media’s recent NEXT Conference in Austin, Texas. The two were joined by Shrenik Sadalgi from Boston-based home furnishings e-commerce giant Wayfair and moderators Bill McLoughlin, editor in chief of Furniture Today, and Allison Zisko, editor in chief of HFN.

Ruby said that after he joined the company, he shifted more advertising dollars to digital channels and cut back on the traditional newspaper, direct mail and TV channels.

“The ability with digital to know that 2,304 people clicked on an ad is more impactful than knowing that 40,000 people might have seen a TV spot on Channel 10,” said Ruby.

Updating the website has been a key part of Novosel’s focus in her new position.

“We have added delivery tracking for customers and are starting to add things to the site like live chat,” said Novosel. “We recently added Wi-Fi in the store and are working on getting virtual reality capabilities to help customers be able to see the product size and fabric detail right in front of them.”

Sadalgi said as an e-commerce site, staying ahead of the technology is part of Wayfair’s success.

“We just rolled out 3D and are using it as a medium to showcase the product,” said Sadalgi. “Wayfair has also just partnered with Magic Leap, a new company working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display that superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real-world objects. They do this by projecting a digital light field into the user’s eye allowing for spatial computing.”

Although the technology is still in development, Sadalgi says spatial computing allows the world around you to become your screen.

All three panel members agreed that proactively setting customer expectations as far as delivery is imperative for a seamless retail experience.

“Expectations are that the customer wants it now, but most of our business is custom furniture,” said Novosel. “We need to set the mindset that the delivery may take longer but the quality is worth the wait.”

“In my experience, everyone wants something different,” said Ruby. “The challenge is to figure out if the customer wants some hand holding or if they’d prefer to go it alone. Every customer deserves to feel comfortable during the process.”

Sadalgi said Wayfair’s goal is to offer delight as well as convenience.

“We have a room planner tool where people can drag and drop items into their space,” added Sadalgi. “It’s both fun and practical, and often leads to a sale.”

Challenges facing the retailers are not the same. For brick-and-mortar retailers such as Novosel and Ruby, finding effective salespeople has been a challenge. At Stoney Creek Furniture, the sales force isn’t commissioned so it can be difficult to keep people on staff.

“We find that it can be problematic to find people who are able to work evenings and weekends,” Novosel added. “Training, improvement and retention also seem to be an issue for many retailers.”

Ruby said Rochester is a depressed market, but it’s still hard to find people with the right skill set. “We have found that generally, Millennials don’t want to be in furniture sales. The trusted salesperson image of the past has gone by the wayside.”

The panelists united on the importance of creating a personalized experience for every person. They all reinforced the notion that they’re not so much selling a piece of furniture as they are helping consumers to create beautiful spaces.

“Since people don’t buy home furnishings as often, forming a connection is essential,” said Ruby. “Any way that we can demystify the furniture buying process is helpful.”

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