The Evolving Business of Doing Business
Thomas Lester -- Home Accents Today, September 1, 2013
The new design center at Furnitureland South incorporates technology, such as televisions that can mirror digital images from apps to create a detailed design experience.
Mobile devices and tablets bring unlimited amounts of data almost anywhere, opening the door for interactions and sales whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, be it on the other side of town or across the globe. Software innovations allow for customizable presentations - whether in a store or through the vision of a designer - that allow consumers to see how furnishings could fit into their lives.
In order to get their product in stores across the country, it's essential that vendor sales reps get in front of retailers in order to tout their companies' latest and greatest product. As time becomes more and more precious, many are finding that while nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, technology can offer a "next-best" opportunity.
Technology solutions provider Brandwise launched a revamped website earlier this summer to accompany the five tenets it feels will help serve its customer base: Play, vision, reward, reach and stream. Todd Litzman, Brandwise's president and co-founder, said the initiative will provide clients the best technology over mobile platforms with a dedicated team available in support.
Litzman said he believes the initiative will help Brandwise and its partners achieve stronger footholds in the industry.
"We're extremely excited about where we're headed. It's something we plan to do for many years to come," he said. "We're excited about where the new brand is going to take us. The future looks bright as far as we can tell."
As new product debuts, something has to be done with closeouts. Whereoware came up with a solution, helping vendors and retailers capitalize on the last days of popular trends.
In July, the Herndon, Va.-based online solutions company earned an ICON Award for its innovative use of new database technology to help Creative Co-Op move items it was closing out to make room for new product.
Company president Eric Dean said Whereoware tapped into retailers' past buying histories to customize each closeout message.
Whereoware’s Spotlight application takes advantage of the latest trends in mobile technology to help deliver on-point presentations to help salespeople close sales.
"We love this industry because there's lot of creative product and you see all kinds of new things when you go to market. The side effect is a lot of product turn means a lot of closeout product; it's an inventory issue. We wanted to use some new database technology and apply specific users' buying histories to a large amount of inventory that's turning over," Dean said. "
What we did was instead of listing, ‘Here are hundreds of items that are closing out, come and get them,' we looked at specific items that you as an individual bought; you already decided these are right for your store or customer. We're giving you a chance to buy them at a discount before they get closed out to a general audience. It's preferential treatment for those who already bought the product. We're telling them about the eight (items) they specifically bought vs. the hundreds."
Dean said he feels the sun is setting on the days of the one-size-fits-all message.
"We're huge believers in technology should adapt to meet the business. Each person we work with has a different business. Trying to fit the technology and jam it into every business doesn't work," Dean said. "This fit the need Creative Co-Op had. With some tweaks, we've been able to do it for others as well. The basic premise and trend is personalization. Each of those email messages is personalized at the account level."
Once the vendor reps do their jobs and the product is in stores, technology exists to help salespeople move the goods to the end consumer.
During the summer Las Vegas Market, Furniture Wizard showed its touchscreen kiosk inside the North American Home Furnishings Assocation's Retailer Resource Center. The Windows 8 platform is designed to help level the playing field for independent retailers.
Chief Creative Analyst Evan Faller said the Chula Vista, Calif., company's touchscreen application is the perfect way for salespeople to add accessories to a sale.
"The key to home accents and accessories is a lot of retailers are missing out on these categories and consumers are going to third parties. We've allowed retailers to take a nine-panel suggested tile on the side," Faller said, selecting a bedroom to highlight an example. "With this bedroom, we said these rugs sell well with it. You can automatically add items to it. For mattress lines, we assume they're going to put sheets and top of the bed on here."
Faller said a number of furniture stores lose accessory sales because they don't know how to package them.
"We're helping drive all those accents and accessories right in the store instead of letting (customers) walk to competitors; we're keeping them in these independent retailers and making sure they can give that customer a great, complete experience," he said.
Feiss-Monte Carlo, which manufactures lighting, lamps, mirrors and ceiling fans, has a fully-customized dealer application for the iPad, which the company says is a first for a lighting manufacturer.
The app was platformed from the reps' Feiss-Monte Carlo eCat app - which was earlier customized specifically for the company - to use on iPads. The app sorts products to fit customer needs and to upsell, creates wishlists, checks stock in real time and shows details that aren't as visible in catalogs or on digital images.
The iBuild tool on the Christopher Guy website allows designers to create custom, to-scale design projects using Christopher Guy’s catalog or third-party product.
"We aimed to help our customers in closing the sales deal in a challenging retail environment," said Feiss-Monte Carlo President Maria Scutaro. "Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and more are adopting this app technology as they see how it benefits others. We constantly look for and present ways to help our retail partners." Feiss-Monte Carlo's next step is to introduce a mobile, consumer-friendly web app for all smartphones early next year.
But with the ability to purchase product from anywhere across the globe with a click of a mouse, what will keep consumers coming back to their local retailers? MicroD says having a modern website that can level the playing field helps.
"We know e-commerce is the wave of the future, and it's the equalizing and stabilizing factor between the big box store and local retailers, to really attract their market," said Leah Kirkland, MicroD director of sales, who was in Las Vegas to tout the ePiphany website platform to retailers. "We think the independent furniture store in the local area is poised to take the most advantage of this."
Kirkland said the ePiphany websites created by the Charlotte, N.C.-based company instantly fit any screen - be it a large monitor, a laptop screen or mobile device - to give the smaller stores even footing with national and international retailers.
This diagram details Whereoware’s use of database technology to custom messages aimed at retailers who bought Creative Co-Op product that was going on closeout.
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