Furniture retailers use accessories to help drive sales
Last month, I sat in on a couple of great discussions on the strategies different stores and retail channels are using to sell home accessories.
One of those discussions took place at Home Accents Today's High Point Market retailers breakfast, attended by buyers and executives from Havertys, Badcock, One Kings Lane, Wayfair, Gallery Furniture, El Dorado Furniture, Bernie & Phyl's, Homemakers and Joss & Main. More on that event is available HERE.
The other discussion took place in the Surya showroom where Satya Tiwari, Surya's president, moderated a panel with Ron Werner, president of HW Home; Matt Huber, VP of merchandising at Belfort Furniture; and Elisa Watson, accessory buyer for Hill Country Holdings, an Ashley Furniture Home Stores operator.
These furniture retailers know what they're doing. Denver-based HW Home and Northern Virginia-based Belfort were named NHFA Retailer of the Year for 2013 and 2012, respectively. Hill Country Holdings, with 21 stores in Texas and Washington state, holds the number 35 spot on Furniture Today's Top 100 list.
They survived the recession, business is better than ever and the role of accessories in their product mix - and success - is huge, they told attendees.
At Belfort, a 100,000-sq.-ft. retail destination near Dulles airport, Huber said accessories bring excitement to the floor. "Styles may change every season, but a customer isn't going to change the whole house up. Accessories make it easy to do that - for the customer to freshen everything."
Watson agreed with Huber, adding that in the Ashley Home Stores, accessories complete the look, feel and style of a room vignette, and can increase the furniture's perceived value.
Of the accessories and furniture mix at HW Home stores, Werner said, "We all have those days when it seems nothing in the store is moving, but if you have these extra layers in your store - sell some pillows, glassware, art - those things add up and you can end up having a really nice day. If you only sell furniture, you can't complete the story. Not only does the furniture not look as good, but you're missing opportunities."
On integrating accessories into the sales process, Werner said HW Home's non-commission culture encourages more of a team approach. "One of the first things (new sales staff) learn in training is that we're not here to sell our customer - people don't like to be sold, they love to buy. So our job is to help people buy. We love to help our customers with their imaginations. We create beautiful vignettes, highly styled, layered with rugs, pillows, tabletop and artwork that are incredibly inviting."
Huber said Belfort does a good job selling accessories, but wants to sell more. "Our role is to create beautiful rooms, and our focus has been making it as simple as possible. Part of the process is showing the same furniture dressed in different ways. Show best-sellers, with a few different accessory groupings and how they can change a room - that buying a set of case goods doesn't mean you're stuck with same look for years."
Adding rug racks to the showroom several years ago was "transformational" for Belfort, Huber said. "Getting them vertical, off the floor, was big. We have racks in two different sizes. We went from selling a few, maybe a hundred, to over a thousand rugs a year. I think there's almost something meditative about looking through the racks. I see people here in the (Surya) showroom doing it. They sort of get into this rhythm, flip, flip, ‘Oh wow, look at that one.'"
Following are more highlights from the retailers' responses to Tiwari's accessories-centered questions on merchandising, training and sell-through:
- We work hard to stock accessories that are not available in other places. If we see it in other stores we yank it immediately.
- One thing we do that is extremely successful is let customers take things into their home on approval. And when we make a delivery we encourage sales associates to bring extra accessories. Once they see it in their home, it sticks.
- We rely heavily on our vendors. We need vendors to be partners and come into our stores and educate our people as to what they have in front of them to make sure they know the story.
- I tell our sales associates that they need to be able to communicate three things about (the product), and it's OK if one of those points is the color.
- One of best tools we have is a big TV on an easel where we show Surya's video about the making of a rug. It's a great tool. People are just drawn to it. Even if they weren't expecting to buy a rug, they'll say, "I need to buy one of these rugs, it's such an amazing story."
- You don't want to over-accessorize. There is a point of diminishing returns where you have clutter, and clutter doesn't sell. You have to find the appropriate balance.
- We like to tell stories. We group things together into color stories, stories of materials, form and shape. Put all that together, you excite the customer. The objective is for them to envision it in their home. Achieve that and you'll sell the goods.
- We don't have the luxury of that much square footage. So we take wall space and use Surya's 2x3 rug samples... It makes it clear to the customer when they come in our shop that we're in the rug business, but they're not in a rug store. They're in a beautiful furniture store.
- We don't run sales in our stores. We run one annual warehouse sale a year. At this year's sale, we brought in a truckload of Surya rugs, made them extremely attractive for people, and in four days we sold 150 rugs.
- If any of my employees says to a customer, "Hi, can I help you?" I go berserk. That's the worst. They're going to reply, "No, just browsing." And then you've lost them. If you just greet them, "Hi, how are you today?" and then, when they're looking over at this rug you say, "Isn't that pattern just amazing?" That gives you the ability to intelligently engage your customer, to continue with the experience.
- While it might take four or five visits to decide on a piece of upholstery, it might take someone 10 visits to our store before they buy anything. I don't want to lose them on the ninth visit. So to make sure they're there on the 10th visit we always deliver a great experience, and we do that with service, sets, displays, furniture - and accessories.