Mike Virok

Walk-ins at a premium? Bring customers to you

HIGH POINT — Within the past five years, furniture retailers have seen their share of prosperous times, and they’ve seen plenty of difficult days.

In 2021, a retailer’s messaging could be as simple as “We have inventory; come and get it.” In the period during COVID, when people were spending more discretionary dollars on their homes, that was good enough.

Today, that’s no longer the case as retailers and marketing leaders rely on everything in their toolboxes to draw consumers to stores. Promotions, storytelling, events and other tried-and-true tactics have come back in a big way in an attempt to stem months of slumping sales industrywide.

Marketers’ best moves

While traditional advertising strategies remain an important part of a retailer’s marketing mix, it’s also critical to engage customers in digital channels. Whether that be social media marketing, OTT ads in streaming services or other efforts, more customers are online in some capacity, and that means it’s a retailer’s best chance of meeting them where they are.

However, digital return on investment can be hard to track and measure. But there are ways of figuring out whether it’s working, said Kyle Doran, co-owner and chief marketing officer of R&A Marketing.

“I think right now for any retailer, the opportunity to experiment and try different digital avenues is paramount. What I mean by that is not just going in and taking all the digital spend and dumping into streaming or social,” Doran told Furniture Today. “Think about it through the lens of ‘I’m going to be the one who judges the success, and that success is going to be measured by the amount of sales or opportunities that come through the door.’”

Doran said it’s important for retailers to find partners who understand digital themselves and will rely on sales figures vs. the latest hot metrics.

“Right now, getting somebody into the store is the best chance of maintaining or having incremental sales gains vs. driving everybody to the website,” he said. “If you start pushing conventional wisdom and align yourself somebody who offers those digital solutions, you’re building a marketing and digital plan that works best for you.”

And once a customer is in the store and is making a purchase, incentives go a long way in generating either a larger ticket or repeat business.

“If somebody is buying a furniture item, can you turn it into giving them a mattress gift card to maybe get that ticket up. On the reverse, can you maybe offer furniture gift cards on mattress purchases to turn that $2,000 sale into a $4,000 sale,” Doran said. “In a lot of cases, customers may not know what else might be available.

“Stack the offer. It gives opportunity to get the message out there and create awareness, and gives you the opportunity to control the conversation and narrative.”

Methods that work

Another way of controlling the narrative is letting the customer know that, if she makes a purchase, she will pay the lowest possible price for that particular item in her market, said Laura Moore, vice president of Imagine Advertising.

“Right now, times call for the low-price guarantee,” she said. “When you’re against Amazon or Wayfair, it’s big to be able to say that if you produce a valid quote from a competitor, we have a 30-day guarantee to match the price.”

Beyond that, regular website maintenance is something that most retailers don’t think about, but it’s something that can pay huge dividends. That means staying on top of SEO terms and making sure the site is as searchable as possible.

“A lot of retailers don’t think about that,” said Flora Stopher, Imagine Advertising’s owner. “They think if they have a website, that’s good enough, but you have to work it like you work your store.”

Stopher said creating packages of products for a set price — including accent tables, accessories, rugs and lighting — is a great way of turning a $699 sale into a $1,499 sale in a hurry.

Moore said many manufacturers have the ability to produce good marketing content, and in many cases, it’s as simple as the retailer asking for some backup, particularly when it comes to authentic videos.

“If the manufacturers step up and provide that content, retailers can put it on TikTok or their YouTube channels or on the home page of the website; that could be helpful,” she said.

And while many retailers didn’t have to rely on techniques during the COVID boom, most have track records of success, so they know what’s been effective in the past.

“I think the biggest mistake retailers can make is just throw money at the problem. That’s how we get out of balance in advertising spend at the end of the year,” said Brad Lebow, president of HHL Advertising. “When things turn tough, we turn to the tried and true. We had a lot of people who didn’t have to do these harder-hitting events during COVID. I’ve got more clients doing the ‘high-impact sales.’”

Lebow said one tried and true method is a handwritten invitation from retail sales associates. He said it takes a little work on the front end, but when executed properly, the payout can be significant.

“Get the name and address of one person who walks in. Is that hard? It absolutely is,” Lebow said. “If you get one a day and have your sales associates send 25-30 cards with unadvertised specials, the close rate is tremendous. That’s as qualified traffic as you’re going to get. That’s what leads to our big days on low spend because the closing ratios go through the roof.”

Beyond that, sometimes appealing to customers with “free” can get them in the mood for shopping. One way Lebow has seen this work is by having a “spin the wheel” promotion available at check-out. “It’s not a reason to come here, but if you’re deciding between two places, you might as well go to the place where you might get your furniture for free,” he said.

A ‘grand’ limited offer

Ahead of this year’s Memorial Day sales weekend, Top 100 retailer Grand Home Furnishings shook things up a little. Instead of waiting a couple of weeks into May to start promoting, the Roanoke, Va.-based retailer started putting messaging out at the start of the month with a different weekly sale leading up to the holiday.

Mike Virok

“People go on vacation right away, so we wanted to get in front of them before they went on vacation with our best offer high up in the month and scoop up whatever Memorial Day business we could,” said Mike Virok, vice president of marketing. “Why not give it to them and give it to them early?”

Virok said Grand used in-line goods as doorbusters for some of the weekend specials and then loaded up with special buys for Memorial Day Weekend itself. He said it worked, as Grand found itself up double digits for May.

And while that might tempt some to go to this well often, Virok said limiting it is what makes it special and effective.

“It’s not going to show up every tentpole but it will show up again. The idea is we need to break the predictability mold in our presentations,” he said. “It’s something we can replicate at any time but we’ll be strategic in when we do it.”

Trying something new

Kyle Deets

In Norfolk, Neb., Deets Furniture has never shied away from trying new things. Owner Kyle Deets has had success using QR codes to drive more reviews and has recently had a lot of luck using “and” as a repeat sales driver.

“Let’s say you buy something and we give you an extra discount on an item in a different category. You buy furniture, design your living room and buy everything there,” he said. “We have an ‘and.’ Since you bought this today, we’re going to give you a $200 gift card toward the purchase of a mattress.

“We’ve had good success with that. We’ve tied it with furniture and accessories and with furniture and area rugs. Any category that might not go with that sale. It’s been a nice thing,” Deets noted. “People are looking for value now. They will buy, but they need a reason to buy.”

Deets is preparing to undertake a remodel and is using that opportunity to create a sales event with a few fun features and some discounts.

“We’re kicking off our remodeling sale; we’re doing a remodel on one of our floors. This weekend, we partnered with a popular donut truck, and we’re going to be giving away donuts and discount coupons,” he said. “Those experience events are always effective and can cut through some of the clutter.

“People like to have fun, and when you can associate it with your brand, that’s a win-win for everybody.”

See also:

  • How did Memorial Day sales live up to retailers’ expectations?
  • How Top 100 retailers faced the challenges of 2023 to stay among the elite

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