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Have Independent Furniture Retailers Become Invisible?

Posted By Donna Koeneman, 6/20/2012

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After spending months researching the furniture industry, does anyone recognize anything the trade publications are saying?  Or am I in a different industry?  Are we the industry of the forgotten small independent retailer?  The summer season blues maybe has caused me to ask these questions, or was it the tax season this year that just didn’t last quite as long as the previous year.  Even though our part of the industry is only 34% of the total furniture market do you feel we have become invisible?

Let me ask the following questions to all you independent retailers did you know that less than 4% of all small business due more than a million dollars a year,  that only 20% of small business last five years,  or 84% of small business sales are under $100,000 per year.  The small independent furniture is a minority in the furniture industry with 67% of the sales going to the top 100 retailers up 17% in five years.

  • Are the customers getting cheaper?
  • Are the Customers becoming more demanding?
  • Is our competition giving the product away to make the sale?
  • Do you find many of the retail stores look so cheap?
  • Has your employees robbed from you?
  • Will your suppliers sell to anyone, whether they are in the furniture industry or not as long as they have some kind of sales tax number?
  • Will some of your suppliers sell to anyone for cash?
  • Do your suppliers require the retailer to have a store but you know when you go on Craig’s List and call the retailer there is no store?
  • Do the suppliers give you returned product that’s broken, the wrong item or require you to wait for missing parts with no concern about customer service?
  • Is your traditional finance company turn down rate over 50%?
  • Do your sales people lie to get the sale and the commission and require you to clean up after them?
  • Even with training do you sales people know nothing about the product?
  • Is it impossible to even find a sales person and when you do you think this has to be better than nothing?
  • Does your competition send the customer to your store to see the product than sell it to them at a lower price?
  • Do the “show roomers” from the internet go onto your supplier’s website to find who sells the product and come to your store so they may see the product and order it online at a cheaper price?
  • Do the e-commerce websites tell the consumers what store it there to go see the product?
  • Does the consumer take no responsibility for breaking the product, you know the people who drag the bed around the room with the bedding still on and crack the headboard or footboard and claim they didn’t do that, or the child who destroys the bunked and they just don’t know how it broke?
  • Do you wonder how your competitions stay in business with no advertising?
  • Can you believe how unscrupulous your competition is?
  • Does it bother you we are rated as low as used car sales or home improvement companies?
  • Ever concerned when you call your distributor to place an order on Monday morning after spending two hours selling it only to discover it’s not in stock with no date when the product will arrive?

Reading trade publications today about social media, furniture trends, and which corporate individual got promoted.  Reading articles about the industry is improving because corporation’s accountants utilized a tax savings measure makes the quarterly statement look great or they received millions in the antidumping duties, even though most of the companies import themselves.  How much savings do the top 100 retailers receive form the suppliers with charge backs, co-op funds and lower prices?

Well fellow small independent furniture retailers I will send this to message out to the vast void of the blog world, just thought I would reach out to see if this is just my  business.



From Russell, 9/26/2012  9:30 AM

Hello Donna, I can't speak for the other publications, but at Furniture World, we try not to tell our readers what they already know about the realities of retailing today. Many of the items in your list speak to the "worst nature" of suppliers, finance companies, the competition and customers. There are some retailers out there, however,  who take these conditions and find solutions to the problems you are thinking about. Believe it or not, I have spoken to furniture retailers who are excited about doing business, like their suppliers, employees and customers.

So, here is what we try to do at FURNITURE WORLD. We assume that our readers already know about  the difficult realities of retail and explain how they might do a better job of adapting their independent retail operations by applying the concrete tips and techniques we present. Just take a look at this October's issue. There's a great article by David McMahon about how to boost margins even if your competition is giving some product away. We complete Larry Mullins' three part series on how to identify which customers are motivated by price and fear and which ones can be sold by approaching them in other ways. Rene Gingrich's second article on building a team of retail sales experts gives lots of practical ideas on how to motivate and educate sales associates. Florian Volmer presents a new way to look at how retailers can change a customer's experience by considering touchpoint analysis.

And, if you check the article archives on www.furninfo.com you will see articles on how to discourage emplyee theft... how to get control of your sales force, hire better salespeople (there's an 8-part series), how to build your own brand through smarter advertising and promotions. There are over 1,000 articles on every retail topic imaginable, directed at the 17,500 retail furniture store readers of Furniture World, a large proportion of which are independent dealers.

Of course, there is just so much a publication can do. You seem to be having lots of dark thoughts. Have you ever thought of bringing in a consultant? There are a couple of them I could recommend who make their living addressing the issues you write about. And, they don't just deal with retail profitability. They also look at ways to make retail more fulfilling and pleasant for owners.  You can reach me at 914-235-3095 if you need more information. -Russell

From bardiqian, 9/26/2012  8:17 AM


I can fully understand you, also I think the things maybe get worse. as others are changing the business model.
You must cut your cost so you should get the direct sourcing from China, where export to the worldwide. also you should cut the warehouse cost, and the cash cost.If you have those cost, you cannot compete with the big guy.
we are a furniture wholesale company in China.we are focus on the small business. we provide the service the independent retailers.
If you want to have more details, you can contact me bardiqian@126.com

From jgood, 8/14/2012  9:11 PM

Hi Donna!

    I think you hit just about every one of the constant frustrations for any independent retailer. I too feel everyday the customers are getting cheaper, tax season seems to get shorter and it seems as though our competitors are willing to sell their merchandise at a lose, if it means they'll get customers in the door.
    For me personally, I take inspiration in the independants who have overcome all of the difficulties you described and seen wild success. Case in point, Mattress Mack of Gallery Furniture (who I'm sure you've heard of) in Houston. Mack actually started out selling furniture in your area, and is now a top 100 retailer and the largest independent retailer in America, and he started with just his wife and $5,000. 
    At our store, we have a saying, "If your not growing, your dying" you can't win the battle against the big boxes on price and financing options alone, you have to do more to set yourself apart from the pack. We try and do this by having events, not just sales at our store. We'll rent moonwalks, camels, dunking booths, have local radio stations broadcast live, etc. And we do it all under the banner of a particular sale we have going on and....IT WORKS! Not one of our competitors is doing anything like it. Our last event saw over 300+ people on a day when we normally average 20-30. The whole idea isn't just to make more sales, it's to generate a buzz about your store, and keep you relevant and fresh in their minds, when they do need furniture. 
     Anyway, that's just my two sense take it with a grain of salt. I hope things do look up for you, it sounds like y'all are having a tough time.     All the best.

From annadai, 7/17/2012  2:10 AM

Hello, Donna, my husband and I worked for an importer sourcing from Asia for about 10 years. I understand that it's really hard for the independent retailer to compete with the big ones who can cut out as many middle men as possible. if you would like to know the direct sourcing, please feel free to e-mail me at anna_dai@me.com

From Russell, 6/23/2012  8:56 AM

Hello Donna. It looks like you are having a very tough time.  In my opinion, you are not alone in having some of these difficulties. However, in the world of independent furniture retailers, there are many that love their businesses, enjoy working with their salespeople, respect most of their customers and are not so "down" on the industry.  I speak to retailers who love their businesses all the time.  

I see from your website that you seem to be competing with the big guys primarily on price and credit and that can be especially tough. But I have to believe that there is a way to re-imagine your business model so that you can make things much better. I am not an industry consultant, and don't pretend to have ever been in your shoes. On the other hand, it seems plain that you are need to concentrate on your core business model, what you really offer customers, your USP, and how you hire and manage, and instill core values in your people. Perhaps  you can change the internal dynamic of how your store and salespeople interact with customers, employees and the community.

You can worry about all the things in our industry that can't be changed, but you will lose lots of sleep. And, perhaps not all of these questions you asked are valuable to the transformation of your business... if that is your goal.

Are you a member of a buying group? Have you ever thought of speaking to one of the excellent consulting groups that hang out in the Retail Resouce Center at the Vegas and High Point shows? Do you belong to a group like the HFIA? I think that Mary Frye there would be interesting to speak to ((214) 741-7632). 

I hope you have a good day at retail today.

Russell Bienenstock

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