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Furniture Retailers Go Tribal Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Part 2: Gather up your Tribe and lead them!

Sales & Management Skills by Margarett DeGange, M.Ed.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series on how to take a leadership position in the new decade by creating tribal loyalty among your customers. The previous installment can be found in the Marketing Management article archive on the furninfo.com website.



3 Killers of Tribal Loyalty


Tribal loyalty is built through care, communication, and continuous interaction, but there are certain attitudes and actions that can undo years of hard work in an instant. Here are 3 common mindsets that will undermine your efforts to build your tribe:


Mindset #1. Wanting to be like the BIG BOYS (or remaining like a BIG BOY if you are one).


Mindset #2. The “I Married my Wife but I Don’t Have to Date Her Anymore” Mentality.


Mindset #3. So What’s One or Two Unhappy, Bothersome Customers?

Tribe loyalty killer #1: Wanting to be like the BIG BOYS or remaining like a BIG BOY if you are one.


Many store owners say that they are trying to make their company appear bigger than it actually is. They want it to be seen as  “corporate”, the very thing tribe members are quickly moving away from. In an effort to do that they gravitate towards tactics that actually tick customers off and cause them to shop elsewhere, NEVER to return. This is ironic, since being “big” means having customers! Some common tactics that stores with managers having this mindset are drawn to, (and this happens in all sized stores-small or large) are:

  • Extremely impersonal ads that only stress price and seem very “corporate”.
  • Voice message systems that keep customers on hold for sinful periods of time or in a seemingly never-ending and incredibly aggravating loop.
  • “Canned” introductions when a customer enters the store or insensitive sales pitches that focus on what the store wants rather than what the customer wants.
  • Too much formality and pressure during interactions within the store.
  • Stubborn “store policies” enforced by  rigid staff members who cannot or will not break them.  This often  keeps customers from having a great experience while ticking them off beyond repair. This also gives people a “bad” story to share with friends, family and everyone else through social networks and internet posts and blogs.

The only real way to be BIG is to think with a BIG heart. Name one customer you have ever known that was terribly annoyed because a store associate or manager got right on the phone ready to help them, or because a sales professional sent them a hand-written thank you note that took a few extra minutes of their time to write, or because a company president asked blog readers to personally contact her with their individual ideas on how to make the store a better place to find decorating solutions? I bet you can’t name one!

Tribe loyalty killer #2: The “I Married my Wife but I Don’t Have to Date Her Anymore,” Mentality.


It is INSANE to think that just because a customer bought from you once, that they will easily and effortlessly buy from you again. It is equally insane to think that you can now speak formally to that customer (who should now be a type of friend) and get them to come in again and buy. Putting distance back into a store/customer relationship can be done in a number of ways, but a common one is through ads that are over-the-top impersonal. We will discuss creating  more personal ads and specific ad campaigns for different types of customers, in a future article.


The very essence of a tribe means warm interaction, like staying in touch— not to get anything, but to simply connect with and support members. Your newsletter for example, should NOT focus on what’s on sale. I personally think you should not sell at all in your monthly newsletter (save that for special email announcements). Instead, give fun, informative and timely information tribe members (newsletter subscribers) WANT and look forward to receiving, and want to forward on to their friends (who forward it to their friends, and so on). No one will forward an ad.


Occasionally, give your tribe members a gift. It can be a special informational

decorating report they can download (NOT a SALES FLYER), or it can be a gift certificate for a FREE candle, or perhaps  an invitation to a special presentation on decorating (again, not a sales ploy). Use your great imagination, or better yet, let one of your employees take a crack at some ideas. Trust that if you romance your customers, they will think of only you when it is time for them to buy.


Tribe loyalty killer #3: So What’s One or Two Unhappy, Bothersome Customers?


It’s a mistake to think there are so many potential customers out there, it doesn’t matter if one unhappy customer might share their experience with others. In today’s culture, that can be a dangerous game. The speed and reach of diffusion have never been as great as they are today. One woman I know had a beautiful product custom-made from a local decorating center. Everything, including the service, was fine, but the service turned HORRIBLE when there was a small problem that needed to be fixed. The problem was the store’s mistake, although stubbornly, they did not see it that way. The cost of the repair was truly nominal compared to the purchase price of the piece, yet the company owner would not budge on fixing it without additional fees. He argued with her, and even belittled her. What was her response? She posted her entire experience (her story) to a local community business blog, and it wasn’t pretty. She was honest about the initial beautiful work, and honest as well about the small repair that was needed and the subsequent bad treatment she received from so-called professionals. The post was well-written, poignant and strong, and it will remain online just about forever. Now, in that town, when you Google that company’s name, her post comes up second in the search. This is no game!


A solid tribe is one where tribe members are seen as having equal value to the leader, and where members respect and admire the leader, because the leader cares about the tribe and has character. My advice to any business owner who wants to grow and lead a tribe: do not carelessly destroy your tribe, because you must inevitably waste money trying to replace lost tribe members. Today, every tribe member who leaves unhappy has many avenues to speak and share -- and an active, almost mainstream culture tells them that they are surely supposed to do just that. Over time, this can seriously alter public opinion of you and your business.


A better direction is to hear, respect, educate, and empower your decorating tribe, so that they are out enthusiastically telling others what they know, and gathering more people to the tribe.


Gaining Permission


Marketing today is all about the privilege of sending and receiving messages from those who want to be engaged.


Spam (sending email ad messages to people who did not give you permission to send them) is not nice. It is also illegal! Most of the population is onto the fact that sending spam is not only super selfish on the part of the business owners, but incredibly rude. People reason that if you don’t care about spamming them, you won’t care about providing them good products and dependable, responsible service either. It’s like saying you cheat on your taxes, but not on your boyfriend—it just doesn’t pan out.


Television and radio advertising are not spam, but because the vantage point of the public has changed so much, TV and radio ads are pretty much looked at as such. People did not ask for them, yet you send them anyway. Your customers are now aware that they are in control of whether or not they will allow your message into their personal space.


I am not saying to quit your TV and radio advertising, but to simply be aware that this is a force-fed (and expensive) method when compared to a permission-based, trust-building activity. Ads give information (as does your email campaign) yet information is totally and completely useless if it is not needed by, wanted by, or pertinent to the prospect or customer at the time that it arrives. In addition, ads, unlike an email campaign, are not set up for immediate feedback. Your customers cannot “reply” to your TV message, so measuring the effectiveness of a particular message and its exact relevance to your customer is not very easy.


Try to look at your customers and prospects differently from now on. They are not ignorant, unsuspecting sheep heading out to the slaughter of unwanted advertisements or sale-driven emails. Going forward, the only messages people will be willing to accept are those they anticipate and look forward to receiving because they gave you their permission to send them. Such messages will be relevant to those who view or hear them.


If you want people as clients long-term, you must begin to partner with them and build relationships that actively involve them. To do this you must first consider  what is important in their lives. Ms. Flecther does not really buy a couch, she actually buys an opportunity to impress visitors to her home with her “in the know” decorating ability... or she buys a chance to make her mother proud of her good purchase decisions and her money well-spent... or she buys an opportunity to welcome her pets indoors with fabrics that will also keep her place looking great for a long time.   


We naturally avoid strangers and embrace friends. With the tribe leader mentality, you communicate AND interact with your tribe often so that your information is more likely to mean  something to them, saving you time and money in the long run, and making tribe members much happier. Then, if by chance some of the information you send is not exactly timely or relevant, tribe members will be much more open-minded to explore it.


How to Get Conversations Going


One of the new buzz words in new marketing and new media circles is the word “conversations”. That’s because today people are talking and sharing information with a vengeance. Customers don’t want surveys and suggestion boxes. They want to talk, and they want to talk to YOU.


They want REAL conversations and they want to know that what they need, want, and desire matters to you. They want to know you are listening when they talk about a new trend they saw on vacation in another city or country. They want to feel you hear and take action on getting them the styles, product lines, and materials that matter most to them.


Converse any way you can. Ask newsletter readers to answer a question that you, or whoever is in charge of the newsletter, personally ask. Word the question something like, “I have been thinking a lot about what homeowners truly want in terms of upholstery fabrics, and I’d love your thoughts on your own fabric preferences, and maybe a word on why you prefer certain fabrics over others”.  It’s not all that important how you word the question, the important point is that you are involving your tribe, and calling on them for their input, so you can better lead them.


Here’s a thought. How about hosting a teleseminar on a fun topic, letting callers dial in if they want to learn about decorating, home design, or the exceptional story behind the company of a particular line that you carry? You could even have a Q&A session at the end of the call. Maybe a sales rep can host the call, letting attendees know what makes this product line socially responsible or trendy, for example.


Some FURNITURE WORLD readers will see this idea and say “no way, that’s ridiculous, I am a business person not a socialite”. That’s fine. This isn’t a to-do list, it’s an opportunity for you to lead your tribe with a few refreshing strategies you may not have used before, strategies for the day of new marketing.  These suggestions are presented so you can  consider a new and different way of doing business where the customers are in the front seat driving down the road WITH you, instead of behind you, piled up in the trailer you are pulling.

Get conversations started and keep them going. Even if change is slow, listen with intent to understand your browsers and shoppers. Help them fall in love with you or with your store through continuous dialog, motivating them to come back over and over again for the same friendly camaraderie and great service.


Next issue


This three part series will continue with a discussion of how to help your tribe grow, and your business to prosper.


Margarett (Margo) DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign. For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process.


Two of Margo’s popular products for furniture store owners and their sales professionals are The Decorating School Crash Course Power-Ed Pack (9 design lessons on video/audio with 12 hours of content), and the matching Decorating School Crash Course Learner Files to measure learning, provide added interactivity, and motivate sales consultants to own their opportunities for growth.

Visit Margo DeGange’s website at www.DecoratingForProfits.com for more information. Send email and questions to her at Margarett@furninfo.com

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