Some Best and Worst practices.
“Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak. It is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world at small expense, and the balance that places the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man at an equal level.” - Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
If you’ve just started to follow this Selling Better Bedding series and want too review past installments, you can find a discussion of changing consumer bedding demographics in the March/April issue of Furniture World Magazine. The July/August issue included ideas for selling with a plan, advertising, greeting customers and asking the right initial questions. Links to these articles can be requested by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the marketing management article archive on the furninfo.com website.
This time, Furniture World asked industry experts to tell us some of the best and worst practices they see at retail, and to provide tips to improve performance.
Worst Practice: Poor execution of corporate policies at the store level.
“A primary area that furniture guys and mattress guys don’t do a good job with,” advises Gerry Borreggine, Therapedic International’s President & CEO, “is to create a comfort level for the consumer. There are a variety of things that can prevent that from happening. It can be the look of the store, the smell of a store, the location of the store, the cologne of a salesperson, music playing too loud or too low in the background – that’s unintelligible or offensive.
“It’s the job of store management to establish the parameters and policies for a store manager to follow. You can have the greatest policy in the world... you can determine that smooth jazz is the best thing for consumers to hear when they walk into your store, but if the policy is ignored and the manager has Rush Limbaugh playing, that can kill the sale for a customer who has a more liberal political outlook. The key is getting consistent implementation at the store level. It’s great to have a policy for no smoking, but if in reality the store manager and areas of the store reek of smoke, nothing has been accomplished. It’s one thing to have a policy and another for good management to make sure that policy is executed.”
Worst Practice: Inconsistent look and poor sales floor organization.
Many people start making their buying decision as soon as they walk through the front door, so it’s important to stand back and take a look at the store and the bedding display as a whole.
“One of the first things consumers notice upon entering a store is consistency of look,” says Stefano Marescotti, Chain Development Manager for Magniflex. “I am not speaking of the kind of consistency where you have the same mattress in soft, medium soft and firm models, but of look that provides consistency of image for the store as a whole. This was a principle we employed when I was involved in the creation of the Sleepy’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, that can be applied to any bedding retailer.”
And beyond the initial look, the store needs to be merchandised in a way that isn’t confusing to customers or salespeople.
“The first key of merchandising is to have the product line-up make sense to your salespeople,” adds Ira Fishman, Executive Vice President, National Sales for Anatomic Global. “If it doesn’t make sense to your salespeople and they are running from one end of the mattress store to the other end just to show the next model up, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The merchandising should be geared to not moving around all that much for customers looking at specific types of products. And that can be organized by manufacturer.
“Having the highest price merchandise in the front and the lowest priced merchandise in the back is about a simple a plan as you can probably put together, and quite a few retailers just follow that plan. This strategy can give customers sticker shock as soon as they walk through the front door and see three sets of four thousand dollar bedding, so it’s useful to mix in different kinds of products to avoid scaring off customers. And the last thing a store should do is have a customer looking for a meat and potato price point, say $999 for a queen, and then bring them to the back of the store and show it to them in a twin. I don’t think that’s very good merchandising.”
Owen Shoemaker, Sr. Vice President of Product & Marketing Development at Comfort Solutions, Inc., observes that, “most retailers are taking charge of the retail environment so that they can have uniformity in their colors and coordinated imagery. They want everything to look nice and crisp and you can’t blame them. There are also stores out there where the boxsprings are still in plastic, signs are everywhere and it’s a mass of confusion. It’s important to keep in mind that customers want a bit of privacy, they want everything fresh and clean, they want an element of clarity in messaging around a product and they want to be able to relax and figure this thing out, because there is really a lot that the consumer doesn’t understand when they come in to the retail environment. So it’s very important to have point of sale organized and laid out well. Pricing on mattress products is big and bold sometimes. It’s part of the retail display. And retailers should be aware that when their displays are all about the price, they are probably addressing what consumers think is most important -- how much money they can save, what’s the best bargain, and what’s the best value. But on the other hand, finding the right fit should be a major factor emphasized by the retailer in choosing the right mattress product.”
Worst Practice: Present too many options.
“Whenever I begin the training of new salespeople who never sold bedding before,” notes Peter Marino, author of the Golden Rules of Selling Bedding. “I ask them to take a good hard look at the sleepsets on the floor. Then I say these words: ‘Take a good look at all these mattresses and memorize that look because that’s the way they’re always going to look to all your customers who see them for the first time.’ I go on to explain to these beginners that in a short time those same mattresses will no longer look the same to them. Of course they won’t, because of all the features they’ll be learning about each one. On the other hand, we all know that customers don’t shop long enough to familiarize themselves with our mattresses as well as we do. To our customers, our mattresses must at times appear like so many geese on a pond or lake.”
“A big mistake that many mattress retailers make is that their product presentations are too complicated,” comments Magniflex’s Stefano Marescotti. “If the retail salesperson provides too much information and shows too many models, it is retail suicide. You can make a mistake on the first bed but if by the second bed you don’t have enough information to focus on the right bed for your customer, then you will end up being confusing. On the first bed you can make a big mistake in price. On the second bed you can make a mistake on the feel, but not on the price. On the third bed you show you need to get both the feel and the price right. If you go to a fourth bed, much of the time, you’ve already lost your customer because you confused them.
“The key is getting good information,” he continues. “Ask them, ‘what are you sleeping on right now?’ You can show them four beds of course, but try to get the interest and try to get more information on what the person needs. If your customer is looking for a bed for her summer home in the country used fifteen days a year, she is probably not going to be willing to spend the same amount of money as would be spent for everyday use.
“Play ‘doctor’. Say, ‘this is for your health and well being. Come with me, I have another solution. Feel this.’ We always try to make them feel the materials that go into our mattresses. Once you do this... customers get a stronger attachment to the product. Then you can ask, ‘what are you sleeping on now? How much did you spend the last time you bought a bed? How many years ago did you buy it?’ By the time you ask the second or third question, the customer should already be on the first bed. And from that point on the whole goal is to see how well the product they are laying on will make them feel.”
“We have over 60 beds on the floor in most of our stores,” Cory Ludens, Director of Learning and Development for retailer Mattress Firm told us. “And very few customers want to look at all 60. We believe that they should get to see the top and bottom and a few products in between. So we believe that customers should start at the top and work down because of the finite number of beds that people want to look at and also because the sales associate doesn’t necessarily know what that finite number is. It may be just three beds. They get tired and don’t want to see any more. And if you start at the bottom and their limit is three beds they won’t get to see the better beds.”
“There is some truth to the idea that showing too many sets of bedding can be confusing,” confirms Ira Fishman, “but there is a difference between having a customer bounce from bed to bed without any instruction or reason, and approaching it in a somewhat scientific manner. The reality of it is that the salesperson should continue to show mattresses until they find one that the customer really likes. And they don’t always get that right off the bat. If you start with a rock hard innerspring and the person hardly gets down before they jump up, that doesn’t even count as mattress being tried. Really what you are doing is use the process of elimination to narrow down their choices, but the real process of choosing a mattress begins after the initial comfort testing. And some comfort tests are not necessarily for firm and plush. Some comfort tests are to determine whether customers might like a specialty or an innerspring product. And that might not necessarily be just two sets of bedding. You might be on three or four sets of bedding for a comfort test.
“There is no magic number regarding how many sets of bedding to show them, though it is important to narrow it down relatively quickly. When you’ve established a comfort level you might say to them, you can go up, you can go down, you can go sideways. Mention, ‘this one felt the best to you. Do you want to go up, down or see something altogether different?’ They might reply by asking, ‘What’s the price of this one?’ If they want to go down from there, ask them what would be a comfortable price range. That’s the way you can find a price range as well as a comfort range. It’s important not to do it in a nasty way or make them feel uncomfortable. No matter what number they tell you, you should be happy to show them something in that price range. Even if you don’t think it’s very good, you have to remain positive, because just because you show them a lower priced set, it doesn’t mean that they won’t ultimately decide to buy the higher priced sets they previously comfort tested.
“Ultimately it’s the salesperson’s responsibility to know their craft,” concludes Fishman. “Every one of those mattresses on your floor should have a purpose for being there. And at some point in time each one of them should be sold to someone. There is no such thing as one mattress for everyone. And if a salesperson sells one set 80% of the time, they are not using all the tools at their disposal. So really knowing your product line, knowing the purpose for each mattress being on the floor is key.”
Best Practice: Have a strategy for moving between bedding categories.
“If a customer walks in asking for your $399 or $699 advertised innerspring special,” notes Stefano Marescotti, “the retail salesperson can transition the sale by explaining that although they might be sleeping in the same coil technology as their grandfather, there has been lots of evolution in sleep technology. I tell them, ‘Let me show you the same feel with new technology.’ Or, after the customer has tried the first bed you’ve brought them to, they might bring up price, and you can give them a ballpark... then ask them to try “this other technology” and tell them a bit about it.
Worst Practice: Ineffective compensation strategy.
“One way that bedding retailers and full service furniture stores shoot themselves in the foot,” Furniture World was told by Earl Kluft of luxury mattress manufacturer E.S. Kluft, “is that they don’t compensate the sales person properly. There is a relationship between how much time salespeople spend with a customer and how many dollars they make on a sale.
You definitely have to tell a story to sell a high end mattress, so that customers understand the importance of a good night’s sleep. Go through the features and benefits so that they understand that a mattress is one of the most important objects they have in their house. Unless your salespeople are prepared to take the time to do it, and are compensated for their time, then they will probably sell one of the cheaper ones and get their next UP. ”
Worst Practice: Over-emphasize warranties.
“Warranty can be a slippery slope for the retail salesperson at the point of sale,” Gerry Borreggine of Therapedic International explained to Furniture World. “For one, research shows that it is a low-level priority for the consumer. Two, many product warranties exceed the useful life of the bedding. And finally, it undermines future sales for the stores.” Patti Ark, Director, Customer Relations for Reverie, concurs. She says that one of the worst practices “is to over-sell warranties. Retailers often tell customers that, a bed is better because the warranty is longer or that they are going to love this bed because it has a long warranty. But that can sabotage repeat sales later on if a mattress sold that way doesn’t perform.
“Selling warranties without concentrating on presenting quality, causes later problems for younger consumers,” she continues, “who will be in the market for additional bedding as their families and income grow, as well as for older consumers who are convinced that a long warranty guarantees that the mattress they purchase will be the last bed they will ever have to buy. Well guess what? It doesn’t last that long. The customer is uncomfortable, and the retailer has done both the customer and themselves a disservice.
Worst Practice: Crowd customers.
“You never want that consumer to feel like you are on top of them,” observes Ira Fishman. If a customer is lying down and especially if she is wearing shorts or a skirt, you need to be positioned at the head of the bed. You should move away and re-assure them. Give them space, don’t crowd them. The only time you might want to crowd them is if they are doing the old ‘hand test’ and they won’t even sit down on a mattress. What I used to do is just lie down on a mattress, not far from them and say, ‘This is really the only way to try out a mattress.’ And usually when they saw me lying down, they said to themselves, “OK, this is what they do over here, and so they would follow my lead.”
Editor’s Note: Additional best and worst bedding sales practices will be featured in a future issue of Furniture World Magazine.