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The Sorry Truth About Training

Furniture World Magazine


From my perspective I should say. I’m an old guy now – almost 75. I’ve been in this business since I was 32 years old, and I’ve been around. Small companies, big companies – you name it, I’ve been there. I have a lot of respect for training in general. Some of that came from my time in the U.S. Marine Corps, where they take training very seriously. On the other hand, in the furniture business there is almost no respect for training in the sense that I view it; that it’s really not about the furniture, it’s about people, their rooms, and homes.

No one cares (sob). In my experience, which is long and broad, the retail side of the industry has been stuck on the 4 Ps; product, price, promotion and place for as long as I’ve been in it and before. As I look at retail furniture ads on TV, I see the same stuff I saw 40 years ago – 50 years ago – some of it almost exactly the same – as if our entire industry has been in some kind of time warp.

On the other hand, the stuff still sells, so there’s little to worry about, if you don’t consider your competition including those aggressive online home furnishings retailers.

I haven’t been successful, over the nearly 20 years I’ve been contributing to this magazine, in changing much about any of this – particularly around the critical importance of training and the more critically important issue of execution. Because all of the training in the world is useless if there is no execution on the selling floor. Oh, some individuals have “gotten it”, but they are the self-driven, go getters who did it on their own initiative because the following message resonated with them: Connect to customers and their projects. Better yet, connect to these people through their projects, and you will greatly enhance their experience, retain them as customer and keep them off the internet as buyers, because they value the experience you provide.

Much of what happens between retail salespeople and customers on the selling floor (in the game!) results in consumers being driven to the online shopping experience. Witness the explosive growth of sites like Wayfair.com, where most likely many of those people who visit your store, purchase after leaving your premises. Wayfair has climbed to over $1 billion in sales (not all furniture).

Coaching in the Game

For the most part, there isn’t much coaching going on at furniture retail because it requires:
  • A game plan, a strategy that every associate knows and can execute – because they practice and are coached. 
  • Plays (customer/salesperson interactions) that are observed.
  • Post-engagement meetings held to assess and review – and adjust player performance.
I recently met a furniture store manager who is representative of sales management in many operations. He simply stood his 6’4” frame in the aisle with his hands behind his back, rocking on his feet, while sporting a grin on his face as if attempting to intimidate his sales staff into performing better. He spoke to no one. Well, that doesn’t count!

With average closing ratios in the 18% to 22% range, when based on accurately counted customer visits, retailers believe that’s as good as it can be and do nothing to make it better. Since there are some salespeople closing in the 30% or higher range and others in the 15% range to make the average around 22%, no one wants to fix it.

First Time Shoppers

Then, there’s the even bigger issue around shoppers who are in the store for the first time on a new furniture buying project. Close ratios are generally in the 10% to 15% range for these shoppers. If you can do the “right things”, and get that shopper back a second time, the close ratio on that group is 75% or higher, and if you have a class of potential customers like this, isn’t it good business practice to do everything possible to get them back a second time? There isn’t even consensus around what “the right things” are – and virtually no one tracks this important avenue to higher top line numbers.

Room Planning

Few retailers truly understand the foundational importance of having a selling strategy (not just a sales system) focused on customers and their rooms. Ask yourself this: Where is it written in any of your company’s documentation that states: “This is the way we serve customers. These are the things we do, and these are steps every salesperson should follow.” This is one-to-one selling for heaven’s sake! ALL your revenue comes down this pathway. Isn’t it worth the time and effort to provide strategic planning, then provide the necessary training and coaching to make it happen? Most of your customers’ primary concerns are centered around the rooms they are furnishing. Not asking about the room is where 70% to 80% of the great disconnect occurs between shoppers and sales associates.

The Metrics

A major reason for the lack of a strategic approach to selling is a lack of vision except to “sell more furniture”. Another is there aren’t enough well-trained managers who want to, or know how to coach to pull off a strategic approach. Sales managers want to do “management” things, not coaching things. Think of a Baseball team; there’s an owner, a manager and numerous coaches who continually observe the game and the players, then practice, practice, practice, and adjust, sharpen skills, etc. We do none of these things.

If you were to carefully measure the two most significant metrics in sales performance, Close Ratio and Average Sale, you will find a range-of-performance among your salespeople. My open question is this: If Salesperson A has an average sale over an extended time period (90 days or more) of $2,100, and Salesperson D has an average sale of $1,500, what would you do? If you had a clearly defined selling strategy, and a training program defining how you expect that strategy to be delivered to customers, and a coach to teach, and oversee the execution, you might pick up $600 per sale made by Salesperson D over time. Think about it. The same kind of true sales improvement holds for Close Ratio – but the numbers are even bigger! The difference between a 25% close ratio and a 20% close ratio is 25% more sales! Furniture retailers are notoriously poor at managing the metrics.

It’s a fact that with regard to training and coaching, nothing much will change for the majority of furniture retailers in 2015. But for those few who do what’s necessary to get to the next level, the sky’s the limit.

Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.