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Good RSA, Bad RSA

Furniture World Magazine


This is not said to blame anyone for mistakes. The job of retail sales is hard. Retail Sales Associates (RSAs) are put in difficult, unique, hard-to-steer situations almost every time they take an “up”.

Even great RSAs make mistakes. Mistakes cost money for the RSA, the store, the manufacturer, and even the nation’s economy. But, for Bad RSAs, mistakes are the order of the day.

Now, let’s get back to the reason for the title of this essay. Is it even possible to define a GOOD RSA and conversely, a BAD RSA? For the sake of this discussion, let’s define a Good RSA as someone who recognizes when he makes a mistake and tries to correct it. Let’s define a Bad RSA as someone who may not even realize a mistake when he sees it, let alone make an effort to correct it. The Bad RSA just doesn’t care. He’s waiting for the store to close so he can go home.

Mistakes of Omission And Of Commission

Mistakes usually fall into one of two categories:
  • Mistakes of omission, meaning the RSA failed or forgot to do something he should have done.

  • Mistakes of commission, meaning the RSA did something he either should not have done or should have done differently. 
The vast majority of mistakes and the worst mistakes fall into the Omission category. That is, the RSA failed to do something that he should have done.

The Biggest Mistake Of All

What is the biggest mistake an RSA can make? In my opinion, it is wasting their own valuable time. In every store that sells home furnishings, there are thousands of details about product, inventory, policies, advertising, finance, competition, steps of the sale, etc., that every capable RSA must know if he hopes to succeed. Any RSA that does not learn these details will fail, period. It takes a lot of time to learn everything that needs to be known. This business has a lot of “down time,” when the store is quiet and few customers are prowling the floor. The RSA should use this time to learn more about the details of his store. Use the time to read articles like this. Read books and articles on sales and marketing. Learn everything about the components of furniture, such as woods, fabrics, metals, and padding. Find and study information on interior decorating and furniture arrangement. Become an expert on outdoor and casual furniture and decorating. The internet is a great source for every one of these subjects. Furniture World has a vast on-line library of articles published over the last few years. See the Furniture World On-line edition for hours of valuable and informative reading. Good RSAs must be prepared, and they will never be prepared if they waste their own valuable time.

What We Have Here… Is  A Failure To Communicate

I don’t know if that really was the problem in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” but it is definitely a problem and mistake on the showroom floor. As John F. Lawhon phrased it, the RSA must establish “positive communication” with the “up”. What do we mean by this statement? How do we establish positive communication?

I don’t intend to go into all the ways to establish rapport and positive communication in this article; but, by following the Steps of the Sale correctly, the RSA can usually establish a rapport with the customer; and with rapport, the RSA should achieve positive communication. With Step One, (a strong greeting,) followed up with Step Two, (intelligent qualifying questions,) the RSA can gain control of the sales process; and by discussing the customer’s home furnishings problem (which is probably why they came into the store to begin with) can maintain a two-way communication that will lead to solving the customer’s problem and making the sale.

Too often, the RSA is put off by the customer’s first response, which is always “I’m just looking,” or “I’m just getting ideas.” If you, the RSA, swallow this response, you have already made a big mistake in that particular sales encounter. Not much communication can happen when the RSA is standing alone down at the end of the aisle staring mutely and forlornly as the customer meanders away from him, “looking for (and, usually, not finding) ideas.”
The Good RSA is prepared; he knows stuff that the customer needs to find out about. If the RSA and customer do not communicate, the customer will leave, as ignorant as when he walked in, and another “up” will have been wasted. Worse still, some Good RSA down the street will talk to the customer; and that RSA will make the sale, and your hopeful be-back will never be back.

Truth Makes All Things Plain

Shakespeare wrote the lines above, but I don’t think he ever took calculus! That being said, the RSA is well advised to stick with the truth in everything he says.

It may be tempting to stretch the truth about your store’s offerings, especially when you know the Bad RSA down the street is lying about everything he sells, but don’t do it! If you lie, or exaggerate to make a sale, it will come back to haunt you. And, it should. We’ve all heard the following whoppers at some point in our careers: “This seven piece bedroom group is solid wood” (and, it’s only $699.99.) “This living room group is all top grain leather” (and, it’s only $499.99). This mattress is solid memory foam, and it has 3000 coils;” (and, it’s only $399.99).

These kinds of statements may be why some studies show that furniture retail sales people are among the least trusted of all people; putting them in company with politicians, the news media, and used car salesmen. Bad RSAs cause this problem.

You don’t have to tell the big lie to be a Bad RSA. Misleading the customer and bending the truth are wrong. It is also wrong to make things up when the customer asks a question for which you have no honest answer. A made up answer is usually wrong, and it can be harmful to the customer’s well being, not to mention harmful to your reputation when the customer eventually learns the truth. Most customers are happy to hear you say, “I don’t know the answer, but I will find out for you.” Researching something for the customer and calling him back is, by the way, an excellent way to follow up. Failure to follow up is another huge mistake that is committed daily in practically every home furnishings store in this country.

The lesson is simple and plain; if a customer asks a question and you don’t know the answer; look it up, don’t make it up. The customer wants reliable information to make a correct, smart buying decision. The same customer is looking for a knowledgeable, prepared and RELIABLE Retail Sales Associate; a Good RSA.

Be prepared, communicate with the customer, tell the truth; what else is there? Quite a few other things! Let’s keep going.

Control Of The Sale

We talked about controlling the sale in an earlier paragraph. For more information on this, read “Control Every Mattress Sale” on Furniture World’s website at www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37. Also, my book How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual discusses the subject of Controlling the Sale at length. I think that failure to control the sale is really the biggest mistake an RSA can make when actually interacting with a customer. Somebody controls every sale; it’s either the RSA or the customer. The customer who dismisses the RSA with a casual, “I just want to look” wins the control game, and the RSA who allows them to do this loses the control game. Remember, the Good RSA who is prepared and trained and knows the many details of his store’s offerings, will be much better able to control the sale.

How can I tell when the RSA does not have control? Two ways;

  • The RSA is standing by himself and the customer is moving slowly away. 
  • The RSA is silently following the customer at a distance, hoping they will have a question (which he probably won’t be able to answer anyway.)

“Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me”

Let’s talk about talking. The RSA can talk too much or he can talk too little. What is just right and what is a mistake? A good hint that the RSA is talking too much is when the customer either starts yawning or asking for your card. Talking too little should be obvious. After three minutes in the store, the customer can’t even remember who greeted him. My usual advice on talking is: talk enough to keep the customer focused on the subject at hand. Asking questions should help keep the customer focused. That means that most of the RSA’s conversation should be asking questions, preferably qualifying questions. Then, after asking each question, listen carefully to the answer. Each answer the customer gives should be the cue and clue to further questions, until an answer is discovered that will solve the customer’s home furnishings problem.

Before we leave the subject of talking, allow me to make one more point. I usually suggest that the RSA should stay on the subject of the customer’s problem, but sometimes the customer just will not let you take control of the sale. When this happens, the RSA may try to change the subject to grab the “up’s” attention. Sports, kids, grandkids, food, travel, etc., are fair, non-controversial subjects. These might be prompted by logos on clothing the customer is wearing, or the car they are driving, or something else. If you are being ignored, try to find something you can talk about with the customer. Try to get his attention. Then, once you establish a rapport, you can change the subject over to home furnishings.

To Pitch Or Not To Pitch

Some RSAs love to talk about every product they pass as they make their way around the store with the customer. While there is certainly merit in educating the customer, it can be over-done. I suggest refraining from pitching a particular product until the customer has shown an interest in that product. Of course, if the RSA has qualified the customer, he should have a pretty good idea of what that customer really could use, and not waste the customer’s time chattering about everything on the showroom floor.

Over-Selling The Warranty

Of all the features and benefits of home furnishings, warranty is possibly one of the least important and most poorly explained. Yet, some RSAs talk about nothing but the warranty. Warranties are usually misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied in the sales presentation. Warranty explanations should always include the disclaimer as follows: “It is a manufacturer’s warranty that covers product defects only.” It does not cover the many abuses the customer can visit on his product, once it leaves the warehouse door. Good RSAs do NOT sell on the warranty.

“We’re Ready To Believe You”

You may remember that phrase as the TV Sales Pitch by The Ghostbusters. I don’t, however, recommend that indiscriminate practice by the RSA. The Bad RSA is ready to believe every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the customer; and they can tell some good ones, too. Have you heard these? “We’re just looking.” “Price isn’t important.” “We don’t need it right away.” “It’s just for a guest room.” “I saw the same thing at FantasyLand Furniture for five hundred dollars less.” “Our credit is perfect.” “We should get free delivery because our place is only ten minutes from the store.” (Yeah, if you’re flying an F-15.) It pays to interpret anything the customer says. Everything the customer tells you should be the occasion for another follow-up qualifying question.

Creating Unreasonable Expectations

I hate to hear RSAs use terms like “You’re going to love this! This new mattress will solve all of your back problems! This ($299) recliner will last for years for you (and your 337 pound body!”

We certainly hope that the customer will like the product he purchases. But, it is wrong to exaggerate expectations when any reasonable person knows that there is a good probability that they may ultimately be disappointed with that $299 recliner. Creating unreasonable expectations are shortcuts the Bad RSA will make to get a quick sale and get the customer out of the store (for the moment.) But, he will be back, and this is not the kind of be-back you want.


Follow-up isn’t just follow up after the sale. It also means following up on customer enquiries, or following up on customer orders; meaning keeping the customer up to date on his merchandise that takes eight weeks from sale to delivery, etc.

Bad RSAs don’t follow up. Good RSAs follow up every time. Good RSAs have a system which prompts them to follow up. There are a lot of good computerized follow-up methods that can be used. The main point is this: follow-up is critical to success in selling home furnishings. Never forget, it is easier to sell a customer that has bought from you before, and likes and trusts you, than it is to sell a new customer that doesn’t know you.
We will save the details of correct follow-up for a future article. Again, there is a detailed discussion of follow-up in my book.


Bad RSAs are poor closers. Good RSAs are good closers. Can anybody argue with that? Closing the sale is possibly the most debated and argued over subject in the selling business. What are the mistakes that can be made in trying to close a sale? Entire books have been written on that subject, so we will only discuss a few of them. The most common mistake the Bad RSA makes is Not Asking for the Sale. However, asking for the sale prematurely, and trying to rush the close, is almost as bad as not asking for the sale. The time to ask for the sale is when the customer has indicated that he likes the product and is showing “buying signals.”

Good RSAs also remember that the customer is scared of making a bad buying decision. Everybody, at some point in their life, gets burned while buying. Every customer fears that he might make a mistake when buying a high dollar item. Good RSAs help allay those fears. Bad RSAs either ignore the customer’s fears and say nothing, or worse, try to goad the customer into buying something he doesn’t want or is unsure of.

More discussion of closing will come in future issues.

Distasteful And Annoying Behavior

Following are some habits that Good RSAs avoid and Bad RSAs do all the time.

  1. Eating in front of the customer. I suggest keeping food products out of sight, unless you are offering to share them with the customer. Hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, etc. can give the store a fast-food feel and smell.
  2. Keep gossip and bull sessions away from the customer. 
  3. Smoking or even smelling like tobacco products is offensive to almost everybody.
  4. Loud phone conversations are off-putting to customers. This is especially true if you are the recipient of a cell phone call while you are helping a customer. In fact, I think Good RSAs turn off their cell phones while working on the showroom floor.
  5. Good RSAs keep their workplace and desk neat and orderly. Bad RSAs don’t.
  6. I hesitate to discuss personal hygiene, but it is important. Some stores have a dress code which they will insist that you follow. Good RSAs are always mindful of their appearance and whether or not they are emitting unpleasant aromas. 


We’ve only covered a few of the mistakes that Bad RSAs make and Good RSAs try to avoid. There are many more. Remember, good habits make Good RSAs. Bad habits do the opposite. And; bad habits are hard to break.


About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.