While plans have an annoying tendency to go haywire, having
no plan at all is begging for failure.
we make plans? Clearly, it can be an exercise in futiliy and frustratin as witnessed by testimony of the following quoted eminences.
“Plans are useless but planning is essential.” (paraphrased). -General Dwight D. Eisenhower
“No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” (translated and paraphrased) -Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke
“Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” -Mike Tyson
As one who has done quite a bit of planning, I can only say that planning is an attempt to give order and structure to an otherwise chaotic, disordered, unorganized existence. To paraphrase an old saying; “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably never get there.”
Now, what does this have to do with selling mattresses and furniture? Well, quite a bit. While plans have an annoying tendency to go haywire, having no plan at all is begging for failure.
A Structured Environment
In the world of selling bedding and mattresses, the point of making a plan is to add structure, purpose and goals to your efforts. For example, each business needs a plan for the following areas:
- Floor Plan with all floor models
- Advertising and Promotion
- Financing offered
- Inventory needed
- Policy review and planning
- Competition assessment
- Sales staff and training plan
Your Store’s Floor Plan
If you are a player in the mattress business, it is critical to have a well-ordered, well thought out floor model plan to ensure that you have every available model your customers may be looking for."
If you are a player in the mattress business, it is critical to have a well-ordered, well thought out floor model plan to ensure that you have every available model your customers may be looking for. You need an idea of what you want to show on your floor BEFORE you go to the market. Don’t go to market and buy what looks pretty and then try to figure out later how it will fit with your sales plan. Don’t forget, your whole floor is your product. For more detail, see my article “What’s On Your Floor?” in Furniture World’s online archives at here.
The Grid Pattern
We start with price point. Does your store offer a full line from promotional to super premium, just popular prices, or super premium only? Whatever your sales plan is, your floor must be well represented with a complete line-up of floor models, both by price and “feel”.
When planning my floor model layout, I used a row/column grid pattern with price points on the left, and feel/manufacturer on the top. Then, each floor model was placed by name within the grid. When all models were placed, a blank square showed missing SKUs for a category of price/feel. For example; a blank square in the area defined by $699 queen and soft pillow top, showed a critical vacancy that would cost the store lots of sales. This grid, while useful in setting up a new floor layout, should be reviewed frequently, to see if each price/feel category is being sold to its full potential. Just because you have a $699 queen pillow top does not mean it will sell as well as ABC-Furniture-Down-the-Street’s $699 queen pillow top.
Don’t forget the importance of brand names when planning space assignment on the showroom floor. A lot of customers still prefer to purchase a brand they recognize rather than one they don’t. I will reserve comment on the “majors” seeming disregard for aggressively enhancing their brand awareness.
Another useful thing about the grid pattern is that it can help the store’s buyer from over-loading in a given category. At the furniture market, you may find a dozen really great $699 queen set pillow tops. How many of them do you really need? Paying attention to your floor model plan can keep you organized in your market purchases.
Advertising & Promotion
This subject, always a difficult one, gets more complicated every year. The old traditional newspaper, TV and radio ads are not enough anymore. Social media has changed the advertising and promotion paradigm. Let me quote yet another old saying; “I know that half the money I spend in advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” If you aren’t spending some of your budget on social media, you may be wasting more than half.
On the other hand, some stores have gone wild with social media, so much so that they've neglected traditional advertising venues. While newspapers may be diminished, they haven’t gone away. According to a 2016 Nielsen Scarborough study, more than 169 million adults in the U.S. read a newspaper in a month. Of the total, 81 percent engage with the print version and, of that, 51 percent read print exclusively. Baby boomers account for 37 percent of print readers. Failing to learn and use social media, however, will definitely cost you money. Part of the problem with social media is that a lot of store owners just don’t understand how it works and how to use it effectively.
So, how does a store plan its advertising for the upcoming year? I suggest developing a budget before spending a dime. A rule of thumb that has been used for years in our business is to allocate about ten percent (10%) of expected yearly revenues to invest on advertising. If you expect $1 million in sales, a reasonable advertising expense would be $100K. Note that this figure is not carved in stone; it is just a guideline.
You should also critically examine your competitors' advertising. What are they doing? How much do they seem to be spending? Does it seem to work for them? What can you learn and copy from what they are doing? Running in place will not get you where you want to go.
You should also critically examine your competitors' advertising. What are they doing? How much do they seem to be spending? Does it seem to work for them?
Planning Financing Options
Store owners should continually review their ability to offer alternative methods of payment to customers. There’s more to financing than accepting credit cards and providing 90 days Same as Cash. Second chance financing has become important, particularly in marginal economic geographical areas.
The importance of financing to make mattress purchases has increased over the last few years, especially with the advent of very expensive mattresses. A lot of customers will buy at the store that offers the most attractive financing options. It’s not always the total cost of a product that matters, but how much money per month it will cost.
Your Store’s Inventory
I hope I don’t need to explain the importance of keeping sufficient inventory in the bedding business to any Furniture World reader. “BUY IT TODAY, SLEEP ON IT TONIGHT!” How often have you heard that in somebody’s advertisement? Urgency and availability are core principles of our industry. If you don’t have it in stock, ABC-Down-The-Street-Furniture will. And, they will get the sale.
Make a thorough list of all these close-out SKUs, including their age and condition. Then make this list of available to all sales staff, and in particular, all sales managers."
So, how do you plan inventory? Go back to the Floor Model section of this article and look at the floor model grid. Which are your best selling SKUs? Analyze your sales of those and stock up accordingly. The goal of inventory control is to never lose a sale because your store does not have it in stock.
Here’s one other point about planning inventory. Every store that I’ve ever seen has some discontinued, old, non-current stock occupying an unused, dusty corner of a warehouse. Make a thorough list of all these close-out SKUs, including their age and condition. Then make this list of available to all sales staff, and in particular, all sales managers. I have seen a lot of sales saved because somebody knew about a closeout set on the bottom of a stack in the back of the warehouse.
Policy Review & Planning
Are your store policies
equal to or better than your competition’s? Are they legal? Are your policies hurting your image and reputation? Does your entire staff know and understand all your store’s policies?
When was the last time you viewed your store’s policies? Do you offer comfort exchanges; full refunds; free delivery; out of town delivery; best price guarantee; layaway, etc.? These are just a few of many different store policies, some of which may be written down. Are your store policies equal to or better than your competition’s? Are they legal? Are your policies hurting your image and reputation? Are they up-to-date with today’s market? Does your entire staff know and understand all your store’s policies? Do you need to implement some new policies to stay up with today’s market?
Now is a good time to review your store’s policies and plan needed revisions for the upcoming year.
Plan to Survey Your Competitors
Reps know everything and they know everybody.They will usually know if your competitor down the street is about to add a new wing to the building or a new line-up on the floor.
What do you think your competition is planning for 2019? Do you even know what they are doing now? I suspect they are planning to increase their sales at your expense; so maybe you had better check them out.
Good ways to keep up with your competition are:
- Read, watch and listen to their advertisements. Where do they advertise? What do they advertise? Are they using social media to advertise?
- Listen to feedback from your customers. Your customers will often talk about their experience in other stores; take notes when they do this.
- Talk to your reps. Reps know everything and they know everybody. They will usually know if your competitor down the street is about to add a new wing to the building or a new line-up on the floor.
Training Your Sales Staff
Training never ends. I’ve been in this business for 28 years and I learn something new every time I pick up a sales book or walk into a furniture and mattress showroom. Unfortunately, some store owners/managers think that once an RSA goes on the floor, that’s it for training. They got that chore out of the way; done with that, thank goodness!
Training isn’t fun. It can be a burden for sales managers and for retail sales associates. But, ignoring training or short-changing training WILL cost everybody money, except for the store owner down the street who DOES train his or her people.
So, why is training, especially advanced training, so bothersome and unpleasant? Is it because many stores do not include training in their overall plan? Keeping your sales staff trained requires planning. Every sales manager should have an up-to-date and on-going program to continually improve the knowledge and skill of all sales personnel.
Who’s in Charge?
It's critical that someone, be it a training manager, sales manager or store owner be formally in charge of planning and implementing retail sales training. Further, time must be allocated in the plan for both beginner training for both new-hires and on-going training for veteran sales people.
How Do We Plan for Sales Training?
In writing this section, I have to constantly remind myself that this is not an article about training; it is an article about planning. If you want to read about sales training, there are a number of articles in the Furniture World online archives.
So, what do you need to think about when planning for your sales training? First, what do your salespeople know and what don't they know? Second, what can you do, short term, to make quick improvements that yield immediate results, while waiting for your long-term plan to have an effect? Third, how do you make the training last? Fourth, how do you measure results?
Let’s go over these points in a little more detail.
- I once had a trainee that didn’t know that sales invoices should be used in numerical sequence! That was unfortunate. So, how do you find out what your trainees don't know? Develop a written test that covers, the Five Groups of Knowledge and the Steps of the Sale.
Each RSA must take the test. If it is a thorough test, you should find out how well each member of your sales staff knows his/her job.
- When I do sales seminars, because they are of such short duration, I stress one, two or three points (or tips) that can make a quick impression on RSAs. The object of this exercise is to provide something to the listening audience that can have an immediate impact on their sales efforts.
- Quick tips are fun and can make for sudden improvements in performance, but comprehensive knowledge should be your goal. A lot of training, too, is flawed by the impermanence of the learning process. Much of what we hear in training classes (or any class, for that matter) is “in one ear and out the other”. A serious sales training plan must allow for student’s inattention and poor retention. This can mean repeating the same material several times, with a slightly modified presentation.
Repetition can also be used from time to time to reinforce what was learned in previous, or more intensive training sessions. I’ve noticed, myself, that every time I read John F. Lawhon’s "Selling Retail," that I am reminded of something I learned once upon a time but had slipped out of my everyday habits. I not only get these reminders but I also learn something fresh and new with every re-reading. I hope that readers of my book, "How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual", enjoy the same experience. Allow me to repeat; repetition, repetition, repetition. Repetition of material should be part of every sales training plan.
- How do we measure results? First, have all students take a final test after training courses. At very least the trainer can find out who learned the material.
But, the real test is sales performance. How does each sales associate respond to the training? Part of each training plan should be to implement a measurement device that gauges sales performance, both pre-training and post-training. Once again, measurement of sales performance has been widely discussed in past issues of Furniture World. The reader can go to the online Furniture World archives at www.furninfo.com for extensive material on that subject.
As many of us know, scoring high on a test does not always make for a successful sales associate.
A serious training plan must allow for student's inattention and poor retention of material. This can mean repeating the same material several times.
What’s the Plan?
If you only take away one thought from this article, it should be that the process of planning may be superior to actually having a concrete plan. Plans have a way of changing. Plans don’t always work. Every planner should be prepared to restart when a plan stalls. But, you need to plan! If you don’t, you will wake up in a new world every day. So, what does a plan gives us?
- A framework to operate within
- A clearer focus on objectives
- A better chance for employee commitment and buy-in
- A clearer road to success
All these are good things. But, don’t forget. Plans can become set in stone and so rigid that they take all the spontaneity and fun out of work. Don’t let that happen to you.
Next Issue: In the next issue of Furniture World magazine, David Benbow, author of "How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales" will discuss leading edge bedding department sales management techniques retailers can use to increase employee productivity and sales in 2019 - a must-read.