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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Motivate Your Retail Sales Associates

Furniture World Magazine



Ways to keep your sales staff motivated and focused even during those slow and boring times, especially in retail bedding departments.

How do Retail Sales Associates (RSA) get motivated and stay motivated? We all know how much down time there can be in retail bedding departments. On slow days RSAs may sit in a store for hours on end without seeing a single “up.” By mid day they feel tired and sluggish. Their right foot falls asleep and they just took their first bite of a hot lunch. The last thing they are up for is someone coming in to “get ideas.”

And, that is what we are going to discuss in this article. How do retail salespeople shake off the lethargy of a painfully slow day and greet every new up as if Melinda Gates stopped in to purchase a complete house full of furniture?

So, who or what is the motivator? As I see it, the responsibility for keeping yourself (if you are the RSA) or your salespeople (if you are the sales manager) motivated needs to be approached from two different points of view. First, what does the RSA do to stay focused for “ups?” Second, what does sales management do to keep RSAs prepped and ready?

Keeping Them Motivated

Bedding retail sales floors can range from a single mattress store in a small strip mall to mega-customer super-stores with a specialty mattress store within a bigger store. Should you approach motivating your RSAs the same, no matter what size the showroom floor looks like? For the most part, I would say yes, with a few possible exceptions.

So, what motivates retail salespeople? What should sales managers know and do to get their RSAs motivated?

Any innovation starts with a new way of thinking. The process of organizational change needs to be accepted. Here are some new ways of thinking that can help you manage your customer journey to capitalize on incoming leads.

  1. PAY

    The primary motivation for people to go to work is to get paid. As I have noted in previous articles, furniture and bedding salespeople, on average, are NOT among the highest paid workers. Pay incentives do vary from store to store. The better salespeople will eventually migrate to the stores that (they believe) pay higher wages. So, store owners/managers are well advised to offer a compensation package that at least equals (and preferably, exceeds) that of the competition. These packages can include base salary plus commission, enhanced commission schedules based on performance and bonuses for meeting or beating sales targets.


    Thorough training and preparation are among the best motivators for RSAs. Even if they don't earn as much as a doctor or lawyer, it is motivating and gratifying to be regarded as an expert by people who need assistance. How do they become mattress experts? Study hard and learn everything about the bedding business. Interestingly, I have found that experts also make a lot more money than those who have languished for the last several years just “trying sales.”

    A well-run store should have a world class training program for new-hires and an even better program for advanced and continuous training. The bedding and furniture businesses are not static industries. Keeping your salespeople in top shape is a never-ending job. For more information on setting up your program visit www.furninfo.com/Authors/David_Benbow/37 in the Furniture World on-line archives.


    Recognition from peers and management is a BIG motivator. Recognition means status. Sales managers should develop a program for acknowledging high achieving RSAs that is independent of compensation enhancements. Some programs that have worked well for stores include:

    From this data, you will be able to see metrics such as traffic by lead type, revenue per lead, sales by appointment type, success rate of lead managers and sales associates.

    • Salesperson of the month

    • Million dollar club

    • Make a game of it (points awarded for various contests, etc.)

    • Sleep Geek graduate (more about this in the next section.)

    There are many ways to recognize accomplishment. To some people, recognition is worth more than money.


    Appointments are similar in many ways to making house calls in that sales or design associate preparation is critical. Ensure that they are prepared by having an understanding of the customer's situation before the appointment. Have pictures, know how the room will be used and by whom (pets, children, number of people), ask about style/color preferences, when the merchandise is desired (custom and in stock), know budget and preference for financing (so approvals can be processed), even create sample room plans in advance. Treat in-store appointments as a VIP experience: think welcome package. Be Ready for Success!


    This usually isn’t a problem in a one person store, but taking on extra responsibility can be a good motivator. Industrious, conscientious workers usually respond to this sort of demand on their time. Some examples of responsibility assignments are:

        Critically reading the competitions' advertising and publishing this information in in-house reports for all RSAs to see.

        Mystery shopping the competition.

        Developing comparison charts between the competitions' models and the store’s models.

        Leading group discussions with salespeople to increase the flow of new ideas.



    A clean, modern, even spiffy work environment is an excellent motivator for employees. Everyone disparages “dirty window stores” that reek of cigarette smoke and stale french fries. Some articles I’ve read suggest that a really cool break room is a good idea. I’m not sure about that one. Some RSAs might be motivated to not leave the cool break room.


    This idea sort of fits in with the Recognition section. Competition comes in two flavors. One of which is absolutely essential. You must beat your store’s competition to stay in business. Your RSAs must be firmly impressed with that idea. Get the sale! But also, RSAs can be encouraged to compete with each other through various sales contests. The rewards can be recognition, bonus pay and even promotion.


    This one is really important. An old boss of mine impressed this on me many years ago. Make sure your RSAs have all the tools they need to make the sale. For an RSA, it is depressing to lose a sale because the store down the street offered something that your store did not offer. These tools include:

    • Competitive pricing

    • Willingness to negotiate

    • Wider finance options

    • Large and immediate inventory availability

    • Better training

    • Biggest selection

    • Better delivery

    • Major brand names

    • Great location

    • Ubiquitous advertising.


    The list goes on and on. Don’t lose sales and good salespeople by being slack in providing ALL the tools they need.


    Salespeople may come up with good ideas; maybe even an idea that sales management hasn’t thought of before. Stores should provide a mechanism, such as regular sales meetings or some other venue to promote the flow of ideas.


    Sales meetings can range from crashing bores to fiestas that provide motivation and education, plus free food and drinks. Sales managers can use regular meetings to impart new ideas, sales and product information, contests, rules and regulations, news about competition and industry information. They should be well-planned and spontaneous at the same time. Conducting effective sales meetings is an art.


    I’ve seen good RSAs quit at one store and go to another just because the new store offered attractive employee discounts. Employees buy mattresses and furniture, too. Word will get around if your store is ungenerous with its employees.


    We used to call these “bull sessions,” but I'm not sure that language is allowed anymore. These discussions can be just a gathering of RSAs, with or without sales managers present, to talk about ideas; such as, what has and has not been working. I think this is a great way for RSAs to share information. It can also be motivational, especially when a new, exciting idea is shared.


Finally, here’s a good question a store owner or store manager can ask themselves. Is my store a place I would want to work as an employee? Or, would I rather work at that place down the street that has a much more attractive work environment? Store owners/managers should do as good a job of finding out how the competition compensates its employees as they do ferreting out competitive products and pricing. You can’t afford to lose either your customers or RSAs.

Staying in the Game

Ultimately, motivating, training, educating and learning on the job are SELF-ACTUATED. This means, RSAs have to put in the effort. There is an old, tired saying: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” This is emphatically true of the process of education. Just sitting in a class or watching a video is not education. It cannot be force fed to students who are uninterested. So, how do RSAs keep motivated, and in the game?

Recognition from peers and management is a BIG motivator. Sales managers should develop a program for acknowledging high achieving RSAs, independent of compensation.

Take Advantage of Your Store's Training Programs: Some stores have good training programs. If yours does, use it, especially during the initial training period when you hire on. The quicker you learn your store’s products, policies, advertising, inventory, and financing, the faster you will succeed. If your store does not have a good training program, and you decide to work there anyway, then you must ferret out all this information for yourself.

Use Your Down Time: Every retail job has down time. Don’t waste it. Staying busy during downtime not only will keep you alert, it will be motivating.

Avoid Distractions: These include such things as social phone calls, texting, video games, crossword puzzles, daydreaming, etc. Before your work day begins you should have a plan in place for how to use downtime.

Keep Your Mind Solidly On The Job: Remain mentally alert for your next customer. If you find yourself in the middle of an exciting video game on your smart phone, you may be irritated to have to put it down to wait on an up. Your annoyance may show. Some stores do not allow RSAs to use personal cell phones while working on the floor, but mobile devices can be useful for education and customer contact.

Advanced Training: Until you know it all—and I don't know anyone who does—downtime should be used to advance self-training. Topics that need to be revisited, reviewed or learned for the first time include:

  • Your store's products
  • our store's inventory
  • Your store's policies
  • Your store's advertising
  • Your store's finance plans


Once you've mastered these topics, ask yourself: “Do I know everything about every single competitor’s products, inventory, policies, advertising and finance plans?" Then ask yourself; “Do I know everything about the bedding industry, including local and national laws and regulations, manufacturing practices, domestic and import competition?" Then ask yourself; “When was the last time I visited the websites of the top 15 mattress manufacturers in the U.S.? When was the last time I read 'Selling Retail' by John F. Lawhon, 'Spring Training' by Gerry Morris, or 'How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales'? When was the last time I visited the websites of all the competitors in my geographical area? When was the last time I surveyed Furniture World’s vast archives of articles from past issues, all of them easily available on-line at www.furninfo.com?"

Each one of these activities will increase your expertise. Increased expertise will make you more money. It will gain you more recognition.

Oh, and don’t forget to enroll in Sleep Geek. When you complete the course, they send you a nice certificate and a Sleep Geek badge you can wear on your lapel for all to see.

Follow Up: Follow up never ends. That activity alone can consume most of an RSAs down time. There are a number of good articles on follow up in Furniture World archives. One that's especially good can be found at https://www.furninfo.com/Authors/David_Benbow/37. Follow-up, especially if you are also selling a full line of home furnishings, is what will place you in the “one percent” category of income earners.

I’ve seen good RSAs quit at one store and go to another just because the new store offered attractive employee discounts.


There is an old saying, “If you want something done, give the job to the busiest person in the house.” There is something about just staying busy that is motivating. Staying busy keeps you alert and motivated. Are you bored on slow days working in that one-person store? Re-read the "staying in the game" section once more, then get to work. You will never be too bored to get motivated.



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.