Look to Unexpected Source to Provide Inspiration

Where do great ideas come from? Everywhere! So if you’re only looking inward for inspiration, you’re missing out on valuable growth opportunities.

Be sure to regularly take stock of the strategies your colleagues in the industry are implementing to reinvent their showrooms. How can you learn from them?

At the same time, don’t overlook successful companies outside our industry whose innovations in marketing, merchandising and customer experience can inspire your own “ah ha” moments.

I recently “looked out to look in” when I spoke with Furnitureland South, a successful family business just outside of High Point, NC, “the furniture capital of the world.” Here, I gained incredible insight by examining the company’s highly customer-centric approach. This showroom has been carefully crafted to its best advantage. Is yours?

A Big Small Store

Furnitureland South is North America’s largest retail furniture store with 1.3 million square feet of showroom space – but it didn’t start out that way. The company, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, began in a small rental office with a modest loan and no working capital.

Over the years, the owners took smart risks, investing in growing their business. Today, Furnitureland South stands as a model of showroom innovation and a destination that, for all its size, still allows consumers to connect.

Although Furnitureland South represents 1,500 brands, it’s the company’s ability to replicate a smaller showroom – by creating a customer experience that feels personal and intimate – that drives the company’s success. Those brands, organized and showcased in multiple, interactive experience centers throughout the store, encourage customers to engage. This, along with responsive and resolution-based customer service and true relationship selling makes the competitive difference.

Join me in applying the practical knowledge gleaned from this large retailer to your business.

The Customer Experience

“We want to bring a one-of-a-kind experience to every customer,” says Jason Harris, president of Furnitureland South. “Otherwise, we’re just another furniture showroom.”

Are you just another kitchen and bath showroom? Let’s see what a quick walk through Furnitureland South reveals – and how that might look for your business:

  • What they offer: an on-site Starbucks and the Bear Rock Café, for a morning pick-me-up, midday snack or lunch.

    What you can do in your showroom: Create an unforgettable experience that captures customers’ imagination and engages all five senses. Is Starbucks unrealistic? No matter. Create a welcome area with soft seating, a mini-fridge stocked with water and juices and a coffee maker offering freshly-brewed java.
  • What they offer: two theatres equipped with high definition, Blu-Ray DVD players where an introductory film sets the stage for arriving guests.

    What you can do: Integrate technology via a flatscreen display playing a loop of your work, before-and-after room makeovers and information about your design methods. How about interviewing customers who have completed the experience with you and want to share their satisfaction?
  • What they offer: digital cameras for customers to capture their favorite products and vignettes, which can be referenced later.

    What you can do: Give your customers the same opportunity! Let them capture inspiration from your showroom and build ideas.
  • What they offer: two design centers with tables where customers can pore through catalogs, draw inspiration from finish and fabric samples, lay out plans and make decisions with the help of a design consultant.

    What you can do: Offer an inviting sit-down area with a clean, table-like surface where customers can dive into samples, books and magazines and spread out their plans. Don’t overlook the importance of comfortable seating. Consider upholstered office chairs or even dining room chairs with good back support for prolonged visits.
  • What they offer: Eco-Link, a new sustainable home furnishings gallery where customers can browse “green” product lines.

    What you can do: Keep up with evolving demographic and psychographic consumer trends. Green is one of many trends; choose yours. Consider a faster evolving trend like color or texture and create an inspirational wall area dedicated to it with product samples that reflect what’s “hot” today. Leverage relationships with your vendors to support your vision.

Relationship Selling

Despite its size, Furnitureland South concentrates on providing its customers with personal service and one-on-one relationships commonly associated with small showrooms.

From the moment they arrive through delivery of their orders, Furnitureland South customers receive thorough attention via:

  • Personalized assistance from a highly trained design consultant who offers design advice and helps keep the customer focused.

    What you can do: Bring value to your customer through impeccable service and relationship selling. Make sure to give your customers reason to stay from the minute they arrive. Provide them with the resources they need, like dedicated, well-trained staff members.
  • At Furnitureland South, a new state-of-the-art distribution facility and meticulous inspection, shipping and tracking systems ensure that the customer is always at the forefront, even backstage.

    What you can do in your showroom: Is your house in order backstage as well as in front? Is the process seamless for your customers right through delivery? Remember, although they may not see it, the buying experience continues for the customer right on through delivery.

Moving Forward

Furnitureland South reinvests in the business to keep pace with the demands of a new generation. This year, they brought the showroom experience to life with a dynamic Web site featuring animation, video, an interactive campus tour, virtual design consultants and a searchable product database. Customers can also track their orders daily from the Web site.

How key is the virtual showroom?

“Nine out of 10 customers who visit us see our site first,” says Harris.

What you can do:

  • Make sure your showrooms – both your brick-and-mortar storefront and your virtual showroom – continue to evolve and align with one another.
  • Embrace change. Change is not only necessary; it’s invigorating. Look at your showroom – and your virtual showroom – through fresh eyes. Better yet, gather opinions and ideas from creative friends and professional peers.
  • Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals. Align your actions with your objectives, always keeping the customer central to your decisions.

It’s imperative that you make your list, create your plan and take steps forward. Looking out to look in is one sure way to jump start those great ideas!