18 May 2024, 14:24
By Furniture News Sept 17, 2014

Land of Beds' Mike Murray – sleeping on the job

Marketing is always a hot topic in the bed industry. To nail that sale, it’s usually not enough that a mattress looks the part – hence the culture of PoS, technological innovation, support services and branding that exists in our industry. But have you ever considered that perhaps the best way to sell sleep might be to … go to sleep? Paul Farley investigates …

It’s a warm Wednesday night, and most of the residents of Helsby, Cheshire, are sleeping quietly in their own beds. Not so the staff of Land of Beds on Chester Road, who are enjoying an in-store sleepover courtesy of MD Mike Murray.

“We highlighted the best-selling models we wanted to test,” says Mike, “divided the team up, gave out milk and cookies, and asked them to review their chosen beds – and off we slept!”

Land of Beds’ first company sleepover – now an annual event for the retailer – turned out to be not simply a quirky team-building exercise, but a new kind of training programme, conceived to develop the product awareness of its sales staff. After all, knowledge is (selling) power – and what better way to become an expert than through personal experience?

“The issue we’re facing is that just over four in 10 of our online customers contact us by phone before they are willing to place an order,” explains Mike, who joined the family business in 2002 after completing a Masters in marketing at the University of Liverpool.

“We find that these customers – quite understandably – want to talk to a member of staff who is very knowledgeable about the types of products they’re interested in. Therefore, for us to differentiate Land of Beds as a market-leading bed specialist, we knew we had to provide market-leading customer service over the phone.”

A brain-storming session between team members culminated with the suggestion of a sleepover. “Initially, everyone laughed,” admits Mike. “But then the magic lightbulb moment occurred – what better feedback can you get than feedback from somebody who has actually used the product for what it is designed for?

“We knew we had to provide market-leading customer service over the phone”

“After all, a chef will try their dishes before they serve them, and can then explain how the combination of flavours are fused. In a car dealership, the staff are encouraged to road test the vehicles. Why can’t a bed retailer do the same?”

It quickly became clear to Mike that this exercise would not only galvanise his sales team, but also engender customers’ trust – a vital component of any retail business, particularly those with an ambitious ecommerce strategy.

That intitial sleepover saw Mike join four salespeople for a night of incidental teambuilding and product education. “The night was a fantastic success – the team really bought in to what we were trying to achieve, and we also had a great laugh along the way,” says Mike.

“When the sales team went back to the phones, they were champing at the bit to tell all their customers about how a particular bed feels and how they uniquely learnt about it – the sleepover training helped develop a strong level of trust between staff members and customers when the latter were asked to recommend products. In turn, the company has seen an upturn in sales conversions from initial leads placed over the phone.

The Sleep Council urge people to try mattresses and beds before they buy one – we’re just making sure that our staff can be more confident before people ask advice to help them make their own choices. People value your advice much more when you have first-hand experience.”

“People value your advice much more when you have first-hand experience”

Nine staff members took part in the sleepover this year, which took place again in the Helsby showroom, within the Deeper Sleeper studio – the UK’s largest example of a display area developed in partnership with Sealy, which offers a huge number of bed, mattress and pillow combinations, ripe for testing.

Given his education, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mike has made the most of the marketing potential of the sleepover concept, particularly for Land of Beds’ social media presence.

“When we wrote about this through our social media channels, the article did so well that it caught the attention of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) who now want to publish an article on the event in their popular member’s magazine, People Management,” says Mike. “They also published the Land of Beds blog piece to their 52,000-plus Twitter followers!”

It was a real coup for the retailer, which, while a traditional two-store high street business with over 40 years’ experience in the industry, has made significant investment in ecommerce over the last five years to extend its reach to a wider audience. “We are now getting heavily involved in social media, and are constantly looking at novel ways to leverage the power of this medium to drive traffic to our site and increase brand awareness,” says Mike.

Of couse, Mike’s initiatives are not limited to one night a year. In 2012 Land of Beds won the National Bed Federation’s Independent Bed Retailer of the Year Award for its intelligent approach to marketing and customer service, and was a highly-commended runner-up in last year’s E-tailer of the Year category.

“When the sales team went back to the phones, they were champing at the bit to tell all their customers about how a particular bed feels and how they uniquely learnt about it”

The launch of the aforementioned Deeper Sleeper studio helped secure that first industry accolade. Mike explains: “In conjunction with the launch of the new sleep studio, we held a chiropractor drop-in clinic, where customers were invited to the showroom to get free advice from a trained back specialist about the benefits a good quality bed can offer.

“The success of the event cemented a partnership between a medical professional and the Land of Beds business, whilst reinforcing the company’s reputation as being a certified bed specialist.”

The marketing opportunity of the win was quickly exploited, Mike immediately taking out adverts in the local press notifying potential new customers about his award-winning business.

“We carried this through with a marketing campaign featuring Land of Beds as the community’s local independent bed specialist,” explains Mike, “highlighting the NBF award as accreditation of this. We received a great response from the local community, which helped us achieve our best financial year up to that point!”

Closely missing out on the NBF’s ecommerce award in 2013 hasn’t dented Mike’s confidence that Land of Beds has what it takes to seize a second award: “Being highly commended in the awards last year helped us realise that our online strategy was moving in the right direction, but we needed to try even harder if we were to get to the top – so this year we have tried lots of innovative exercises that will hopefully be enough for us to gain the coveted top spot!

“This year I’m really looking forward to attending the NBF show, and seeing how different people think the year ahead will play out. It’s a great place to network, as everybody and everything to do with beds is on show – plus, the gala dinner is always a great night, and the guest speakers over the last few years have been excellent. Whatever happens come handing-out-of-awards time, one thing’s for sure – we’ll be having a great time!”

This article was published in the NBF Bed Show 2014 Preview Supplement, which can be read here in its entirety.

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