29 May 2024, 14:54
By Furniture News Jun 03, 2021

Life lessons from Furniture Sales Solutions

As retailers readied themselves to reopen their stores, Furniture Sales Solutions was working hard in the background to upskill, refresh and incentivise the teams tasked with making sales when the customers arrive. Adam Hankinson, the ex-DFS staff specialist with a knack for ensuring retail businesses realise their potential, explains how he helps take a business’ most important asset to the next level …

What’s your background?

My background is all retail. My first job was a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) for Debenhams. I ended up being taken on for the furniture department. They put me in charge of rugs because they were piled up high and no-one else wanted to tidy them! I ended up selling lots, because I was happy to pull the bottom rug out and show it to the customer.

From then, I was promoted to assistant manager and moved to Middlesbrough, where I worked until Harris Queensway bought out Debenhams Furnishings.

I then worked with Waring and Gillow, and Maples, both high-end furnishing retailers. I was a manager with Allied Carpets for seven years – this was when they had 200 stores, around 30,000ft2 each, and we sold upholstery, cabinets, beds, curtains, and of course, carpets and rugs.

At 30 I joined DFS, who at that point had 32 stores, and I enjoyed tremendous success over the next 20 years, going from manager to area manager to northern sales director. This covered Scotland, the whole of Ireland, and Northern England – 55 stores, looking after 1200 people with a turnover of over £440m.

Why did you gravitate towards training? What suitable qualities/skills do you boast?

I’ve always loved coaching, and the science of improving performance and seeing people grow in skills and confidence. I’m a keen cyclist, and there are absolute correlations between high performance in sports and business. People, generally, want to do well, and I found I had a knack of inspiring people – and because I’ve done all the jobs that I’m coaching, I can completely identify with the situations that my delegates are in. I can give them most of the answers and skills from my own experience.

How do furniture sales methods differ to those across other sectors?

There are similarities to other sectors, and then specifics, that you must know about to be able to use them at the right time in a furniture sale. Being genuine, and able to ask great questions and build relationships is the key. 

Also, handling the initial “I’m just looking” is something many people struggle with, and having had this done to me early in my career I know how to handle it. It’s a knowledge of the buying cycle, in furnishings, that is most helpful when it comes to selling. Also, the successful use of finance to gain and grow sales.

What services do you offer aside from sales training?

We can help with anything from a sales refresher to a transformational programme and any number of management and leadership development courses, including time management, team building, managing people and performance, presentation skills, problem solving, KPIs, planning for success, all the way to a growth plan that results in stock market flotation (we’ve done this twice successfully).

We give our retained customers advice about sales strategy, marketing, product range and presentation, store layout and design, processing order systems and everything to do with people management and recruitment, and, more importantly, we help them deliver.

And can you help suppliers as well as retailers?

We’re a people training and development business. Most businesses experience the same types of people problems. We call them the ‘3Cs’ – Communication, Culture, and Capability. 

We specialise in communication skills, both internally and externally, and we help increase individual and team capabilities, growing people to grow the business. 

The key with culture is to have one that is healthy and aligned. We are uniquely placed, as outsiders, to “say it as we see it”. Most teams and leaders respond well to constructive feedback. We don’t need to be experts in IT, for example, to know how to improve teamwork and team effectiveness.

Is demand for your services high right now?

Demand is very strong. Many retailers have been shocked into action – to do different things with their businesses because of how close they came to ceasing trading in March 2020. This shock has spurred them to invest in store displays, digital marketing, their internet sales strategy and of course their people.

Where is Furniture Sales Solutions based, and who else is on the team?

We’re based in Southport in North West England. We’re an internal team of three, there’s me – I deliver and consult for each customer. Dominic Charters is our sales manager, so expect a call or email from him. And my eldest son, Denholme, runs our office and operations – he does a fantastic job of keeping things running smoothly.

We also work with a network of retail store design companies, retail systems specialists, and a fantastic retail recruitment expert. We are a one-stop-shop for solving real-world retail problems.

Give us an idea of some of the retailers/suppliers you’ve worked with 

We’ve worked with multinationals like DFS, Oak Furnitureland and Harvey Norman, and large and small independents like Arighi Bianchi, Lee Longlands, Glasswells, Stokers, Arthur Llewellyn Jenkins, Dreams, Natuzzi Italia, Dixons Stores, Wren Kitchens and many more.

What sort of ROI can your approach generate?

Yes. We typically increase sales by over +20%, but guarantee a minimum of +10% more sales and profitability.

We also measure the impact of our training, with delegates starting with their feedback from the first training session, how applicable the skills that we teach are, the ease of use, effectiveness of tools and techniques.

In 2020 we scored an average of 4.83/5 from over 500 delegates’ feedback. We constantly collect feedback about orders that our customer wouldn’t have got without our training.

Much of our new business is from referrals, and all of our customers are happy to confirm their satisfaction to any interested party, either over the phone or by email.

Who are you working with right now, and what do they expect to achieve with your help?

We can’t name everybody because some businesses are very private, but we are helping Arighi Bianchi execute some really exciting plans for growth over the next three years.

We spend a lot of time in Ireland helping develop managers, their assistants and teams to really become very skilled at sales and salespeople management.

We also ‘drop in’, for our regular customers, at specific points during the year (such as before a seasonal business spike) to motivate and refresh sales teams. We do this for quite a number of independent retailers.

Once you’ve made contact with a would-be client, what does the onboarding process look like?

Our first objective is to build trust with the people and businesses we’re going to work with, and properly understand where we can add most value. We usually start with a store visit for about half a day, sometimes longer, but when we’ve conducted our discovery work we usually make a number of recommendations. These will partly be for the business to do itself, and other parts we can help with.

The steps in our process are usually buy-in and discovery, recommendations, delivery, and follow-up. The following up is the part that delivers most lasting value.

What kind of partnerships work best?

The only way for us to work is with our customer and their team – that’s why initial ‘buy-in’ from all stakeholders is critical. We win hearts and minds first, and then work together at every stage to help you achieve what you want. 

It feels like we are an equal and trusted member of the team. Large or small scale isn’t important – buy-in, communication, and commitment are.

… and, conversely, what is the biggest barrier to successful implementation?

Incorrect or insufficient discovery (not learning enough about the business and its people to diagnose the right solutions) is a big mistake, and then not getting the team behind itself is never going to work. Also, a lack of proper commitment in time and resources is only going to tickle the problem rather than solve it.

Can you share any anecdotal evidence of the above situations in practice?

We are very clear with all our customers at the outset that we expect their commitment to helping us to help them. We won’t allow a programme to fail because of this, so we set expectations at the start and review progress with stakeholders as we go through the programmes. 

Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down or even temporarily pause a project to iron out specific issues or interruptions. We are being paid to deliver for our customer, so we get together sufficiently to ensure that we do – guaranteed.

Aside from arranging a Zoom chat, where can retailers find out more about your services?

Obviously, our website, and they can connect with any of us on LinkedIn.

Can you leave our readers with a top tip that will help improve their performance? 

My top tip, and this is seriously worth a fortune, is to separate time with a customer as ‘major’ time, and time working on anything else as ‘minor’ time. All too often, administration and housekeeping tasks keep salespeople away from ‘selling’. My advice is to ensure that, as a salesperson, your time is always with the prospect – oh, and always ask for the order!

© 2013 - 2024 Gearing Media Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.