Do you have a perfect vision for your business in 2020?

The world is changing, and the furniture sector with it. There are more competitors and new entrants with new concepts of blended shopping - partly online, partly in-store and partly via social media. Browsing is mostly done at home or on the move, and prices are easier to compare. As well as a firm mindset around returns, instant gratification means younger people are less patient, and will not tolerate slow service or waiting for their purchase.

Little is original, and everything is available. And knowledge is no longer a significant differentiator - the consumer can find out everything they need to know online. 

Many retailers recognise that their world is changing, and that adapting present difficulties. How many times do we resort to "I’ve always done it this way", ‘it’s not us, it’s footfall", or simply "it’s ‘Brexit"?

But there has always been change. The high street was impacted by out-of-town sheds, then they in turn were hit by retail parks, and after this came shopping centres and malls – and, most recently, the internet giants. Most of these developments arose from commercial opportunities to drive footfall and save on relative space costs. Change isn’t new.

One of the many phrases attributed to Warren Buffett is: “When the tide goes out, you see who isn’t wearing any shorts.” That is what's happening now.

Failing to move with the market

I often ask colleagues on the retail floor what they do when they see someone checking their phone.

The answers range from "leave them alone" and "l don’t like to intrude", to "l approach and tell them about our price promise."

While what a salesperson actually thinks in these situations can be much more disparaging, this is a buying signal, and a prompt to work out the right approach and get stuck in.

What about: "I see you’re doing a bit of research – may I help by showing you the choices we have, and you can compare?" Or "what would you like to know?" If you like this approach, use it. If not, change it to something you do like – but, either way, do something new and embrace the change.

A question of mindset

The 2020 mindset is mostly concerened with converting more browsers – and, for many independents, appealing to the new batch reaching their store's age demographic.

Good planning is important. There should be a focus on the outcome – know where you want to go, and what it looks like when you get there.

The approach should be action-oriented. Get started as soon as possible, take the first steps, test the waters and learn on the journey.

Don’t over-plan the journey, because Plan A never works – but Plan B is brilliant if we learn, are agile and adjust during the journey, with the ideal outcome always in focus.

Move with the market

Does your store and/or range appeal to your target market? Today, fewer people want furniture to last a long time – they want the current look and style, which is often eclectic. Yet a phrase often used in the furniture business is "the three-piece suite is dead" – but in many furniture stores, the layout is overwhelmingly three-piece suites. What do the key figures (footfall, conversion, sales per sqm, range performance, supplier performance, etc) say?

Is your range too big, or too small, and which ranges have not sold in the last six months? How clear is your offer, and is there the right number of choices for this new world (enough to choose from, but not to confuse)? Are the availability and timescales right for your more savvy demographic? Have you segmented ranges and suppliers into groups, ie destination, core, inspiration and impulse? 

Merchandise to sell. How inspiring are your displays? The way you put together ‘the look’ can make a real difference. And do you accessorise that look, and sell the full picture?

You'll need to balance self-selection and service. Convenience normally wins – food and DIY used to be behind counters, and fashion used to be an assisted service. Today, many customers do their browsing online, and instead of visiting five or six stores they visit two or three to experience the product (it's not as important to internet-savvy groups).

While shoppers appreciate helpful and friendly service, it is not enough to grow your business. Service in 2020 must be about helping your potential customer make better decisions than they would if shopping online or with a competitor.

Upon completion, create a different offer and tell everyone about it through your website, mail drops and social media. Today, many independent websites look the same as the multiples, but they should look indepedent and inspiring. Take photos of your stores, your displays and your team, and use them to really show the difference. 

Furniture retailers cannot afford to hope to have a good year in 2020 – there is simply too much competition and too many unknown variables. But if you know where you are today, where you want to go and what you will need to have in place to get there, you will have a great 2020.

Retailers seeking guaranteed growth in 2020 can contact RPS, quoting “Furniture News December” for a free consultation.