The ‘96 percenters’: For furniture stores to increase their share of the bedding market, they need to become mattress destinations. Here are six ways to do just that
BY GORDON HECHT
Editor’s note: This article is designed for owners and managers of furniture stores that sell mattresses. Mattress specialty retailers, even though you already know the information, you’re welcome to read on, too.
A couple of decades ago, multi-line furniture stores ruled the retail mattress world. They were consumers’ No. 1 choice to shop for and buy a mattress set. It’s a different landscape out there today. Mattress specialists, warehouse clubs, the Internet and even people selling mattresses by advertising on telephone poles have reduced the share of bedding sales for full-line stores. Furniture retailers may never again be the dominant force, but they can regain part of their share. The secret is to stop being a furniture store that sells mattresses and become a mattress destination.
An overwhelming majority of your shoppers represent the greatest opportunity for you to increase your business. You can call them the “96 percenters,” because they are the 96% of people who shop in your store and walk out without buying a mattress. Every retail furniture store has a different value for the 96ers.
Do the math for your store and you may be surprised. Think about a typical retail furniture location that converts 25% of its shoppers into buyers. If bedding sales are 15% of total sales, then multiply 25% times 15% (.25 x .15 on your calculator). The net result is 3.75% (.0375) of shoppers buy a mattress, leaving more than 96% not buying one. Now both you and your shopper should be losing sleep.
While your team will never reduce the 96% to zero, there are some ways that you can lower the number. First, examine the reasons shoppers aren’t buying beds in your store.
1 An overall reluctance to introduce bedding. Sure, you coach your team to introduce bedding on every bedroom sale. But, does your team talk about your sleep department products with dining, living room and reclining shoppers? Statistics show that more than 85% of people sleep on a substandard mattress, resulting in a decrease in their daily performance and lifestyle and an increase in weight and other health issues. That translates to 85 out of 100 people walking into your store who could benefit from a new sleep surface.
Train your team on the benefits of good sleep and the impact that a new sleep system can have on shoppers’ lives. Remind sales associates that most shoppers are not furniture-buying experts and need guidance in learning about your store’s offerings. And most of all, don’t accept “They didn’t ask for one” as an acceptable response for not showing a mattress set to every shopper.
2 Retail sales associate’s choice. It’s a fact—despite comfort tests, product knowledge, sale promotions and best options—that many shoppers purchase the mattress that the RSA wants to sell them. Sometimes it’s because of price (high and low,) other times it’s spiffs and, still other times, it’s because it’s the mattress that the RSA sleeps on. With 96% of your shoppers leaving without a mattress, however, you need to be sure that shoppers are shown all mattresses that suit their needs and comfort levels. Don’t let your team sink into the practice of not selling a brand that you display and don’t let them become whale-hunters, showing only expensive bedding. Every mattress model has a place on your floor, everything is for sale and every sale counts.
3 The “be-back” bus. Most of what full-line stores sell may be considered “be-back” merchandise: sofa and bedroom-set shoppers often need to check color, size and scale in their home before making a purchase. The mattress is a “now-today” purchase, meaning that if your shopper leaves your store without a mattress, she will buy one at your competitor’s today. Don’t allow or encourage RSA prejudices to drive away your sales. What’s important is finding the right mattress for each shopper’s individual needs. And, remember, the be-back bus stops at every store in town and doesn’t make a return trip.
4 $3,000 in buying power just left the building. My contacts at GE Money, a major player in furniture consumer financing, tell me that the average approval amount for new shoppers is $4,400. Further, the average first-time purchase totals $1,400. Your RSA’s job is not to load up buyers with things they don’t need and can’t afford; however, they are responsible for assessing a shopper’s total needs, presenting products and encouraging her to select what she wants to buy today.
Many shoppers think of a new mattress as a commodity item and are comfortable using free financing to pay for it, just like a washer and dryer or refrigerator. Think of a $1,199 mattress and foundation as a $19.95 additional payment on a 60-month contract. Adding a basic $599 set costs less than $10 a month. When quoting the installment cost for that new living room or dining set, remind your buyers that for a small amount more they can upgrade their sleep, health and well-being. Furniture retailing veteran Gil Colon says that every mattress set has two prices—the cash price and the monthly installment cost. Make sure that your sales team knows both.
5 It’s in the back. I can find the bedding department in almost any furniture store in the United States. I simply walk in the front door and go to the back, hidden corner. And when I get the Sunday newspaper and study furniture store circulars, I flip to the back page to see the mattress promotion. When you keep mattresses in the back of the store and promotions on the back of the ad, you’re also putting the category in the back of your sales team’s, managers’ and shoppers’ minds.
The upside of consumers viewing bedding products as a commodity is that shoppers know a (perceived) deal when they see it. Just as Walmart or Target can make a value statement by promoting front-page hot buys on coffee and cola, furniture stores can scream value by promoting bedding on page one. Once in your building, shoppers make up their minds about your store within about 20 feet of the front door. Imagine how they would perceive your overall pricing if the first thing they saw was a triple-choice comfort promotion. Although your shoppers may not have any interest in purchasing a mattress, when it comes to prices, they know that the store that starts out the lowest ends up the lowest.
6 Get out of it what you put in. Floor space, signage and advertising are investments. It’s hard to get to 20% in bedding sales volume when you spend 5% of your ad budget on standalone bedding advertising. Simple as it sounds, if you want 20% bedding share in sales, give it 20% share of voice in your advertising.
If you have the right bed, it’s possible to get 20% in sales when bedding is shown in 10% of your floor space. Ask your bedding vendors which models and technologies are selling well in your market, and adjust your selling space to that every 90 days. Be sure your beds and test pillows are clean enough that your mother would want to sleep on them. Cut pricing on clearance and shopworn merchandise to the bone—even 50% of cost—to move it out. Dead beds take up live selling space.
Shop your neighbors, because they already are shopping you. Know their offers, standards, practices and exceptions to the rules. Know how you are beating them and how they beat you every day.
Last, measure results and set goals against your standards. Coach your team to show and sell every day. Knock out your two lowest-selling SKUs every 90 days, and perhaps your lowest-selling RSAs every 120 days.
Your store does not have to be a victim of shrinking bedding sales. Think and act like a mattress destination and reclaim your share. O
Gordon Hecht is a growth and development manager for National Bedding Co.’s America’s Mattress, nearly 400 mostly locally owned and operated bedding stores across the country selling Serta-branded and America’s Mattress-branded mattresses. He started his 30-plus years experience in the home furnishings industry in Las Vegas as a delivery helper and driver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.