We look back at Retail Road Trips to cull some of the best strategies from the past year—and challenge you to take them to the next level
BY JULIE A. PALM
In every issue, Sleep Savvy takes our readers along on a Retail Road Trip to visit successful mattress retailers across the United States and Canada.
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It’s our way of showcasing retailers who really “get” the idea of selling more and better bedding through well-thought-out product selections, educated retail sales associates and excellent customer service. It’s also an ideal way for our readers to learn from their retail colleagues.
In this issue, we look back at Retail Road Trips from the past year, highlighting some of the best ideas and advice shared by the diverse retailers we’ve featured—from Mattress Firm, the ever-expanding chain with more than 1,500 stores in 36 states, to All About Backs, a specialty retailer in Ardmore, Oklahoma, with a single location.
We challenge you to take at least one of these ideas and see what you can do to improve an aspect of your store that gives you trouble. Notice that we didn’t suggest you “steal” these ideas: Use them as a jumping-off point, tailoring the solution to your store and your customers. Maybe next year, we’ll showcase what you’ve done.
1. Bring everyone into bedding
Regardless of their assigned department, all new hires at the 48 Art Van Furniture stores receive basic training on sleep and an overview of its PureSleep bedding departments. (The retailer, which is based in Warren, Michigan, also has 44 freestanding PureSleep locations throughout the Upper Midwest.)
“We ask all of them to sign up to be sleep ambassadors,” David Van Elslander, vice president of Art Van’s PureSleep division, told Sleep Savvy in January/February 2014. “Whether they work in finance or in delivery, they’re encouraged to ask the customer about the age of their mattress. If it’s older than 10 years, they suggest it might be a good time for a replacement and remind the customer of the wide range of sleep solutions we offer at PureSleep.”
The practice boosts add-on sales: Think of the customer who just bought a bedroom set and now realizes it would be the perfect time to upgrade the mattress, too.
Challenge: Selling mattresses shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of RSAs. Create a training program to teach everyone on your team about the basics of sleep, mattress construction and your bedding selection. Everyone who works for your store can be a bedding department envoy: They may not close a sale, but they can get the process started.
2. Design a new customer base
McRoskey Mattress Co., a San Francisco-based retailer and mattress maker that’s produced mattresses for 115 years, has made a concerted effort to cultivate relationships with interior designers, and the design trade now accounts for about 15% of McRoskey’s annual revenue.
Here’s what’s great about having interior designers among your customer base—unlike most shoppers, they come back again and again and again. McRoskey encourages designers to do window displays, allowing them to showcase their work and regularly freshening up McRoskey’s two storefronts in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California.
“It’s a great visual draw for our customers and the designer can then promote their work through emails, etc.,” President Robin McRoskey Azevedo told Sleep Savvy in the September 2014 issue. “It’s one of several collaborative things that we do.”
Challenge: Is this a mattress-selling tactic you’d like to explore? Visit the American Society of Interior Designers’ website (www.asid.com) for a chapter in your area and make contact or check out the designers involved in the next parade of homes or designer showcase held in your city.
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3. Make a move, Part 1
Maybe you’ve outgrown your space or maybe you want to edit your selection and move into a more intimate showroom. Regardless of the impetus, when you’ve invested in a store, the thought of leaving that spot to open a new one can be daunting, even terrifying.
All About Backs in Ardmore, Oklahoma, found itself facing slow traffic in a low-profile location. It plodded along for three years before deciding to move to a 3,200-square-foot store in a new shopping center in 2011.
“Moving to this new site made a big difference in our business,” owner Joe Maple told Sleep Savvy in the November/December 2013 issue. “It’s a highly visible location near Interstate 35 with steady traffic and activity. Since we’re the only specialty bedding store in the area and we have a deeper selection than other stores in bigger markets, shoppers come from miles around to see us.”
Challenge: Perhaps this will be the year that you begin the process of relocating. Find a good commercial real estate agent and start investigating potential store sites in your area.
4. Toughen up your training day(s)
The most valuable item on the sales floor at Today’s Bed isn’t the super luxurious $23,999 Stearns & Foster Olga, it’s the RSA who sells that bed. When industry veterans Scott Michelsen and Tim Sommer opened the four-store sleep shop in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area three years ago, they knew they had to find a way to convey all of their experience and enthusiasm to their sales team.
To do so, they created a 30-day training program that all RSAs must complete before they have any contact with customers. During the first two weeks of training, RSAs learn about mattress construction and everything from invoices to inventory. During the second two weeks, they are immersed in the Today’s Bed selling process. When they finally hit the sales floor, “We’re watching and critiquing every encounter,” Michelsen told Sleep Savvy in the April 2014 issue.
In the Upper Midwest, Art Van’s PureSleep uses an approach it calls “Constant Never-ending Improvement,” which includes in-store workshops, sales meetings and self-study modules, as well as training through its in-house TV network, AVTV. All new RSAs have to earn the Art of PureSleep Certification; struggling sales associates may be required to repeat the program.
Challenge: The sales process and customer service are too important for any retailer to have an ad hoc training program. Spend some time thinking about your training process. How can it be formalized? Who could you bring in to make it more robust? What would make it more engaging and effective?
5. Pack up the price tags
There’s something missing from the mattresses in the two BedCrafters by Michelle locations in Williamsburg and Glen Allen, Virginia: Price tags.
“When people see price tags, they start thinking about price,” Annette Lindsey told Sleep Savvy in the May/June 2014 issue. “We want them to hear the story of our beds. We want them to experience the beds.” At the stores, which are co-owned by founder Michelle Brumfield and Lindsey, RSAs typically don’t even mention price until a shopper has narrowed her selection to one or two models.
McRoskey Mattress Co. shares the BedCrafters by Michelle philosophy. The retailer posts pricing on its website—where many customers start their shopping trips—but leaves price tags off the beds in its stores.
Challenge: We know this isn’t an idea that will work for every retailer, but don’t dismiss it out of hand. At least be open to reconsidering how you display pricing and the way in which RSAs introduce the subject during the sales process.
6. Geek out with technology
F. Mark Hubbard, owner of Mattress Gallery, embraces technology throughout his sleep shop in Lafayette, Louisiana. The store went paperless four years ago, and Hubbard installed LightSpeed Cloud software to maintain its customer database and track inventory, invoices and delivery.
RSAs carry iPhones, which link them to training materials, price lists, vendor contacts and more. Schedules and deliveries are tracked on Apple’s calendar function, iCal. The store uses an iPad loaded with games to keep children occupied in the kid’s corner while their parents shop.
“Our delivery guys also carry iPad minis so that customers can sign off on the delivery when it’s complete,” and an app called Waze helps customers track that delivery, Hubbard told Sleep Savvy in July/August 2014.
How fully does Hubbard embrace technology? The photo of the store’s exterior that ran with the Retail Road Trip was taken by one of his latest toys: a drone.
Challenge: Tablets and smartphones can put a wealth of information in the hands of both your RSAs and your consumers at relatively low cost. Free apps can streamline a host of business functions. Schedule time to assess your current technology and determine what could use an upgrade.
7. Make a move, Part 2
If you have a furniture store, how long does it take customers to walk from your front door to your bedding department? How easy is it to find? Is it worth their effort to get there?
When Abt Electronics opened its 4,500-square-foot bedding department in 2012, the Chicago-area retailer set out to create a destination for its shoppers.
“We wanted it to be unlike any sleep shop or department store (our customers) had visited,” Geoff Imhof, the store’s general manager, told Sleep Savvy in October 2013. “Sleep shops tend to be cramped and sometimes not that well-tended. We didn’t want rows and rows of beds with one, maybe two at the most, retail sales associates on the floor.”
Abt situated the department on a mezzanine above the store’s atrium—itself quite a destination, with an enormous central fountain patterned after one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. An escalator takes customers up to the bedding department—an open, light-filled space where beds are displayed with headboards and footboards and other bedroom furniture to create warmth. Fresh flowers add a gracious touch.
Challenge: Mattresses and sleep accessories have among the highest margins of any home furnishings: You should want all of your customers—whether they think they are in the market for a new mattress or not—to be drawn to your bedding department. Switch it with another category, and watch your average ticket soar.
8. Always deliver
In the March 2014 issue, Sleep Savvy traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to celebrate the opening of Mattress Firm’s first store in the state. It was more than a grand opening: It was a homecoming for company founders Harry Roberts, Steve Fendrich and Paul Stork, who all come from the state. They threw a big ol’ party to celebrate.
During the festivities, the founders and current company leaders shared wisdom they’ve acquired while growing the chain from a single store in Houston in 1986. (Here’s how quickly Mattress Firm continues to grow: When we featured them in the Retail Road Trip just eight months ago, the retailer had 1,327 stores in 30 states. Today, it has more than 1,500 locations in 36 states.)
Challenge: Michael Yelich, a managing partner for Mattress Firm in Tulsa, Okla., offered this advice to Paul Hollister, owner and managing partner of the South Dakota franchise—and we couldn’t say it any better: “You are now a steward of this company. That’s a big thing that you need to make sure you always remember. You’re going to get a phone call at 9 at night from a customer who says, ‘Where’s my bed?’ And there was a problem and the delivery got screwed up. If you’re eating dinner or if it’s after dinner … get in your car and deliver the damned bed. That is my advice: Always deliver the damned bed.” O
Where should we go next?
IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUGGEST an outstanding mattress retailer—or nominate your store—for an upcoming Retail Road Trip, we’d love to hear from you. Send your ideas to Editor in Chief Mary Best at firstname.lastname@example.org.