The leaders of Standard Furniture are well aware that although decisions happen in the corporate office, the real business occurs on the showroom floor. “We have a sign in the corporate office that reads, ‘Our Stores Are Our Customers,’” says Greg Tronacle, vice president of operations. “We realize that in our main office and our distribution center, our role is a support role and that we don’t sell out of these locations. We are here to support our stores because they are on the front line every day dealing with customers.”
Operating by this motto has kept the company not just alive for the past 100 years, but thriving. Last year, third-generation owner Stuart Shevin and the rest of the Standard Furniture management team accepted the Silver Retailer of the Year Award from the Alabama Retail Association, a group that Standard Furniture has been an active member of since its formation. At the same time, the company achieved promising growth in the face of a national economic standstill. “Last year, we had an increase in sales volume,” says Jacob Shevin, fourth-generation owner and president. “When we hear people talking about their sales going in a negative direction, it’s refreshing to say that this will be our second year of consecutive increase.”
Standard Furniture has managed this growth through a strategy of helping employees develop the skills and giving them the resources they need to better serve customers. The company has long considered itself a one-stop shop for furniture needs by covering every living space in the house, including living room, dining room, bedroom and entertainment spaces. To more effectively showcase some of these products, the company launched its store-in-store concept two-and-a-half years ago and leaders of the company says the merchandising technique has resonated with shoppers.
The retailer began its store-in-store concept by highlighting another century-old brand, Lane Home Furnishings. The high-end furniture manufacturer literally breaks down the science of home furnishings by focusing on four things: comfort, innovation, value and quality. It calls its method “Laneology” and its R&D has resulted in features such as comfort cradle seat cushions, sectionals with a swivel recliner, power recline and lift chairs, and zero-gravity reclining mechanisms. Standard Furniture took this line and created the Lane Furniture Comfort Showcase, which is set up within three of its 13 stores but separated from other merchandise by walls.
A year-and-a-half ago, it applied the same concept to mattress and bedding products in two of its stores. “We’ve started to compartmentalize the mattresses into a spinoff brand and we’re calling it The Mattress Loft,” Shevin says. “We are working on a third right now, and it’s really just a way to take people out of the furniture store who don’t feel comfortable laying on a bedroom set in the middle of a furniture store. However, they are still comforted by the fact that they are buying from a credentialed retailer; it’s just done in a slightly walled off and isolated area away from customers who are shopping for furniture. But it gives them the opportunity to learn about mattresses and have a little more privacy.”
It also gives the Standard Furniture employees a gateway to address a customer’s total needs. Someone looking for a new mattress might also be in the market for a new bedroom set. Likewise, if the Lane Home Furnishings don’t quite meet all the needs of a guest, other products in the Standard Furniture stores just might hit the mark. It is an employee’s job to figure out what those needs are and how Standard Furniture can help. And it’s the corporate office’s job to give the employees the skills they need to confidently address those customer requests.
That starts with having the right product mix for customers. In addition to covering living spaces, Standard Furniture carries a line of outdoor furniture and common household items such as lawn mowers and air conditioners. Its product lines are diverse to meet a variety of needs, but Executive Vice President Mark Crayne explains that there are commonalities between the manufacturers.
Whether it’s a national name brand such as Lane Furniture or a local player, such as the upholstery supplier Corinthian, the quality of materials, fabric and construction is foremost. Another key trait is customer service: Does the manufacturer promptly respond to questions and complaints and make an effort to solve them? Are they willing to partner with retailers and impart their knowledge to Standard Furniture’s sales force? These are questions that Standard Furniture asks itself when dealing with manufacturers, and if the answer is yes, the company knows it has a reliable supplier on its hands.
“Product knowledge is something that we key in on,” Crayne explains. “We will often bring in [manufacturers] to let them know how the furniture is made, and why, for instance, we use welded chairs versus un-welded chairs.
“That really helps in the sales department because they have better product knowledge.”
In addition to better product knowledge, Standard Furniture encourages employees to have better knowledge of the guests as well. Being a century-old family company with 13 stores, all in Alabama and Tennessee, Standard Furniture knows the value in developing personal relationships.
Just as the operation is headed by a multigenerational lineage, many of the guests come from families who have frequented Standard Furniture since its doors opened. The company continues to invest in maintaining that customer loyalty and winning over new customers.
“Whether it’s hiring a trainer for a new product or someone who is a motivational sales trainer, those things are budgeted for and we consider them an investment,” Shevin says. “We really believe that this works with prospective customers and keeping up better with existing customers and developing that relationship, as opposed to someone who walks in the door and buys something but never returns.
“We follow up with customers afterwards and the few problems we do encounter, we’re proactive in finding answers and addressing the problem,” Shevin adds. “We will follow up with an after-sales call as opposed to waiting for them to call us. We have to do all these things to stand out because anybody can open just a furniture store.”