pendent representatives to take notes
and send back complete “intelligence”
on the retail battlefield.
This is clarity: a clear view of what
the customer wants and a clear line
back to the customer with detailed
information on design, material and
craftsmanship. This quality of clear
two-way communications can also be
achieved by smaller companies.
What is your salesman doing today?
How many are at home? One of the most
successful people in the furniture industry I have ever known would call his
salesmen at 5 p.m. every day. If they were
already home, they were in trouble!
From my experience as a marketing
manager and as a buyer, I know that too
many salesmen are at home right now.
Many old hands call on people they
already know, and they present products
that are similar to those they have sold
before. They don’t ask many questions,
and almost never take notes. This is
where fog rolls in for the manufacturer.
Manufacturing managers often don’t get
the information they need to improve
their product development process.
Baker Furniture built its reputation on
authentic antique reproductions. Herman Miller built its on ground-breaking
functional modern design. Ethan Allen
carved a position in early American
style and La-Z-Boy staked an early claim
on affordable comfort. Merillat has
positioned itself in the mainstream of
the kitchen cabinet business while a
few others have executed a successful
strategy in the higher priced cabinet
market. There are dozens more at all
points on the continuum from affordable favorites to priceless collectibles.
When the recession ends, new
leaders may emerge in the furniture
industry. Today, clarity of purpose, clarity and consistency of quality standards
in design and craftsmanship, along with
environmentally responsible materials,
and clarity of distribution practices are
essential for survival and growth. ●
Step 3: Cut through the fog
The ultimate “fog buster” is education. Cabinetmakers and furniture
manufacturers all face a complex sales
process. A small idea by a good kitchen
designer can re-orient a floor plan to feature a window with a view, and thereby
transform the entire design-build process from basic utility to a “must have”
alternative that transforms the budget
and moves the project to a higher level
of excellence. Clarity is having the best
intelligence at the factory and the showroom connected with the customer.
Because design in our industry has
much more to do with esthetics than
with function, we are always awash in
design options and competing alternatives. The great brands in our industry
have generally focused on a market segment or a design category. For example,
John Aves is founder and managing partner of Macatawa Bay Associates L.L.C.
The company offers design management
and offshore product development for a
range of U.S. and overseas marketing and
manufacturing companies. He has broad
experience in furniture design, marketing
and offshore resource management. He
can be reached at 616/335-2209.