Ron’s Thoughts: Adaptability in the Furniture Industry
The downturn in today’s market is different than any other downturn we’ve experienced. In fact, it’s different than any other downturn any industry has experienced, whether it’s furniture, realty, CPG or anyone else.
Historically, downturns for furniture retailers have been caused by changes in the stock market, started by a reduction in the housing market, or stimulated by an interest rate hike. Those things devastated home furnishings in the past.
Additionally, this is not a downturn in just the United States. When we had the financial crisis in 2008, that was a United States downturn. This, on the other hand, is a worldwide event.
That’s important because furniture retailers today are tied to the world, whether you’re a top 100 brand with thousands of stores or a small retailer with one location in Topeka, Kansas. You’re not buying things that are made down the street anymore; your furniture is coming through global channels. And all those channels have been affected by the pandemic.
Because the type of downturn has changed, it’s made a change in response just as important. We used to say in furniture retail that cash was “king.” And when the market took a hit, all you had to do was hunker down and keep cash in the bank. Others might go out of business, but if you could survive and hold on to your cash, you’d come out alright.
That’s not the case today. Today’s worldwide events have shaken consumers, and even as they come back to shopping, retailers can’t just say, “Okay, it’s over, we survived.” It’s ongoing. So, the response can’t be one-and-done, stay put and hold on to your capital. Instead, retailers need to be agile, and adapt to the changes that are happening now and are still to come—and do so quickly.
To enable agility and adaptability, retailers need accurate, up-to-date data. If their data is correct, and they understand their inventory numbers, finances and other information, that will be key. To do so, retailers need systems that can keep them informed and tell them what to do, and that connect what’s inside their four walls (AP/AR, warehousing, delivery, etc.) to what’s outside of them (incoming orders, supplier inventory data, etc.).
Communications between furniture retailers and their trading partners are more vital today than ever before. It needs to be correct, and it needs to be fast. Emails don’t cut it anymore. Email is great because it sends in seconds. But when is the recipient opening the email? When are they going to DO something with it?
It’s just not fast enough. That’s why system-to-system communication is becoming table stakes for businesses of all sizes. At TrueCommerce-ecUtopia, we make it easy by getting more data moving faster, with fewer mistakes, so our customers get the right information before they even need it. Once you have the right data getting to the right place quickly, and then you can utilize it almost instantly to help businesses make decisions and adapt to new situations.
Data is important from the supply side and the B2B side, but it’s also important for online selling. eCommerce is playing a bigger and bigger role now. The retailer now needs to manage processes, where your team is now widely virtual. Delivery can come in many forms now. Think about it: how many times a day does your doorbell ring and it’s UPS now? For me, it’s a lot, and that didn’t happen before.
There are a lot of retailers that still have the mentality of, “I wish this would go away.” It’s not going away; they have to sell online, and they have to get to know the B2C consumer mindset. If you’re a retailer ordering 40 sofas and the manufacturer can only deliver 20, it’s not the end of the world. But if you’re a consumer buying one lamp and after your order goes through the sellers says, “Oops, out of stock,” you’ve lost that customer, probably forever. So, again, having the right data in front of the right eyes is crucial.
Furniture retailers need to adapt to the new normal, as some market leaders are doing already. Instead of holding on to their cash, they’re investing in technology that gives them clean, fast, accurate data. They’re doing it because they can see the change, and they want to ride the wave instead of getting swept away. The reality is, consumer buying patterns have changed, if not forever than for the next few years at least—and the only way through is to adapt.
About the Author: Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.