It’s hard to find an advantage over mass retailers of furniture; after all, they have floor space, traffic, advertising budgets and sales people. Me? I’m just me, with a website, and venues like CustomMade.com. If anything, I’m severely disadvantaged – or am I?
Actually, I have some advantages over mass retailers.
• Made to order: Perhaps my biggest advantage. When a consumer walks into a store, they look around for something that appeals to them. Many times, they won’t find that. With wooden furniture, that may be the wrong color, wrong height, wrong wood, and so on. I can usually accommodate any requested changes. With the big-box places, they may be able to change a color or wood, but never a mechanical change like an extra drawer – or no drawer. What I’ve also discovered is a distinct emotional advantage – the desire to love what I make for them. When a customer places an order, I often hear comments like “I’m so excited to see it!”, or once they get it, “I really love it!”. When a customer from a big-box store gets a piece home, it’s usually a pretty bland emotional response. Think about it – how excited were you to have purchased a piece from a store that is turned out by the thousands (if not hundreds of thousands), and someone else can have too? A distinct advantage I have is the customer wants to love what I make for them. They will even overlook issues to do that. And it makes sense; what would be more thrilling to you – something you bought off the shelf, or something someone handmade just for you?
• Relationship. I can establish a personal relationship with the customer that the big guys can only dream of having, which translates into more sales – not only repeat sales, but word-of-mouth sales. The only big company I can think of with such customer loyalty and excitement is Apple. Who gets excited about Ashley Furniture, Raymour and Flanigan, or other such big retailers? In fact, it’s almost a necessary evil to go furniture shopping (as it is with car buying).
• Nimble. It takes the big guys months – if not a year or more – to add or change a product or product line. For me, it can be days, or maybe a few weeks. Big ships take a wide swath to turn, but little runabouts like me change course quickly, adapting to new ideas or trends as needed.
• Multi-faceted. A large furniture store usually doesn’t have that large of a genre variety – they will have contemporary, country, and maybe some bad mission or period furniture – all home or home office stuff. I not only do that, but can jump into liturgical (furnishings for churches) pieces, custom cabinets – even toys.
• Product Quality. Unquestionably, my greatest advantage, which is value, really. I’m sorry, but big store furniture is generally crap – with the exceptions of Stickley and perhaps Bassett. All the other stuff is poorly made, poorly finished “furniture”. The worst being the finish of this stuff. When you can scrap off the color off a piece with your fingernail, that’s a crappy finish. When an ad circular for the big box stores describe a piece as having a “cherry finish” or the color is “cherry” what they are doing is using a little psychological trick – you hear the word “cherry” and your mind just associates the piece as being made of cherry.
• Made locally. Of all residential wood furniture sold in the United States, only about 31% is U.S.-made; most of the other product is made in Asia. Most furniture manufacturers and companies we think of as quintessentially American are making their furniture overseas (for example, Bassett, Broyhill, Lane, Lazy Boy, Ethan Allan, Thomasville, Pennsylvania House, Drexel, American Drew, Stanley and others). Over the last 30 years, tens of thousands of jobs for highly skilled furniture makers have been moved overseas, as so called “American furniture companies” have moved their manufacturing operations to China, Vietnam and other third world countries. When you buy locally – or even in the US – you help out fellow Americans. Not only myself, but my family, the places I purchase my wood, and the money I spend from my profits.
I have some advantages over retail they can never match; in educating consumers about the furniture of today, I can increase my sales, and give the consumer value for the furniture money.