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Marketing the ‘R' word PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   
ImageEffective marketing always sees the opportunity for connecting with the consumer. In good times it's status; in bad times it's price. To find proof of this, simply look around and take note of which companies have been doing well for the past several months.

McDonalds is growing their revenue since family restaurant outings are going downscale. The Aveda student hair cut facility (great style for $18.90 - including tax) is booming and Loblaws recent growth is credited to a competitive-with-Wal-Mart strategy.

A Google search of the phrase "recession friendly" generates almost four million hits. Market gurus say there are two strong trends emerging this winter: less expensive personal consumption and more charitable generosity. Surveyed Canadians claim (let's pretend they're honest) that this year they will spend less on Christmas gifts and more on donations.

So what does that mean to retailers?

It's the time to focus on three key elements: price, reliability and affordability. In simpler terms, promote low cost solutions, your longevity (an insured down payment would be a bonus) and a monthly payment plan.

Debt is currently the worst four letter word in the language. So what if you offered a broad selection of sofas at $699 or under $20 a month for five years? That's the Dell campaign to the letter and in their advertising, they compares the monthly cost of their computers ($21) to a latte coffee bill in the same time period. It's time to steal the coffee cash and redirect it to your bottom line.

The product on your floor - from upholstery groupings to bedroom suites to casual dining to refrigerators and flat panel televisions - is is enduring. It supports "family values". It can be (and should be) Canadian.

A major Toronto retailer is promoting their home theatre systems as a low cost alternative to family night at the movies. Many of us older folks may sympathize with Juan Valdez, but we have to take care of our own too! Grab the coffee cash and sell more furniture.

Another commonly expressed consumer fear is "what if the company I've just bought from goes out of business?"  General Motors is sweating buckets over this one. The furniture industry is not exempt.  How can you provide much needed confidence? Well, you could advise that everyone use credit cards (at your considerable expense) or develop an in-house down payment insurance package. Not necessarily easy, but if you can insure a Red Sox win at the World Series - just as one prominent Boston-area furniture retailer has done more than once - anything is possible. Your customer must believe you will be in business for as long as they plan to keep their product.

And that concern about the other guy being worse off? Many say they not afraid for themselves necessarily but they're concerned for their neighbour's survival (which includes their ability to pay taxes and participate fully in the economy). Talk loudly, clearly and often about everything you're already doing (be it donations of product or money) and key your promotions to gifts to the less fortunate. Everyone wants warm-and-fuzzies with their new sectional.

This is not difficult or expensive. Offer one per cent of the sale price or a matching "rounding up" offer (if the customer's bill is $739.42 then the donation would be $.58, which you would match). Wherever possible, make the donation local.

Don't forget about your own staff. They may not say so, but they're scared and they can transmit that fear. The first rule of fear abatement is honesty. Whatever the business climate be straight with every member of your team. Tell them what the situation is; what are your plans are and what you expect results to be. You've been through this before and you have come out of it with only flesh wounds. Today their trust is one of your biggest assets.

I've been there. Once, I was forced to tell 96 people that their jobs would disappear within 12 months. Only one person left immediately and productivity standards did not slip. If you're all part of the solution, you'll survive long enough to thrive.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She was also a long-time member of the Canadian Home Furnishings Awards jury.

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