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What if your business was health care? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   

ImageEveryone complains about the Canadian health care system - in fact, it's one of our country's favourite pastimes. Waiting times are too long; the lack of specialists is deplorable; relief is often hard to find and the product is often flawed. So let's compare this with your business.

Waiting times. If you offer financing; watch how long this process can take. Often, it can make watching paint dry an exciting hobby. A million years ago, my mother applied for a U.S. credit card. They simply asked to see which ones she currently used and the new one was processed in under a minute. Some 40 years later, we should be able to process an application within, at least, the same amount of time. But even with all of the highfaluting technology available, many retailers tell me it can take forever for the process to run its course.

When it comes to delivery - especially on tag orders - always fall back on retail's sure-fire rule of achieving success: under-promise and over-deliver. If you don't stock the item in question (and most independent retailers can't afford to carry to much extra inventory these days), take the manufacturer's promise and add two weeks.

Why? It's simple. Stuff happens. The fabric from China was defective and needed to be replaced; the Canada Border Services Agency rejected the paperwork; it was melon harvesting or hunting season in the southern U.S.; a bigger client pushed you out of the queue. Any of these things, and more, can lay waste to a promised delivery date in a heartbeat - and the retailer has absolutely no control over these types of events.

If you miss your promised delivery date, offer more than an apology - compensation, free delivery, a 10% discount on something else; anything - provided it represents a significant value to your equally valued customer.

Lack of specialists. I do a lot of comparison shops and most sales consultants don't know squat about the product. Furthermore, most don't care. They may know the price and delivery time, but that's about all they can spout.

But in almost every furniture store I visit, there are always one or two sales people who really know what they're doing. Identify the ones on your floor and make them your go-to experts. Reward them and then let them guide the others through the sometimes complex world of "print versus veneer" and "custom-made versus mass produced."

Whatever you do, don't bafflegab the consumer. They're smarter than any of us can imagine.

Just as the patient - as the consumer would be described in our health care scenario - researches all information on specific diseases; they do the same for major purchases. There are customer reviews (have you ever visited, Consumer Reports, and the almighty Facebook.

It's not unusual for your customer is better informed than anyone working on your floor - after all, it's their money on the line.

Relief is hard to find. Valium or Prozac is not a cure for a dining room table that arrives after the Christmas feast. Neither are they the cure when delivering a queen-size mattress two weeks after the honeymoon.

As I said a few paragraphs back, stuff happens, and when it does, empathize. Offer a loaner; at no additional charge. This isn't a gift; it's an apology for screwing up.

Why should you do it? To paraphrase former U.S. president Bill Clinton: "It's the bottom line, stupid." Every customer will tell the story - good or bad. You need every one of them to tell their friends how you solved their problem.

The product is often flawed. We hear a lot these days about defective test results; resulting in mistreatment or no treatment. Apply that principle to your store. How do you stack up?

If you discover a problem; do you call everyone who bought the product, or do you hope they just ignore the issue? You will not cause anyone to die of a dreadful disease; but you are being less than honest with those who pay for your business. It may not be comfortable; but you should call everyone and explain the problem.

After that, send them a registered letter with an acknowledgement attached. Assure them they are able to return the item at any time. Be Santa Claus in The Miracle of 34th Street and yours will be the store everyone wants to shop.

You may not become rich overnight, but you will thrive.

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 now owns Concierge Relocation (, a company specializing in move management, especially for dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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