BRIGHTON, Ontario – In many ways, this may be the most educational issue of the Merchandiser we have published. After examining the race to the bottom, we ask a group of independent retailers to share with our readers the lessons learned from the pandemic. To cap things off, our resident guru of all things retail details success strategies to transform your team from informed to committed.
For as long as I have been writing about the furniture, mattress and appliance industry, everyone from store owners to manufacturers have complained about the ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to pricing. In some ways, the issue has always been treated like urban myth – everyone thinks it’s true but there really wasn’t a lot of evidence to support the contention.
One popular observation was the key retail price point for a three-seat stationary fabric covered sofa hadn’t moved in 30 years while the price of the typical family car had at the very least quadrupled over that time.
A few weeks ago, I took a closer look at the annual Consumer Price Index published by Statistics Canada and discovered prices for upholstery, case goods, mattresses, refrigerators and laundry equipment have been declining over the past couple of decades.
After consulting with a few really smart people, from both inside and outside the industry, we discovered there are reasons to explain this phenomenon, reasons we explore later in this issue. And some of those reasons will be somewhat surprising. For example, although most of us see the housing market as ‘hot’ at this precise moment, when looked at over the past 20 years some say it peaked in 2004 and has been declining slowly since then. Others note this industry is remarkably stable, particularly at retail which means competition has been increasingly price oriented as the merchant’s fear of losing market share became greater than his desire to improve margins.
Donald Cooper believes the best strategy to get the team from informed to committed is communication. By that he doesn’t mean telling people what to do and when. It’s about engagement and clarity. What’s more, it’s about listening to the best resource every business – the people who work there.
In this issue we also asked a small group in independent retailers from across the country to answer two apparently straightforward questions about their experiences over the past year or so. We asked them: what have you learned from the pandemic, both as a businessperson and as a human person; and how has it changed your business, your approach to business and how you see its future?
The answers they gave are worth reading. In many cases, they are downright inspirational. They also reminded me that this industry is populated with many fine human beings. I hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as I enjoyed writing it.