By David McMahon on 5/9/2021

See how retailers can use CXM to automate sales and service processes. It uses automation triggers to save time and produce meaningful results quicker.

In the March/April 2021 issue of Furniture World, the concept of Customer eXperience Management (CXM) was introduced. CXM can help retail furniture stores better manage leads, and improve systems and processes to increase employee productivity, as well as boost metrics such as close rates and average sales. In that article, an example was given of how a typical non-physical lead journey can work to produce increased sales and happier customers and salespeople. This installment will continue with examples of how CXM works by focusing on lead management workflows that benefit your retail operation.

CXM Workflow: Appointments

Lead Managers working in formal business development centers, or BDCs, are tasked with supplying salespeople with a steady stream of warmed-up and qualified customers. One goal for lead managers is to schedule customer appointments with sales and design associates. The purpose is to get both customers and salespeople to commit to providing a valuable resource—their time. Commitment to appointments sets hot leads apart from semi-serious leads. Here is a possible workflow process:

  • Step #1. Booking: Book the appointment on a digital calendar. You cannot count on customers or salespeople to write down and remember all their appointments.
  • Step #2. Automated message: . Send an automated thank you message (text and email) with the time and date agreed upon. In the message, let each customer know how to prepare for the best in-store experience. For example, pictures of their room, existing furniture and accessories, measurements, and samples of styles they like. Perhaps even include a short survey. This pre-work can really move the process along.

You might be thinking that this is a lot of time-consuming preparation. Also, you may not be confident that your employees will do this in an efficient manner and say the right things. My answer is that you are right! That is why you need to rely on good CXM systems and processes. Start by preparing message templates for salespeople to use. These professional communications can be automatically triggered. CXM moves customers along their journey and relies less on salespeople and sales support performing every small task along the way. It helps them to consistently do their work exceptionally well. So, once steps #1 and #2 above are completed, here’s what’s next.

 To be efficient, communications need to be simple and frequent—an automatic process that does not hold the organization back in terms of workload.
  • Step #3. Reminder Call: After a salesperson is assigned the lead, a reminder call can be triggered so everyone can be better prepared for a successful conclusion of a face-to-face or virtual appointment.
  • Step #4. Pre-work for the salesperson/designer: Salespeople should review all information received from the lead manager and customer,, so that they can better understand the situation and focus in on appropriate options. For example, a welcome gift might be appropriate. Knowing in advance if a shopper would like to be served coffee, beer or wine can provide an unexpected and welcome surprise.
  • Step #5. In-store visit: If you’ve prepared properly, your salespeople will be miles ahead already. You will find that as they progress through your regular selling system, the process will progress smoother with these warmed up and committed customers.
  • Step #6. The outcome: most of the time, leads handled this way will turn into sales. But sometimes they will require additional follow-up, like house calls that achieve high close rates. Either way, good CXM processes branch off from here.
  • Step #7. New order: When a sale is made, a new order follow-up workflow should be initiated.
  • Step #8. Other follow up: If a house call appointment is made or some other follow-up is agreed upon, a similar process of scheduling on the calendar continues.

CXM Workflow: Sale Made

Two types of workflows occur after a sale is made. Either the merchandise needs a PO sent to the vendor or the inventory required is in stock. Either way, if you want to deliver the best customer experience you need to keep in touch with customers through the entire fulfillment process. This is especially true with special order items. Customers deserve to be contacted frequently even if there is nothing new to report. Think of good reasons to keep in touch via text, email or with a call.

The first contact should be a thank you and perhaps a review. This can be followed up with either a delivery or pick-up reminder, or in the case of special order, a message that the vendor received the order, for example. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: if you spent several thousand dollars and received only a promise, would you rather be contacted more often or not at all? Retailers receive a significant number of order status requests from customers who are, especially now, waiting a long time for delivery.

This volume of status requests tends to interrupt employees, who may feel overburdened and less able to perform other important job duties. To avoid this situation, retailers need to follow-up routinely and often. Look to automation. CXM involves setting triggers that automate follow up and reminders to follow-up.

Other examples of special order follow-up messages that can be sent to customers are:

  • Merchandise is scheduled for production
  • Merchandise is in production
  • Near completion
  • Factory to schedule shipping
  • Factory shipped
  • Merchandise received at our warehouse and delivery or pick-up date suggested

Once delivery is complete, post- delivery calls or messaging is important. And CXM does not stop there—it continues on, hopefully guiding the customer into future purchases.

No Sale, Follow-Up Required

This third workflow example occurs when neither an appointment or sale is made. If a salesperson or lead manager collects a customer’s information, a foolproof system to ensure follow-up needs to be put in place. When retailers do this properly, virtual or physical leads will build up.

A retailer who wants to maximize sales volume and its reputation in the community can’t drop the ball on qualified leads. Automate a thank you message immediately after the interaction allowing for these messages to be customized to include any necessary details such as a request for additional information to move the prospect along in their purchase journey. You do not want them to shop at another store that has better follow-up, right? Of course not. Your goal should be to keep the conversation going until an appointment or an in-store visit is made, leading to the scenario of a likely sale.

Customer Service Issue

There are countless ways CXM can improve an organization. I will present one more in this article. Customer eXperience Management can be used to streamline customer service issue resolution.

A request for customer service often starts with a call from a customer who has a problem. Unfortunately, the employee on the receiving end of the call is rarely prepared to resolve the issue and needs to get back to the customer later. This is inefficient and a time waster.

These service complaints can pile up. Do not expect your employees to develop their own perfectly organized systems, software, and processes. It is management’s responsibility to continually improve business processes so employees have clear paths to follow.

A great way to do this and provide a better experience for your customers is to create a service form on your website. This form can be filled out by either customers or employees. Why a form? Because in nice little boxes it records the necessary information needed to diagnose a problem and find the best solution as quickly as possible. With good CXM, the form will automatically create a ticket and email it to the people who are tasked with managing and resolving the issue.

This ticket acts in a way that’s similar to how customer leads are sent to salespeople. With service though, the desired outcome is a satisfied customer and productive employees. At the same time a virtual ticket is created, the service manager is notified and the customer gets a message letting them know about the next steps. Based on the information received, the service manager can respond fast. This response could be an immediate resolution, sending a tech or ordering a part, referring to the accident protection company, or getting additional information. In any case, the customer is in the loop and in most cases their issue is managed better.

Other CXM Workflows

There are many other ways to organize a CXM to improve customer experiences. Here is a short list:

  • Accident protection purchase reminder
  • Next purchase ideas
  • Related item follow-up
  • Anniversary of last purchase
  • Birthday gift
  • Social media lead generation for lead forms
  • Chat lead generation
  • In-store digital ‘register to win’ forms
  • Quote follow-up
  • Past purchase follow-up
  • Vendor communication tracking
  • Internal education and learning management

Unlimited CXM Possibilities

To sum things up, Customer eXperience Management helps organizations by improving processes, which always equals better outcomes for both businesses and customers. CXM helps customers move more effectively and efficiently through their shopping journey.

This includes selling processes for both non-physical and physical operations such as managing sales before merchandise delivery, purchase follow-up and delivery scheduling. CXM can also be used to enhance the journey with respect to service issue resolution or marketing to attract new customers. Not only does it create better word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing through your customers’ networks, it allows you to create automated, relevant and customized touchpoints for another purchase down the road.

The automation is released by triggers to save employee time and produce meaningful results quicker. Finally, the added benefit of well designed CXM systems and processes is that you can integrate and add more horsepower to your other systems such as your POS system, Podium, Dispatch Track, in-store traffic counters and website partners. Tying this all together provides a powerful customer facing solution for your business.

Next Steps

If you are intrigued by the possibilities of CXM I recommend that you:

  • Review your current processes with regards to just one area of your business to start, for example, lead management.
  • Next, follow the chain of events and then ask, “Are we delivering the best customer experience in our market or are we trying to make people happy?” Furthermore, ask, “Are we efficient with our time?”
  • Then finally, seek out the best processes, systems, and people to continually develop Customer eXperience Management.

About David McMahon: David McMahon is founder of PerformNOW Inc.  PerformNOW has three main products that help home furnishings businesses improve and innovate: Performance Groups (Owners, Sales managers, Operations), PerformNOW CXM (Customer eXperience Management systems and processes), Furniture business consulting.  Your can reach David at

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 151 NO.2 March/April

By David McMahon on 3/20/2021

Here is a tool that will help you to grow your furniture business and outperform competitors large and small.

One of the biggest opportunities for home furnishing businesses is developing Customer eXperience Management (CXM). To help you understand what piqued my interest in CXM, let’s start with a story. It begins with the COVID shutdown in the U.S. when almost every state shuttered so-called non-essential retail, a category that included most furniture stores.

Operations approached this closure in different ways. Some businesses decided to completely close. Others decided to shut the front doors of their physical stores. Many completely ceased operations— laid off employees and even posted website messages that they were not open at this time.

Lead Managers working in formal business development centers or BDCs provide salespeople with a steady stream of warmed up and qualified customers.

More consumers were brought into the market for home furnishings because of COVID. It has been the best promotion ever for our industry. Operations now find themselves short of resources—namely people and inventory. But unbelievably, overall, retailers are more reactionary then ever—drifting back to their old ways of doing things—focusing mostly on physical store traffic. There is enough customer traffic, so why change anything, right? My response: Businesses need to improve now because this uplift in business will come to an end.

Some Say They are Crazy

That said, there are retailers who are refining their systems and processes and are getting even better results. Some stores have decided not to re-open their physical front doors for public walk ins in the old way, even though they are allowed to do so. Many would say, this is crazy! Well maybe – maybe not. I know of cases where similar or better results are being produced from appointment only operations. How can this be? It’s because appointment customers’ close rates are much higher than the approximate 25 percent the furniture industry was stuck at for many years. Now, there are stores getting double that number. At the same time average sale for appointment business is also much higher. The silver lining is that fewer salespeople are needed because they are more effective with their traffic.

An appointment-only strategy is not for everyone. However, by developing Customer eXperience Management (CXM) and professionally handling leads, retailers can get better sales due to higher close rates and higher average sale. The main goal here is to handle leads in a proper fashion to produce appointments. With this system, Lead Managers working in formal business development centers or BDC’s provide salespeople with a steady stream of warmed up and qualified customers.

Why CXM is Important

So, what is CXM and why is it important? It’s a customer-focused process that delivers effective and efficient business communications to customers. To be effective, communications must “say” the right things and get the right results at the right times. To be efficient, communications need to be simple and often automatic, not holding the organization back in terms of workload.

CXM should span the customer’s entire journey and beyond: from the time of initial contact with a prospect, to making a written sale, then through the often several months it takes to get the sale delivered, and finally, inspiring a next purchase. Keeping in touch with customers at the right times with the right messages is at the core of good CXM. It keeps your customer close by providing exceptional value throughout their experience with you. Done right, it makes you better than your competition and sets you apart in your marketplace.

CXM done well makes retail owners, managers and salespeople more productive. It does the same for your customers. In fact, the main purpose of CXM is to build more customers, for life!

To be efficient, communications need to be simple and often an automatic process that does not hold the organization back in terms of workload.

CXM Challenges

If CXM was easy to implement, everybody would be doing it equally well. Let’s explore the challenges and the ways home furnishings retailers can get past them. As was mentioned, furniture retailers do a good job of handling physical, in-store traffic. Non-physical leads, however, are generally non systematized. For example, if a telephone call from a prospect comes in, whomever answers it will likely handle it quickly and fail to ask them for information /qualify them. The result is that the retailer can’t track if that caller subsequently visits the store, let alone buys. This is a missed opportunity that results in wasted lead traffic and underperforming sales.

A big challenge for many retailers is that shoppers communicate in a whole bunch of different ways. They use chat, telephone, text, email, Facebook… you name it! And, retailers don’t have a good system that ties all this incoming information together. Another problem for many furniture retailers is that they fail to take a proactive approach that leads every customer towards the best solution, which is buying the right furniture, mattresses, accessories and protection plans!

Managing Better

Improving processes, systems and how they work together equals better outcomes. Retailers have achieved 100 percent increases in close rate, and 100 percent increases in average sale, by capturing incremental business with CXM. Another big benefit is that the improved service experience leads to happier customers. This in turn generates better word-of-mouth messaging—the best advertising in the world. When you become more remarkable through better CXM (at least better than your competition) you will get more free advertising in your community.

The Big Picture

The solution to lots of the problems furniture retailers have is complete customer experience management. Complete means that it is all-encompassing. CXM is an integrated set of all customer related communication systems and processes, including ERPs, and tools like Podium and DispatchTrack. Also, text, email, chat, service ticketing and telephone calls. All this should be integrated in one common area which allows for transparency across an organization and elevates the customer experience. It’s similar to CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I call it CXM because the eXperience and the customer journey encompasses more than traditional CRM.

Problem Solving

CXM helps solve common issues such as open sales follow up. With lead times extending well beyond the pre-pandemic norm, retailers’ open sales files have ballooned. Follow-up has been a challenge to say the least. Who are the people that have to do the most follow up? The best salespeople, of course! And, they are the ones with the least amount of time. CXM should be geared toward helping salespeople focus on the most important tasks— to keep their customers happy and help them buy more often. This can be done through process and workflows that are predefined and automated to some degree. Here is one example of better CXM processes (in the second part of this article more examples of better CXM will be presented).

Non-Physical Lead Journey

When leads come in via a telephone call, webchat, survey, SMS, email, or other non-physical way, retailers need to channel the conversation in a desired direction. First, a connection needs to be made with the customer by gaining an understanding of their reason for calling. As with in-store traffic, a series of questions should be asked, such as: “What room are you working on? What do you like about your room? What don’t you like about your room? Who is using the room?” Let’s say a customer makes contact through phone, mail or chat, to inquire if you have recliners in stock. It’s easy to see that the worst result will come from responding with some version of, “Yes, please come on in and make sure to ask for me, my name is Joe.” Then hang up. Unfortunately, that is often the standard reply, especially for busy employees. Instead, CXM systems can be geared towards making a real connection. Once that happens there are three possible outcomes:

  • A sale.
  • An appointment is made.
  • Some agreed upon follow up results.

Systems define outcomes! Each of these three outcomes, when handled with CXM systems, can trigger automatic workflows making it much more likely that the person who called, emailed, or used a website chat feature will have a positive experience and make a purchase.

Next Issue

Part two of this article, will examine the lead management process in more detail. It will also provide more examples of better CXM and present ideas for effective implementation strategies. To sum things up for now, CXM helps the customer move more effectively and efficiently through their retail journey. It helps organizations improve processes, which always leads to better outcomes for retailers and their customers.

By David McMahon on 1/22/2021

Manage your retail furniture store pipeline in these chaotic times to avoid cash crunches that are likely to plague home furnishings retailers.

We’ve all seen that the pandemic has altered customers’ normal buying patterns, causing major disruptions in the supply chain for home furnishings. Written sales have outpaced delivered sales. The result is a growing backlog of customer open orders, growing lead times and record levels of customer deposits.

Frustrated customers who have waited longer for their deliveries are canceling at higher than normal rates for some retailers. This rise, combined with accelerated inventory arrivals—as the supply chain returns to normal—has the potential to strain cash flow for those retailers who are unprepared. Even customer tagged orders for which deposits have mostly been paid upfront are cause for concern as payments for newly arrived product will outpace customer payments. Should a slowdown in written business occur at the same time as an influx of inventory and cancellations, cash could quickly become very tight.

You can avoid this scenario by adopting the following twelve practices.

  1. Understand your sales and inventory pipeline.Your pipeline is your work in process made up of sales that are not completed and inventory that has yet to be delivered.To fully understand your cash situation, I suggest you start by taking a close look at three important metrics:Retailers are finding that their top salespeople may not have time to adequately serve new customers while continuing to follow up with their pipeline of open orders.
    • Open sales by salesperson. It makes sense that your top performers will have the largest backlogs. When a salesperson who normally manages a certain number of undelivered customer projects has to manage a continually increasing amount of work in process, resources may be strained and something eventually may have to give.• Percent deposits and how much will be owed on customer orders.Tracking this information will give you an idea of how much cash will be collectible and available to pay for incoming inventory invoices.• Purchase order aging with expected cash requirements. Estimate when customer and stock orders will arrive as well as the landed cost of that freight. This will help with cash flow planning. Predict the dollar amount of these orders expected to arrive in 30-day future aging increments.
  2. Communicate anticipated delivery times clearly and truthfully, upfront.Find out if your customers are willing to wait for custom ordered items to be produced. If customization is important to them, be honest about anticipated lead times. No retailer wants to tell customers there is a six-month waiting period for delivery, but it’s best to tell the truth and let them decide. If they don’t want to wait, they may have to settle for items in stock or already on order that you can let go.
  3. Get store staffing right for sales and sales support.As mentioned previously, hefty lead times combined with increased written business has resulted in large open order files, especially for the most productive salespeople. In pre-pandemic times, many retailers expected salespeople to follow up with their customers regarding open orders. Now, this has become a double-edged sword. Retailers are finding that top salespeople may not have time to adequately serve new customers while continuing to follow up with their pipeline of open orders. It is, therefore, important to make sure that adequate staffing is available to serve new prospects as well as customers waiting for delivery.
  4. Follow up even if there is nothing new to report.Even if your sales and design associates do a good job of managing customer expectations up front regarding expected delivery times, they still need to provide customers with routine status updates. Furniture is one of the largest purchases consumers make. They need to be handheld through the process, even if there is nothing new to report. How often should you follow up? Right now, I’m seeing that most retailers follow up with customers as often as every two weeks and as little as never. It’s best to follow up at least monthly.Your vendors’ supply chains have become more expensive and the costs must be passed on for these essential partners to stay in business.
    • Your first follow up can be as simple as a “thank you.“• You next follow-up can be, “our manufacturer has “scheduled your furniture for production.“• Then it may be, “your furniture is in production“ or “being custom crafted for you.“Take customers through the production process so they feel a part of it. Use visuals if appropriate. Help them to eagerly anticipate the arrival and value their home furnishings so they don’t even think about canceling.
  5. Put automated systems and processes in place.It can be time consuming for retailers to accomplish a high level of routine customer follow-up. Defining systems and processes to make reaching out to large numbers of customers in a short amount of time through technical automation will help you to do better with the resources you have. Customers can be updated on their order status faster through the use of email, text and web forms. Make it easy for them to return messages. This will avoid frustration if they have a question or request. The personal touch of a telephone call can be valuable, but the reality is that phone calls can interrupt busy sales associates and result in time-wasting telephone tag. Instead, consider sending what you have to say, in short, systematic, pre-built electronic messages.
  6. Follow up with customers by exception, as well.Because of changing lead times and supply shortage issues, there will be times when something outside the expected occurs. For example, a situation such as a fabric becoming unavailable or a shipping delay should trigger exception follow-up. Communication between your purchasing staff, vendors, salespeople and/or sales support needs to be effective so that customers are informed of these situations ASAP. Exceptions must take priority. Put a standard practice in place regarding how options and solutions are discussed with customers. Your entire team must approach these situations in a consistent and professional manner.
  7. Define your strategy for handling cancellations.In the months that go by while customers wait for delivery, events may occur that change their initial decision to purchase. A customer may simply be tired of waiting, or a life-changing event such as job loss or a health issue may have occurred. Whatever the reason, retailers have to decide what their policy will be when a cancellation is likely. I am not going to tell you what is right or wrong, however, here are some options:In the months that go by while customers wait for delivery, events may occur that change their initial decision to purchase. A customer may simply be tired of waiting, or a life-changing event such as job loss or a health issue may have occurred.
    • Buy the customer a gift certificate to spend at their favorite local restaurant as an expression of gratitude to keep their order.• Charge a restocking fee for the cancellation.• Switch the on-order merchandise for something else they can get immediately from stock, or from sooner to be delivered items.• Give them the option to finance their entire ticket so they can make “affordable low monthly payments“ instead of putting down a large amount of cash upfront.• Allow the customer to cancel and apply their money as a credit on account.• Cancel their order, refund their money, and make the stock available for another customer. This treats the cancellation as an opportunity. You might be able to make two customers happy: one who gets their money back, and another who gets merchandise faster than expected.
  8. Weigh stocking vs special order models.If you feel that an increasing portion of your customers are looking for speed of delivery over customization it is worth looking at your merchandise line-up. Decide what you can back-up with stock and which custom options you might drop. After doing this, if you feel there are merchandise line-up holes, you might need to grow a particular vendor and/or find new sources of supply. The important thing is to get in the habit of constantly evaluating your product mix with respect to what your customers are telling you with their words and their wallets.
  9. Price your products appropriately.Availability sells at a premium and those customers who want custom options will pay for them. If you wait to price properly you will end up losing margin and profitability. Your vendors’ supply chains have become more expensive and the costs must be passed on for these essential partners to stay in business.
  10. Order quickly and pay vendors promptly.You should not hang on to orders for more than one day. Order every day, even if that means ordering smaller quantities. This may get you in-line for delivery with some vendors sooner. Ensure that your purchasing staff understands how each of your vendors’ production fulfillment works. And, pay immediately upon invoicing! Do not even wait one day. This will help keep your credit with them healthy and allow for a measure of safety if ever needed in the future.
  11. Communicate with vendors just like you follow up with customers.No matter what the size of your business, follow up with vendors routinely, systematically and exceptionally. This requires that you allocate the proper resources. And, don’t expect salespeople to do this! They need to focus on their customers. Keep on top of all acknowledgments. Enter realistic production and shipping days. Use realistic transport road days. Monitor these days and vendors to verify the timeline. Modify the timeline in your system where necessary. Communicate date exceptions to your sales team. If you believe in UPOD (Under Promise, Over Deliver) you can pad your days a bit. To make these processes more efficient, consider EDI systems to transmit and update your data quicker.
  12. Flow inventory fast through your facility.You must get information from your vendors and freight companies about what is being shipped to you and for whom, at least a few days in advance. This allows you to get ahead of the workload so that received merchandise can flow faster through your facility. Cross dock, inspect and schedule sold items for delivery quickly. Likewise, display inventory should be identified and your merchandisers should be ready to place it on the showroom floor.Cross dock, inspect and schedule sold items for delivery quickly. Likewise, display inventory should be identified and your merchandisers should be ready to place it on the showroom floor.
    Just like having the right number of people doing the right things on the front end, the back end needs to be able to fulfill quickly. Look for ways to communicate effectively with customers for time consuming tasks such as delivery scheduling, payment collection, and customer service work processing. Online system-integrated forms, email and text are all ways to get the job done faster and make a more favorable impression on your customers.


It is likely that supply chain issues will continue for sometime into 2021. In my opinion, these challenges will exist until demand goes back to pre-pandemic levels and the virus dissipates. This is an opportunity in disguise for retailers that embrace continuous improvement, become better at managing customer experiences to reduce cancellations and gain a leg up on their competition.

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 150 NO. 4 July/August

By David McMahon on 8/4/2020

The new front door was not invented during the pandemic; however, it has become critically important for furniture retailers over the past few months.

COVID or not, it is well known that the customer’s purchasing journey most often starts before going into a physical location. In the May/June issue of Furniture World ( we characterized this as the “New Front Door.”

Lead Traffic

Because consumers are spending much more time in their homes, many home furnishings retailers have seen increases in lead traffic. It comes from multiple sources, including email, telephone, social media, as well as text, chat, video, website triggers and in-store traffic. Some businesses have become hard pressed to handle this increase due to compromised human resources and outdated processes. It is also true that even before the crisis, furniture retailers were mostly not up to the task of handling even a smaller amount of non-physical customer engagements properly. This retail condition is not anyone’s fault. It is a classic case of retailers doing things the same way as always because those things “kinda” worked.

Better management of all lead traffic is a sizable opportunity in retail. In this article I will discuss the customer journey, challenges retailers face, and explore ways to better manage the process so that Furniture World readers can achieve higher sales volumes and more satisfied customers.


The challenge starts with the fact that retailers use a variety of marketing methods to attract customers. These methods include traditional ads—for example, TV, print, Facebook and Instagram—plus search ads, email marketing, and a variety of website plug-ins. Then, when customers like what they see, or are just “in-the-market,” they will either transact online or attempt to reach out to retailers using the methods that they are most comfortable with. These include phone calls, emails and text chats.

That all sounds great in theory, but there are common difficulties.

Retailers that rely to a large degree on their brick and mortar business generally do not have business models and processes in place to handle non-physical customer leads. Their processes are entirely built upon salespeople “taking an up” once shoppers enter the building. Inquiries received via retailers’ “new front door” are not counted as “real” leads and are even seen as an interruption by some.

Even though leads received through this “new front door” signal the start of a customer’s journey, and her engagement with a retailer’s marketing, these engagements are often mismanaged. Here is an example of a typical interaction:

  • A prospect calls the retailer.
  • The prospect hears an auto message asking them to press a number, or any staff member who is free at that moment answers the call.
  • If the first person who talks to the customer is not in “the sales department” he or she places the customer on hold while a salesperson is paged, or they try to muddle their way though the call.
  • Once a salesperson is located, the prospect asks a question and then receives a short answer from the salesperson. There is little attempt to understand the customer’s situation. If the retail store is busy, the salesperson cannot take the necessary time to even record the prospect’s name, contact method or where they live.
  • Call ended. The lead is not recorded. There is no possibility of follow up. The store does not find out what happened to the prospect— if they visited the store or if they made a purchase.

The same issues also occur with email inquiries, chat, and text. The main difference is that with written communications, stores often respond with poor spelling and bad grammar. Across the board there is a lack of attention, qualifying, tracking and follow up.

The Opportunity

If you agree that there is an opportunity to improve the way you handle these kinds of customer inquiries, look at your processes and people. The first question to ask is “Exactly what is it worth overall for your organization to improve your lead management process?”

Terms like digital salesperson, internet salesperson and phone operator understate the importance of the function and what retailers are trying to accomplish.

Running through the numbers for a store we will call XYZ Furniture, let’s assume:

  • The typical close rate for XYZ Furniture’s physical store is 30 percent. (This usually varies between 15-40 percent).
  • The typical average sale for XYZ Furniture’s physical store is $1,800. (This can range between $500 and$5,000).

Using the formula…

Monthly Leads x Close Rate Increase x Average Sale Increase x 12 months = Annual Sales Opportunity

… we see that 100 extra leads in the store is worth $54,000 per month or $648,000 per year in extra sales (100 leads x .3 close rate x $1,800 x 12 months).

However, if I stated that this was the limit of the opportunity of improved customer journey management, I would be wrong. That’s because better lead management also produces higher close rates and higher average sales. This has been proven over the past few months by the many stores that operated via appointment during and after physical shutdowns. Close rates from well-managed non-physical leads range from 60-100 percent with average sale increases of hundreds of dollars. Extrapolating on the opportunity of 100 leads per month using these assumptions, the revised calculations for sales growth using the formula above can be calculated as follows:

One hundred extra leads in the store at a 70 percent close rate and $2,000 average sale equals $140,000 in sales per month or $1,680,000 per year in additional business.

Making it Happen

Any innovation starts with a new way of thinking. The process of organizational change needs to be accepted. Here are some new ways of thinking that can help you manage your customer journey to capitalize on incoming leads.

  1. Change terminology.Terms like digital salesperson, internet salesperson and phone operator understate the importance of the function and what retailers are trying to accomplish. My suggestion is to reclassify them under the banner of Customer Journey Management or Customer Lead Management. I have witnessed showroom salespeople who believe that internet sales are in direct competition to their retail in-store sales. The reality is that journey management done right supports revenue for the entire organization.
  2. Put one person in charge.Give them a title. The title might be Director of Customer Journey, Prospect Manager or Head Lead Manager. If many people are responsible for handling incoming (non-physical) leads, the reality is that no one will ultimately be responsible, therefore, fielding those leads will be less systematic and less effective.
  3. Define your systems and processes.The best retail operations have defined selling systems already in place for handling in-store traffic. Processes should be developed and put in place for nonphysical leads as well. Systems define outcomes so, when defining your lead management systems, consider the best outcomes for nonphysical leads. To me, that means converting a high proportion of incoming leads into sales of larger average tickets, while at the same time delivering top customer experiences. If you are on board with this, you will want one of the following four outcomes for an incoming lead:From this data, you will be able to see metrics such as traffic by lead type, revenue per lead, sales by appointment type, success rate of lead managers and sales associates.
    • An immediate sale• An in-store appointment scheduled with an associate• An appointment scheduled virtually• An appointment scheduled in the customer’s homeYour systems and processes define your sales funnel, much like natural gas being directed to homes. Upon entering the funnel your leads need to be managed in a defined way. When they exit the funnel they should move in a desired, organized direction. This results in less waste. “The gas does not spill.” Instead, the flow is controlled and moved along. Here is a summary of how the lead process may work:• Lead (calls, chats, emails, texts, messages, web forms) enter the funnel.• Customer inquiries are answered by the leads manager and/or dedicated staff that reports to the lead manager. If for some reason the lead management staff is not available, information can be taken for a same-day response. Lead managers and lead associates should be as knowledgeable about your products and selling systems as any other salesperson in your organization. Designated salespeople who normally handle walk-in traffic can also take these incoming leads provided they are trained and monitored and follow processes as directed by the lead manager.• Customer leads need to be managed in a uniform way, similar to the following five common in-person retail selling systems steps.i)    Start a conversation. Start with an approved greeting. Get all their information including name, where they live and contact information for follow up.ii)    Understand the situation. Ask the right questions and collect all the information necessary (pictures and video are great).iii)    Propose a solution. Solutions include an immediate purchase, a scheduled in-store appointment during the week, a scheduled virtual appointment or a scheduled appointment in the customer’s home. Note that in-store appointments should be transitioned from the lead manager to a sales associate or a designer of the sales manager’s choosing. All appointments should be hard-scheduled with an accepted calendar invite!iv)    Conclude the sale. Get the right merchandise and services booked for the customer.v)    Follow up. Follow up with the customer during the entire process at scheduled touch points.
  4. Be ready for in-store or virtual appointments.Appointments are similar in many ways to making house calls in that sales or design associate preparation is critical. Ensure that they are prepared by having an understanding of the customer’s situation before the appointment. Have pictures, know how the room will be used and by whom (pets, children, number of people), ask about style/color preferences, when the merchandise is desired (custom and in stock), know budget and preference for financing (so approvals can be processed), even create sample room plans in advance. Treat in-store appointments as a VIP experience: think welcome package. Be Ready for Success!
  5. Track the lead process.Either use your ERP or a CRM as the hub of your process. This will enable task management and a central place to store notes. Control the pipeline of multiple leads through this “funneling” process. You can use various methods and platforms to communicate with prospects, but the interactions and tracking are best recorded in a central hub-like system. For example, if a chat comes in, it is recorded in the CRM or ERP hub. The appointment and follow-up are also recorded in the hub along with additional important information. Whether subsequent follow up happens via Facetime, in person, email, etc., all notes need to be maintained. This is a common work-in-process system. On its most basic level, the management system should track: To Do Tasks, Doing Tasks, and Done Tasks. By following this process, the management and tracking of information become an engine for growth.To generate a greater number of appointments and make your process as streamlined as possible, I recommend using a web based appointment system connected to your website and other sites (e.g., Instagram). This enables customers to book appointments with the desired sales associate at a time that suits all parties. Your manager can set the parameters of the available slots for sales designer associates. These systems help organize and make better use of everyone’s time.
  6. Metrics.Establish metrics for tracking the results of your lead management actions so you can achieve continuous improvement. Here are some metrics to consider tracking:a)    Non-physical leads and sourceb)    Who the lead was assigned toc)    Leads with customer information vs. no informationd)    Leads that result in a remote sale, an in-store appointment, a virtual appointment, no sale or a house calle)    Sales associate assigned to lead via appointmentf)    Results of appointments From this data you will be able to see metrics such as traffic by lead type, revenue per lead, sales by appointment type, success rate of lead managers and sales associates. You will also get an overall opinion of the value of managing your customer’s journey—starting with the real front door.
Upon entering the funnel your leads need to be managed in a defined way. When they exit the funnel they should move in a desired, organized direction. This results in less waste.


With any new process there are always people who say “What if this happens?” or “That won’t work because of…” I say, there are exceptions to everything. Don’t create your standard operating processes around exceptions. Don’t hurt your future by holding on to the past. Move toward where you want to go. You will have a much better chance of getting there.

It is a fact that customers engage with businesses prior to showing up physically. This was true before COVID, it has been greatly expanded by COVID and it will continue to be the norm after COVID. My advice is to constantly improve upon systems and processes for managing your customer’s journey and ask the question: “How am I going to better manage leads though my pipeline and into my funnel?” For my part, I will continue to develop systems and processes for our industry and report my findings and suggestions in follow-up articles for Furniture World to help you maximize your potential and your customers’ experience.

In recent months our customers have spent more time at home than ever before. This has caused a demand spike for merchandise and services related to working at home. Grocery, home entertainment, home fitness, hardware, comfort clothing, building supplies, home spas, electronics, appliances, and home furnishings have benefited.

Thus far into this crisis, home furnishings retail has been a recipient of a diversion of consumer disposable income. How long this will last is uncertain. In my opinion, spending on furnishings is fragile. Unlike the home entertainment industry (video streaming, gaming), there is little that our industry has done to stimulate long-term demand. Likely, our consumers will continue to spend more on their homes until either their lives return to a more normal pre-pandemic lifestyle or their spending power diminishes. If demand falls off, some regions will be affected more than others, as happened in the recession that began in 2008. At that point, businesses that weather current challenges well will likely continue to prosper—similar to the most recent recovery period we experienced from 2010 until 2019.

Demand Vs. Supply

Shifts in demand are fairly common, the result of wars, natural disasters, man-made environmental problems, terrorism, and other unfortunate circumstances. These can cause the demand curve to move “to the right,” or increase, in some industries and “to the left” or decrease, in others. Generally, a sudden event causes more (or fewer) consumers to be in the market for certain goods. Following April 2020 we’ve seen the home furnishings demand curve move to the right, while the airline travel demand curve moved to the left. With these sudden shifts, shortages and excess supply occur. I believe that the demand curve for furniture is more price inelastic right now. That means that consumer buying behaviors are influenced less by price and more by availability. As home furnishings product shortages have occurred, more consumers have been willing to pay more for home goods.


The two biggest challenges facing retailers right now are product and people shortages.

Product shortages have resulted from factory shutdowns, unavailable factory workers and supply chain disruptions.

Prior to the pandemic, when unemployment was at historic lows, finding and developing quality people was a top challenge. This situation has gone from bad to worse as fear of COVID-19 infection, increased unemployment benefits, low retail wages, and the perceived undesirability taking some retail furniture store jobs have made workers scarce.

Doing More With Less

Let’s examine a number of practices that can help you to weather the storm by doing more with less.

  1. Buy deep vs broad.With a smoothly flowing supply chain, a just-in-time, inventory replenishment strategy works well. You could buy “broadly” across all your merchandise categories and replenishing only when needed. However, with the erratic supply, all bets are off. The best bet may be to buy “deeper” across your very best SKUs. If you follow this strategy, ensure you have proven data on which items your customers want now. This strategy could backfire on you if you invest in untested product.
  2. Err on the side of over-inventory.Greater lead times equate to higher inventory levels. If your cash situation and warehouse capacity are such that you can carry a greater inventory percent to your sales volume than normal—you should do so provided you are buying the right merchandise. Do not make the mistake of over-investing in new product.Consumer buying behaviors are influenced less right now by price and more by availability.
  3. Separate product into these two categories.Customers and salespeople will benefit from knowing what items are available today—either floor samples or product in your warehouse (the “available now” category). Customers who want something customized, or a fresh item (the “factory order” category) may choose a factory order subject to available production lead times. Ensure that after your greeting, you understand your customers’ reasonable timeline.For customers who choose to order new from the factory, be clear about lead times. Avoid giving delivery date ranges. To under promise and over deliver (UPOD) is generally a better practice. Instead of saying, “It’s going to be eight-ten weeks,” say, “Due to the current situation, to manufacture these new items for you, completion is maybe greater than two months.” You may also want to add a third product segment, “on-order” available to reserve.
  4. Continue selling after the sale.The sale begins when you write up a ticket, but that should not be the end. Whether you made an available-now sale or a new factory order, follow-up multiple times and re-sell. (Three proactive follow-ups at the minimum). To save everyone’s time, call your customers before they call you.
  5. Rethink markdown pricing.If you have a limited amount of inventory available to take home now, consider selling “drop” items (undamaged and visually like-new) at regular margins. Place a “take me home today” price tag on these items. Price, especially in an environment of product scarcity, is not the biggest factor with respect to consumer purchasing decisions.
  6. Seek balance in your vendor relationships.When the pandemic hit, some vendors were able to react fast, recalibrate their operations and ramp up production. Many have been struggling to react to the change in demand while keeping their workers safe. Everyone has been disrupted. It is more important than ever to focus on building quality relationships while at the same time cultivating new sources of supply. Unless you have a branded store, relying too heavily on one vendor may be risky. Not being important enough to any one vendor is also risky. Seek balance. Some domestic and regional vendors have been reliable in this current environment.
  7. Focus on appointment selling.Appointments between salespeople and customers allow for better use of the ultimate scarce resource— time. Whether an appointment is at a customer’s home or, better yet, in the store, both customer and salesperson should focus on accomplishing a result within a defined period, for example, one hour. Done right, appointments take fewer people and less time to produce a given sales volume. A number of stores have made the decision not to reopen their retail floors in pre-pandemic fashion. Instead, they’ve decided to continue to operate by appointment only.
  8. Guide your in-store traffic more efficiently.For those of you who believe that conducting business by appointment only is too radical a step for a brick and mortar furniture retailer, work to better control floor traffic. Continuous improvement in this area should be the goal of every showroom sales manager. To increase sales with fewer salesperson resources, managers must match customers to salespeople who are currently focused on other conversations. They must walk the fine line of moving salespeople between customers without causing frustration. Use technology to assist. Radios or app-enabled Bluetooth communication is necessary in most cases. Consider employing greeters (as opposed to CSRs) to direct customers to appropriate areas of the showroom if you often find yourself in open floor situations.
  9. Use price tags to tell a story.Price tags are not only about the price. They inform customers and remind salespeople about product and service options. Consider creating tags that show availability, additional product options, financing and services such as protection and delivery. With current technology it is simple to place a QR code on tags that link to product information, additional options and video. QR codes can even prompt a salesperson to come for assistance. This is already a reality in other industries, why not furniture?
  10. Direct virtual traffic more effectively.In the “New Front Door” article (July/August Furniture World), I explained how to capitalize on customer lead traffic. Doing this well helps you accomplish more with fewer people resources. Your objective should always be to make a meaningful connection with a prospect, then schedule a date and time to meet in-store. This way, your homework can be done in advance of a physical meeting, leading to a higher close rate, higher average sale and a happier customer.
  11. Leverage resources for follow-up.To do more with less, think about using automated emails, sending personalized text messages, and hiring staff whose sole purpose is to touch base with customers.
  12. Overstaff delivery and pay them well.In-home furniture delivery is a tough job. Arguably, compared to a UPS delivery person, furniture delivery is more physically and mentally demanding. Both compensation and staffing levels should be high enough to ensure that this vital function is performed well. Back-end DC positions are directly related to the speed of revenue in retail organizations.
  13. Practice LEAN internal merchandise flow.LEAN practices are now more important than ever. The nature of LEAN is to do more with less by constantly improving processes. Observe the ways in which you currently conduct activities such as receiving and delivery. Figure out what slows you down, then devise and document improved processes. If you can increase the throughput of merchandise via leaner activities, you make better use of your peoples’ time.
  14. Leverage technology for service issues.Reverse logistics, also known as “customer service problems after the sale,” can be time consuming and disruptive. A major strategy to do more with less is to control the work, rather than being controlled by the work. For example, using customer service technologies to make it easy for customers to enter their own warranty or protection claims on your website can enable a quicker and more productive response.
  15. Grow these two important close rates.Close rates from virtual leads and from in-store traffic are calculated as follows. They are indicators of your success at doing more with less.•    Virtual lead to in-store appointment close rate = # of virtual leads / in-store appointments produced.•    In-store close rate = # of visual traffic captured with door counter / # of sales. 
  16. Review options for outsourcing roles.Here is a list of some of the roles in a typical home furnishings operation that can be outsourced: traditional marketing, digital marketing, content development, CFO / financial operations / accounting, HR, payroll, customer service, warehouse / delivery and repair. Outsourced partners should be specialists and be able to adapt to your business model. As with employees, an outsourcing partner can be successful or unsuccessful depending on their level of commitment, skill, personality, and desire to do the work properly.


From the time that this crazy ride started, many of us are just hanging on. It is complicated. It is exhausting. Take a moment, slow it down, look at your business, and consider how you can do more with less. Be honest with your situation and be open to trying new practices that give your employees and customers what they want. If you try, you might just get what you need. Enjoy your ride through this storm; surf well, so that when you break on through to the other side, you are ahead of your competitors.

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 150 NO 3 May/June

By David McMahon on 6/6/2020

The source and the management of every door to your operation, both virtual and physical, are critical elements for retail business success going forward.

The transition to the new front door is complete. From here on, brick and mortar have become a component of retail in some business models, but it cannot be THE definition of retail. The new “front door” for retail home furnishings business has become the place where shoppers first engage.

Over the past three months, retailers all over North America, have observed a huge shift in consumer behavior. This two-part article will discuss this shift and make suggestions regarding how Furniture World readers can and should adapt their business models.

Retail Never Shut Down

Retail sales never shut down over the past few months even though the buildings operated by “non-essential” businesses such as furniture stores closed.

Many brick and mortar retailers reading this may find it hard to believe that shuttered furniture stores generated significant sales volume during this period. In fact, some omni-channel ready retailers that previously generated a majority of sales based on walk-in traffic managed to generate sales volumes approaching normal levels. This was only possible for operations that were already functioning effectively before COVID-19. These retailers had the ability to ratchet up the digital aspects of their business to adapt and compete with e-commerce retail giants like Wayfair, whose sales exploded during this period.

By contrast, I believe that too many furniture and bedding retailers made the worst possible decision in recent months by posting “we are closed” messages on their websites and putting similar communications on their automated email replies and telephone recordings.

The Biggest Mistake

Retail should NEVER be closed, provided that there remains some capacity for communicating with customers and vendors, ordering product and delivering goods. Businesses that decided to shut down their entire lead funnel, saw sales go to zero.

Business operations are machines that run best while warm. Even those that kept operations going with minimal delivery, sales and service are getting back up to speed with greater efficiency. We can all learn from those who managed to stay running during the darkest time of the pandemic. Those retailers that went “dark” are having more trouble restarting.

Lessons Learned

  1. Customers still wanted to connect with retailers during dark times.The challenges people experienced while sheltering in place, including homeschooling and working from home, created new needs for home furnishings. That’s a big reason why customers continued to reach out to retailers who communicated that they remained ready and able to help people improve their home environments.
  2. Retailers benefited by aligning with the right suppliers.Throughout this period vendors and retailers faced similar challenges. Both were forced to change business processes overnight and supply chains were disrupted. Retailers who anticipated this issue, and expanded their inventory of bestsellers, were and are better positioned to adapt to supply chain shortages. Likewise, retailers that aligned with fewer, more reliable vendors are now better able to return to profitability. Good vendor relationships have proven to enable the extension of credit during times of physical retail closure. When reconsidering suppliers to adapt to your current situation you may want to refer to a previous article in this series, “How to Choose the Right Supplier” from the January/February 2019 issue of furniture World found at
  3. Keeping key employees was a smart idea.Businesses that maintained their key managers and top performing sales and operations staff without a lay-off mostly managed to deliver and sell through this period. For a variety of reasons, at the time of this writing, many retailers are also in need of additional talent. Those that were not forced to furlough have fewer issues in talent acquisition. Some have chosen to give their people a bonus using forgivable PPP loan funds they have received.
  4. Doing the right thing was the right thing to do.During the current health crisis, many furniture retailers have extended support to front-line healthcare workers, leading to a heightened sense of community. Furniture and mattress businesses have donated product, time, even health supplies and equipment. They’ve also given gift cards to other local retailers hard hit by the pandemic. This created local goodwill for retailers who stayed engaged and involved locally, positioning them for a quicker rebound.
  5. Business process improvements made during the pandemic will yield big results.The pandemic accelerated the need for modifications to selling engagement systems, checkout processes, delivery, pick-up and service procedures. As well, owners and managers who kept their retail messaging current, plus accomplished tasks such as repricing, merchandising, training, and general organization, will be glad that they did.
  6. Retailers realized the benefits of peer support.Peer support has been critical to helping many companies navigate these challenging times. Our performance groups, for example, have met virtually, weekly, since the crisis emerged. The sharing of information about what has been working and how to deal with common challenges has drawn members closer together and, I believe, rescued several businesses.
  7. Appointment selling has become a powerful tool.“Appointment Selling” is the silver lining in this whole miserable experience. It is the one big competitive advantage that has emerged giving retailers with physical showrooms an advantage over the likes of Wayfair and Amazon. Retailers with both a physical and digital presence can let customers “test drive it before they buy it.” Sure, online-only retailers can provide 3D imaging and the ability to digitally insert items into photos of customer rooms, but that’s not the same experience. Appointment selling saves everyone time by matching a motivated buyer with a skilled salesperson or designer. Done well it helps shoppers make their purchase today — and remain satisfied tomorrow.Home living and sleep products are an essential product/service, especially in today’s stay-at-home economy, which is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic ways of living, business and travel any time soon. Appointment selling has allowed many retailers to safely do business with serious customers who need the essential service that home retail enables. Motivated buyers interacting with professional sellers of home goods have caused close rates to increase to between 60 and 100 percent. Along with this increase, average sales have grown, probably due a greater focus on helping consumers solve their needs in fewer visits.I see this trend continuing and I believe it should be tracked and marketed accordingly.
  8. Increased reliance on social networking.Facebook has become more powerful as retailers continue to rely on its unmatched social platform. Those retailers that cultivated an established following prior to the crisis have been able to successfully introduce appointments, auctions, and videos to generate business.
  9. Digital marketing has taken over.Digital marketing has taken over from traditional media as the dominant consumer-facing media in retail. Over the years, I have joked with retailers that if they ever wanted to know which media really works, they could shut everything off except for one media type and see what happens. During this crisis, this is exactly what many operations did. They shut down all but select digital media. The result for many was that the returns on ad spend went up considerably. In some markets, however, for retailers with a history of broadcasting niche-style messages over traditional media, increased impact was achieved among people who were stuck at home in front of the TV.
  10. Lead management should be tracked from the source.Portals such as PodiumPerq, Chat, and the good-ole telephone are now being described as “the new front door.” This is where the journey or first connection between customers and retailers occurs. This first contact is where retailers should register their “up.” Prior to the crisis, and even now, “traffic” meant shoppers entering through a physical doorway. Retailers are pretty good at measuring physical door (last door) swings, The “first door” most actually enter through (website engagement, chat, telephone) has been haphazardly monitored by most. The revelation here about the “new front door” is that the source and management of all doors, virtual and physical, has become a critical element for businesses going forward. Furnishings retailers must, therefore, develop systems processes for shoppers who enter through any door by using “Customer Journey Management.” This is the term I use for walking the customer through the various stages of a purchasing system. For retail home furnishings, this encompasses more than CRM (customer relationship management) due to the unique characteristics of buying and delivering home furnishings.

Next Issue

The next article in this series will explore the connections between “Customer Journey Management,” “Appointment Selling” and “The New Front Door” to look at how you can take advantage of a paradigm shift that has occurred in retail. Until then, remember that an omnichannel retailer, a truly essential retailer, is never closed. Don’t go dark, ever.

The below article is based on a study I did a couple of years ago. It is mostly valid today.

By David McMahon

Improvement starts with awareness and desire.  The awareness of how you are performing against standards allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses.  It is through the measurement against these standards, or metrics, that you can find your gaps.  Knowing your gaps and then having the desire to create a strategy and act upon an improvement plan is what separates average and top business managers.

For the good of the industry and to assist home furnishing retailers in improving their individual operations, we are publishing the financial portion of our performance observations during 2017.   

During the course of 2017, I reviewed a wide-range of operations through our consulting and performance groups activities.  In doing so, I established a set of metrics that I consider to be an excellent source for use in benchmarking against average and high-performers. 

Below I am releasing the Profit and Loss (P&L) percentages observed.  Following this I’ll give my interpretation.   These numbers are broken down by what is the commonly accepted P&L format amongst industry retailers.  The observations are expressed in 3 columns.  The first 2 columns produce P&L’s averages.  The 3rd column is used to show the top percentages in select metrics.  These are the 3 column groupings:

  1. Average performers
  2. Average of Double Digit Profit Club (Net-income before tax) performers
  3. Average of Top-tier performer for each metric (Top 10%er suggestion)

The observations are expressed in terms of percentages of total retail sales volume.  This allows for operations of different sizes to compare themselves using a “common-size” format.  For the purposes of compatibility as well, we excluded electronics and appliances merchandise from the metrics.

Financial Metric Observations:

Financial Metric Interpretation:

Here are my comments on the above numbers:

  1. Sales
    1. Separating the percent of warranty and protection sales with respect to merchandise sales is now the accepted way of producing an industry P&L.  This is due to the massive importance of increasing the proportion of warranty sales.  They are typically the highest gross margin product that a retailer sells.
    1. The range of average and double-digit operations in % of warranty sales to total sales 3.73 % and 3.43 %. 
    1. Top-tier operations in warranty sales almost double these averages.  Their customers spend 6% of their dollars on warranty and product protection.
  2. Cost of Sales
    1. This is a prime area where the double-digit profit club outpaces average performers. 
    1. With respect to cost of merchandise, double-digit profit operations had a 3% lower cost of goods % than an average operation. 
    1. The top-tier performers actually even had almost another 3% cost advantage over the double-digit profit operations at 47%.
    1. A similar pattern occurred with cost of warranties.  Better operations are trained and follow systems to sell on value rather than sell on price in my opinion. 
  3. Gross Margin (GM)
    1. Gross margin percent of sales is just the inverse of cost of goods.  So, the operations with the lower cost have the highest margin. 
    1. This data supports the prior 2 years of formal studies we conducted with the HFA (Home Furnishings Association).  Average performers show a 48.18% GM.   The double-digit club gets almost 51% GM.  While top-tier performers achieve 55%. 
    1. These numbers are real! And, wherever you are with GM, believe that you can improve.  I’ve personally helped move this number with clients many times by over 10% while simultaneously growing sales volume.  
  4. Gross Realized Margin
    1. The generally accepted way of producing an industry P&L is by showing a second gross margin line called Gross Realized Margin.  This first lists the reduction of costs by vendor rebates and discounts incurred.  Then, it increases cost of sales by finance and credit card fees.
    1. It gives an alternate gross margin number as non-employee direct costs with purchasing the merchandise and making the sale are considered.
    1. There is a similar step-up in GM % with the 3 groups observed.  So before any operating costs are considered, an average operation has 45.91% of sales dollars left to produce a profit.  The double-digit profit club has almost a 3% lead already in the race for net-income.
  5. Administrative Costs
    1. Admin costs include general overhead expenses such as: Office and owner payroll, training, legal, accounting, travel, meals and entertainment, markets, software, and all other items that do not fall under occupancy, advertising, selling, distribution, and service. 
    1. We find that on average operations spend around 12% of these sales volume on administration of their business. 
    1. We see a ride range with this metric.  It often is effected by the number of locations, the number of family members in the business, and of course with how lean an operator runs.  The top-tier in this metric came to a very low 7%.  In fact this may even be a bit too low for some.  I feel that if an operation is under 10% here and can manage their work properly they are doing exceptionally well.
    1. Some operations here, in fact do not want to be too low as they feel they cannot provide properly for their employees. Certain owners feel that it is important have a proper amount of spend in admin areas such as health care, training, and technology to remain relevant to in the marketplace.
  6. Occupancy Costs
    1. These include all brick and mortar showroom facility costs such as rent, loan expenses, real estate charges, maintenance, and utilities.
    1. This is typically one of the most fixed costs a brick and mortar retailer incurs.  It does not change that much from month to month.  Whether sales go up or down, the rent, maintenance and utilities are pretty similar dollar-wise.  However, as a percentage, as sales grow these cost fall and result in a positive impact to the bottom-line net income. This is one of the reasons why high performing sales floors produce so much more profit than average performers.
    1. Average occupancy is 8.15% of sales.  The double-digit profit club is 7.64% and the select top-tier performers in this metric are as low as 4%.
  7. Advertising Expense
    1. An average operation runs 5-6% of sales.  Depending on the location however a profitable business is possible up to even 10%.  I’ve seen higher of course, but not too many that actually made much money above that.  
    1. Oftentimes, it is good to consider occupancy and advertising expenses together percentage-wise.  Whatever your mix, it is highly advisable to keep the combined percentage under 15% of sales.
  8. Selling Expenses
    1. Selling expenses cover sales managers and sales people’s wages, bonuses, commissions and other payroll costs.  Sales training, outside design contactors, point-of-sale material may all be included here as well.
    1. I commonly see operations in the 5% – 10% range.  This data is consistent.  Average stores are at 9.21%, the double-digit club is at 7.84% while the top-tier in this metric is at 5%. 
    1. This cost should be mostly a variable cost.  That means that when sales go up or down selling costs should go up or down as a dollar amount and remain constant as a percentage.  I do not mind if this cost is on the high side for any one client as long as their GM % is also on the high side.
  9.   Customer Service Expense
    1. This is actually a net percentage.  It represents all customer service costs that are related to solving issues with damaged and defective merchandise.  It includes any dedicated employees and the costs of repair.  Costs are reduced by any income or amounts in credit that are received back as compensation from vendors. 
    1. A highly functional operation has very low service costs as a net percentage.
  10. Delivery Income
    1. This P&L breaks out delivery income as a separate line item from warehouse and delivery activities.  It should be the goal of an operations to collect an appropriate amount that covers the direct delivery related expenses.  Otherwise, delivery costs come straight out of gross margin dollars.
    1. On average operations seem to collect around 1.9% of sales in delivery income.  However, the top-tier performers in this metric collect double that.
  11. Warehouse and Delivery Expense
    1. These costs include all physical merchandise handling and logistics employees, their operating facilities, their equipment and any other resources they use.
    1. On average operations spend 6.15% of sales here.  The double-digit profit club uses 1.6% of sales less cash resources at 4.55% of sales.  Top-tier performers are as low as 4% of sales.
  12. Total Operating Expenses
    1. Total Operating Expenses add up all expenses that are reduced from Gross Realized Margin.  It is total of Admin, Occupancy, Advertising, Selling, Service, Delivery, and Warehousing.
    1. Whenever I see an in-control operation that is running smoothly, without chaos, with a total operating expense ratio of under 40% of sales, I think: Potential Goldmine.
    1. Average performers are at 40.14% while the double-digit profit club is very lean at 36.2%.  I don’t get alarmed when I encounter an operation at 42% or 43% provided they are spending in areas that add value to their business and employees.  Operations who are close to 50% in this metric are usually pulling out profit early or are running a broken business model.
  13. Net Operating Income
    1. This is the percent of every sales dollar that remains after all costs of goods and regular operating expenses are deducted. 
    1. Average operations show 5.88% Net Operating Income. The double-digit profit club has more than 100% more profit at 12.63 % Net Operating Income.  And, the select top-tier operations for this metric have 14%.
  14. Net Income before Tax
    1. This is the bottom-line.  Other non-operating income, non-operating expenses and interest expenses are added and deducted.  Typically, there is little in either category with the exception of those operations that rent out part of their facilities or who are carrying a large debt and paying significant interest.
    1. Overall the bottom-line is not significantly different from Net Operating Income.   Average operations show 5.67% Net Income before tax. The double-digit profit club has 12.54 %.  And, the select top-tier operations for this metric still have a 14% bottom-line.

When I discuss improvement possibilities with business people, they are sometimes skeptical.  Sometimes they don’t believe me when I say, you can grow gross margins by 8% of sales. Or that they can increase sales volume by 25%.  Or, they can grow profits by 7% of sales.  Or, they can double their cash position.  Not everyone believe me — at first.  It is true for many that vast improvement opportunity exists.  I’ve seen it happen time and time again.  I’ve been a part of it.  I hope that these metrics inspire you to look at your business analytically.  I hope you are motivated to seek action to reach new heights.

In our 2017 Retail Observations we also looked at several selling and inventory metrics.  These will be published in another well respected industry publication: Furniture World and made available along with these Financial Metrics to the members of the HFA.  

Finally, for a limited time, we will be offering retailers an Opportunity Analyzer. You can get a customized side-by-side comparison report with all these metrics.  Plus you can get a one-one web-meeting.  In the web-meeting we will present and discuss our observations and your opportunity.  Just contact me if interested in getting some guidance with improving your profitability and cash flow.

Published in:

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 147 NO.4 November/December

By David McMahon on 11/29/2017

When I travel around the world consulting with retailers, I often encounter three types of operations: 

1. Those that take decisive actions to grow their sales volume, margins and profitability simultaneously.

2. Those that are happy to operate in the averages, control costs and take little risk.

3. Those that react in real time to problems and opportunities, but have aspirations for higher profits and ongoing improvement. 

If you are a #3 type retailer who wants to continuously improve, but needs to know where to start, this article is for you!

It is obvious that the first type of operation that has a handle on its business model will almost always be in the best competitive position. But which type of operation out of the remaining two will be second best? It’s my experience that the reactive operation (#3) that has aspirations for improvement is in a better position than an operation that is both risk and change averse.

Chaotic businesses can and do become highly profitable. What’s required is that store managers start to focus on important tasks instead of day-to-day distractions. In contrast, retailers whose business models focus mainly on cost-cutting, rarely stand the test of time.

So, if you are a #3 type home furnishings retailer who aspires to continuously improve but need help focusing on what to improve and where to start, this article is for you. I’m speaking to those who wish to be decisive and take action.

Inventory & Selling

The two biggest elements of retail success are inventory and selling.

In 2015 and 2016, I conducted an industry-wide survey of operational and financial numbers to formulate key retail performance metrics. In 2017, I tracked similar data from furniture retailers across North America. The 2017 findings are consistent with those of years past. This article includes several metrics that you can use as benchmarks for your performance. Compare them with your operating numbers. The idea is to look at where your operation falls short. Only then can you focus on closing the gap by taking decisive action to generate improvement.

Inventory Metric Observations

The observations tabulated on page 12 are expressed in three column groupings: 

Average of all performers

  • Average of double-digit (net income before tax) performers 
  • Average of top-tier performers (top 10 percent).

What follows are key takeaways about what is required to increase profits based on the inventory metrics collected in this study.

1. GMROI: To summarize, GMROI is annual sales minus cost of sales, divided by inventory (or annual gross margin dollars divided by your inventory). It is your single most important performance indicator, because maximizing the amount you produce after a sale, while minimizing the inventory investment, directly translates to more cash.

In the second column of the table, we see that the average of all of retail operations observed in 2017 produced a GMROI of $3.26. This means that for every dollar retailers invested in inventory, $3.26 in gross margin dollars were produced. This is what those operations on average had left over to pay for all their operating costs and to make a profit. 

For example, if an operation has $1 million in inventory on average, and has a GMROI of $3.26, it will produce $3.26 million in gross margin dollars. This may sound like a lot, but an average operation only has about a five percent net income before tax, so this operation would have little left over to add to cash flow.

The third column of the table labeled “Double Digit Profit Club” lists GMROI for those operations that produced a net income above 10 percent before tax. These businesses produce an average GMROI of $4.01. That’s only a 27-cent difference. Not a lot, right? Wrong! That 27 cents is worth $270,000 in additional gross margin dollars for the same $1 million in inventory. If operating costs are exactly the same at two stores, one an average profit performer and the other a double digit profit performer, and they both have the same level of inventory, the high profit store will have an extra $270,000 going directly to the bottom line!

The third column displays the “Top-Tier” of businesses observed with respect to the metric. With GMROI, we see some companies reaching and exceeding $4.66. In fact, it is not uncommon to work with operations that keep this number above $6.

2. Turns: Inventory turns are similar to GMROI, except this metric takes annual landed cost of goods and divides it by inventory. If a company has a gross margin percentage of 50 percent, GMROI and turns will be equal.

Here we see that average operations turned inventory 3.74 times per year while the double-digit club produced a slightly faster turn at 3.8 times per year. The top operations turned considerably more than both, at 5.81 times. 

Turns can also be expressed in terms of days to sell through inventory. Take 365 days and divide that by annual turns. If a retailer generates 3.8 turns, it takes 96 days to sell though its inventory. An operation turning inventory at 5.81 times will sell through its inventory in just 63 days, 33 fewer days.

3. Inventory to Sales: This is the percentage of inventory an operation carries in relation to its annual sales volume. The theory here is that if you can carry less inventory and sell more, profits and cash flow increase. This is mostly true, however, there is also a line between too much and not enough. In any inventory-carrying operation, a certain level of merchandise must be maintained or sales will be lost.

Depending on the individual business model, some operations will require more inventory, and some will require less. The important thing is that an operation understands its model, its optimal level of merchandise, and maintains inventory dollars at a comfortable level. 

The table shows that the average inventory carried as a percent of sales was 15 percent. The double-digit club held 14 percent. Plenty of highly profitable stores hover around 20-25 percent, but their merchandise is usually at a higher average cost point.

Selling Metric Interpretations

4. Close Rate to Traffic and Opportunities: Close rate is important because it’s a productivity measure taking into account customer-salesperson engagements and the number of leads (traffic) produced. There are two types of leads we typically measure:

  • Traffic: The number of customers in the store
  • Opportunities: The number of customers engaged by salespeople.

Traffic and opportunities should be the same number, but in the real world, they seldom are. This is due to not having enough salespeople to cover traffic at peak times. For this reason, we measure both traffic and opportunity close rate. The difference between the two is missed opportunity, which is a measure of sales floor ineffectiveness.

In the table, “Close Rate on Traffic” is the same for both average and the double-digit profit club at 29 percent. “Close rate on Opportunities” is 38 percent for the double-digit profit performers and 34 percent for the average group. This could mean that the highly profitable companies are better at bringing customers to a conclusion. However, they may be understaffed, missing recording some traffic as opportunities.

Close rate is one part of the sales equation of Sales = Traffic (or Opportunities) x Close Rate x Average Sale. Each piece of the equation should be tracked and managed overall, by store, by critical department, for brick-and-mortar and online, by individual, and by sales teams. 

5. Average Sale: This is a premier metric that should be constantly monitored and improved. It can vary significantly from one salesperson to the next and from one store to another. However, the averages do not tend to vary much from one merchandising style to the next. For example, contemporary showrooms have similar average sales to traditional showrooms. With that in mind, this metric and all the others presented are of value across all types of home furnishings and mattress operations.

Looking back at the chart you will see that the average performer’s “average sale” is $1,251. The the double-digit profit club figure shown in column #3 is $2,091 and elite performers for this metric produced an average sale of $2,394. 

There are many ways an operation can grow this number. My advice is to really dig into the details, then look for incremental improvements to create significant, lasting impacts. 

6. Revenue per Traffic and per Guest: This is the value of each customer visit. It is used for marketing purposes as well as sales performance and coaching.

Similar to close rate, this metric is tracked for both Traffic and per Guest (Opportunity). You can use this metric to highlight the value of an extra opportunity. The average revenue for a guest listed in the second column is $444. So, for an average store, if 100 customers are missed over the period of one month. That can be seen as $44,400 (100 x $444) in lost business.

One big task for sales managers should be to bridge the gap between sales per traffic and sales per guest. Only then can they be more confident that all their customers are being served and that they are staffing appropriately.

For coaching purposes with individual salespeople, however, sales per guest is the metric sales managers should use because it is the actual number of customers salespeople documented they interacted with. 

7. Written Sales per Selling Square Foot: This is used as a measure of retail space productivity.  
Average performing stores produced $185 in sales per square foot (see the table). Our double-digit profit group produced $32 more, at $217. The top-tier for this metric came in at $371.
Let’s see how this metric can be used. Suppose a store has 35,000 square feet and an average of $185 written sales per selling square foot. Its annual volume would be $6.475 million ($185 x 35,000). If it had the average sales per square foot of a double-digit profit store, it would generate an additional $1.12 million ($32 x 35,000). Do you now think it might be worth looking into developing a strategy to move from column #2 in the table to column #4?

8. Written Sales/ Employee: With this metric, higher is not always better. An operation should seek the optimal number of total employees to serve its customers and support future business growth. That said, comparing against average and double-digit profit is important.

Average stores have written sales per employee of $221,444/person. The double-digit profit club produces more revenue with less people at $281,587/person.

So, for example, an operation that does $6.5 million in annual sales would operate with 23-30 people total if they were in the average to high-profit range. 

9. Written Sales/ Salesperson: Retail furniture and bedding operations should staff to cover their high traffic times and their obtainable goal volume.

Again, a higher number here is not necessarily better. Finding a sweet spot to serve your customers to the desired satisfaction level will maximize your top line.

For this metric, average stores produced $604,483 per salesperson per year, while the double-digit profit club produced a bit more sales with less people at $651,460 per person. The metric shown in the chart for the “top tier” at $921,996 is too high in my opinion. It has been proven time and time again that top tier retailers can produce higher volume with more people and average-to-high profit per salesperson. Top salespeople’s performance are rarely affected by more salespeople. It holds true that most operations will usually produce $50,000-$60,000/salesperson/month.

As an example, an operation that does $6.5 million in annual sales would have 10 or 11 salespeople if it were average to high profit.


Many furniture store operations have pulled themselves out of huge debt to become cash flush. Good operators have become leaders in their categories and marketplace. It takes time, of course, but it is possible.

When working with the performance indicators presented here, develop your strategy and specific tactics for improvement. Commit to ongoing measurement, never-ending improvement, and adopt a CAN-DO attitude. Don’t go at it alone. Find partners in your industry that will motivate and strategize with you. Manage your two businesses: your present business and your future business. 

Our 2017 Retail Observations, also looked at several financial metrics that can be obtained by emailing

Offer: For a limited time, David McMahon is offering retailers an Opportunity Analyzer. You can get a customized side-by-side comparison report with all of these metrics along with a useful one-on-one web meeting.

David McMahon is a retail financial and operational professional and Founder of PerformNOW. He directs multiple consulting projects, is proud to lead 6 business mastermind performance groups: Ashley Gladiators, Kaizen, Visionaries, TopLine Sales Managers, Lean and Sigma DC Operations. He is Certified Management Accountant and Certified Supply Chain Professional. You can connect with David at: or