Retail is changing so fast that it’s almost impossible to offer advice that leads to guaranteed wins, writes US bed industry consultant Gordon Hecht – so why not focus on the guaranteed failures instead?

It was about 150 years ago that one of the first advice books, Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help, was a bestseller. In 1917, motion picture star Douglas Fairbanks published his advice in Laugh and Live, followed by Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People a generation later – and the 1960s and 1970s saw an onslaught of self-help books on how to be successful in everything from dieting to child rearing, running, and other human ‘joys’. 

Sam, Doug, and Dale could have never predicted the unusual times we are in now. Every day bring a new challenge with supply shortages, staffing issues, fuel cost increases and more. It’s hard to provide advice that is guaranteed to help you be successful – but it is very easy to provide advice that is guaranteed to help you fail. 

Earlier this year, I presented Serta Simmons’ Team Canada with the following scenario. Imagine your best and strongest retail operator has a new competitor in the market. In fact, their new store is located directly across the street! The competing retailer does not sell your brand, nor do they plan to sell it. However, the store manager invites you to lunch. She asks for your advice on how her store can become successful and dominant in the market.

You see the opportunity! You can give her advice that is predestined to help her fail. Just give her a list of the wrong way to operate a business, and soon there will be a vacant building where her business stands today. Here is that negative advice that Team Canada provided …

• Don’t ask qualifying questions. Show the customer every mattress you display

• Ignore younger people, as they don’t have money to buy mattresses

• Create pricing such that the customer always wants to negotiate

• Focus on Monday to Friday weekday business. Close on weekends

• Keep overheads low by not investing in your brick-and-mortar business

• Focus on the mattress only – customers don’t care about or need adjustable bases, pillows, or any other accessories

• Stick to a very small assortment and don’t provide alternative options 

• Encourage sales associates to be paying more attention to their mobile phones than the customers

• If the customer has an issue after the sale, it is no longer your problem – just ignore them

• Never pay your supplier invoices on time

• Tell them that extra-firm is always best, and recommended by orthopedic surgeons

• Don’t advertise or promote your business in your local community. It’s a waste of money

• Don’t offer a satisfaction guarantee like the competing retailers

• Bash the competition (brand and retailer)

• Ask them to push down on a mattress with their hands, knuckles, or knees – this is the best way to determine if the comfort level is right for them

• Pillows are not important. In fact, the big and harder the pillow is, the better your neck feels

• Tell your shopper those pressure points mean nothing. More pressure points means that the mattress is right for them!

• Discourage sleep partners from shopping together. Promote that it’s best that the sleep partners pick a lead person to come in and choose the mattress – it saves time, confusion and arguments

• Don’t stock, show or sell a mattress in a box – it’s just a fad

• Don’t stock anything – nobody ever wants their mattress asap

• Offer delivery to the customer, but minimise your level of service. Don’t worry about wearing overshoes or doing damage to the customer’s house

• Continually mention and sell on the fact that you have a six-month comfort guarantee 

• Do not ask your customers for reviews. It’s a waste of both of your time. Besides, new customers don’t read those anyway

• When a couple comes into the store, always speak to the man – the woman has little say in the purchase of a mattress

• Do not offer financing options for the customer. It is time consuming and won’t help your average sale amount or closing ratios

• Only accept cash, that way you pay no credit card terminal fees

• Don’t ask “When do you need it?” early on. Let them pick out their favourite item and disappoint them later

• Always ask for the accessory sales when the customer is checking out and paying for the mattress. It’s easier to add it on than include it in the sales presentation

• Offer to test out the mattress with the customer. Cuddle up to them!

• Don’t have a modern, easy-to-navigate website – your customers don’t shop online these days. And avoid having your site enabled for ecommerce 

• Don’t post reviews on your website. It takes too long to do that

• Wait until you have a staff opening to recruit new employees

You’d have to agree that any retailer that followed these bullet points would soon have a permanent vacation. And, by turning around the advice – that is, doing the opposite – you’d increase your chances to survive, grow and succeed. 

You can also avoid failure with this bonus piece of advice. Start your own ‘How to fail’ list with your store team. That includes sales, operations, finance, buying, and leadership (even if you, yourself, holds every one of those positions). Ask them what advice they would give someone to help them fail. Write down their lists, and keep it visible to your team (not shoppers). 

So long as they avoid the path to failure, they’re more likely on the path to success. 

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. He can be reached at Gordon.hecht@aol.com.