When Mr and Mrs Average make their once-in-a-decade foray into the world of furniture to replace their old sofa, they are faced with a bewildering array of companies all desperate to capture their attention. It takes some effort to persuade them to steer away from the town centre, where they will find a choice of department stores and independent retailers, and into the retail parks to chain outlets such as Furniture Village.
“The market is competitive, with a number of different players vying for the same customers,” explains Jeff Wood, newly appointed marketing controller of Furniture Village. “However, there are actually few places like Furniture Village, covering the entire home furnishings market – sofas, beds, dining suites, tables and chairs. The basic premise is to be John Lewis in a retail park. Competitors like DFS, although formidable, only sell sofas, whereas John Lewis provides anything its customers want.”
Fiona Brierley, managing partner of multidisciplinary marketing agency Interfocus, adds: “It is difficult for customers to differentiate between furniture retailers. It means we have to work doubly hard to show customers why Furniture Village is different, partly because there aren’t really any true furniture brands. Sales become heavily reliant on the relationship of trust Furniture Village can build with its customers.”
Furniture Village’s target market is ABC1 women aged between 35 and 55. Wood says: “It’s the women who make the ultimate decisions, although men are starting to have more input. We want to talk to all affluent housewives, but people on average change their sofas and beds every 12 to 15 years so we only have a certain time bracket to capture people when they are in the market.”
Brierley says: “The best customers are those who are replacing old furniture, getting married or moving house. These are people’s single biggest purchases, after their house and car, so they need to talk to staff who understand what they are selling. At Furniture Village you not only have the ease of parking that you won’t get on the high street, but the store is well laid out and the staff are knowledgeable about their product. They know it is not just about buying the cheapest, and this is where Furniture Village sets itself apart.”
To date, Furniture Village’s biggest success has been the launch of its Romford store, on Boxing Day 2000. The point-of-purchase (PoP) material for the launch was developed from the chain’s winter sale idea, designed by Interfocus. This was run across all 25 stores and tied into both the national advertising, which ran in the weekend colour supplements, and local and regional advertising.
Interfocus account director Saul Harris explains: “A graphic device was developed for the winter sale campaign that we hoped would gain us a little ownership that other retailers couldn’t get their hands on. The ‘Village Sale’ graphic was used up the left-hand side of all PoP material and advertising. Traditionally ‘Sale’ is written in red, so we incorporated that into the blue that we usually use.
“It ran across both the advertising and the PoP campaigns for reasons of continuity. This way the customer can begin relating to the Village brand, so they don’t feel like they could be in any old store.”
Wood says: “The PoP was based on ‘WAP’ – Windows, Aisles and Product. It was consistent styling in that customers who’d seen our ads in the press and on TV had a perception of what the store was like. If a customer drives for half an hour to get to your store, you have to ensure they get what they expect. You don’t want them to be disappointed that they made the effort to get there.”
In order to draw attention to the launch of the Romford store, there were some special opening offers, designed to get people into the shop in the first few days. “Additional savings were advertised for that store, naturally, and flashes on the PoP material drew people’s attention to the tempting offers,” explains Harris. “They were designed to give something additional to the normal PoP, putting urgency into the offers so customers knew they wouldn’t last for ever. The launch also involved local advertising, which directed people to the store. On a local basis there was also radio advertising and a door-drop of store-opening brochures to potential customers who lived within a 20-minute radius.”
So what made the Romford store launch more successful than any of the other 24 launches that Furniture Village have undertaken? “We tried, in an in-store environment, to draw people’s attention to the fact that there was a sale on and there were bargains available,” says Harris. “In design terms, we tried to keep it as clean as possible and not clutter it up too much. The customer doesn’t want to be assailed with a barrage of PoP material. There’s a danger in some stores of the PoP getting cluttered and crowded. The gentle way we designed the winter sale campaign fitted well with Furniture Village’s ethos, in that it is not a hard-sell company. Their sales people are helpful, but they only come to you if you need them.”
Wood says: “The idea was obviously to gain as many sales as possible. But it makes us feel good if people feel good when they walk through the door. Customer and staff morale is improved by knowing the company produces quality material. The Romford store got off to a fantastic start, and I’ve no doubt that in addition to aspects such as staffing issues, the PoP material had a large role to play in creating such a great start to the store.”
Brierley agrees: “Our watchword for the chain is ‘less is more’. We offer a route map of what’s on offer and try to develop some cohesion, so customers can see the same in store as they do in our ads. We don’t view PoP material as second-class – it is important to realise that it has a vital role to play in the clinching of a sale.”