What Are They Thinking?
By Wanda Jankowski , Editor-in-Chief
What Are The Greatest Challenges Facing
The Industry Today?
A Supplier’s View
“With cotton prices being at an historic high, we face the challenge of strategically raising prices that are desperately needed, but at the same time, we cannot afford to alienate the consumer. Besides the cost of cotton, other raw materials have jumped on the coattails of high cotton prices and have also increased dramatically. How our industry manages the challenge of adapting to the unprecedented increase in raw materials, especially cotton, will determine our industry’s success in the future.
“Over the past decade and a half, home textiles has truly become a global or multi-national industry. In the years ahead it will be critical that we totally understand and anticipate the ever-changing international marketplace for sourcing and for selling our products. One can bet that today’s global environment will not remain static. Adapting to the future global dynamics will be critical.
“Educating the end users about our products is essential to the health of our industry. The consumer has been poorly served by our industry and the retail community. There is too much misinformation or lack of understanding about qualities, value and performance attributes of our products. Value is not all about the lowest price, but what the consumer receives for the price. A more informed consumer will be a more satisfied customer.”
—Rich Roman, president and ceo, Revman International, and president, Home Fashion Products Association
A Retailer’s View
“For us, it’s maintaining our identity in one of the most difficult business climates in over 30 years, made even more difficult due to the pricing crisis.
“There will be a need for us to find second-tier lines. However, these lines must be supportive and not a replacement of the highest quality lines we carry. There has to be a balance between offering some value, without overshadowing the highest luxury items. For example, we carry Sferra, which has a top and a lower line, so we are looking into perhaps stocking more of those lines.
“Since we don’t quite know the effect of all these price increases, we don’t want to overdo it with second-tier lines—we need to maintain who we are and what we do, and it isn’t easy.
“We’ve been seeing a slight increase in business in 2010, but this is after two bad years of business, so we just have to wait and see. We do not want to be a price-conscious store, and we are not at price wars with anyone else. We have to stay true to ourselves or we’ll die.”
—Dan Cassidy, owner, Cassidy’s Bed, Bath & Linens
I’ve read and heard that some industry pundits think many consumers will buy anything that is put in front of them, no matter how de-speced or compromised in quality. It’s attributed to ignorance—they haven’t been educated enough by retailers and manufacturers about the benefits of quality goods.
I sympathize with consumers. No one among us has the time to thoroughly investigate pros and cons of every item we buy. Even when consumers are hungry for information, it’s not always easy to get ample details in order to compare brands.
Part of the art of selling is to impress upon the potential purchaser the benefits of the product up for consideration. But ever tried searching for information on the limitations of a particular product to get a full picture? Good luck with that. In spite of website customer reviews and consumer report-type magazines, even the most informed consumers are left to “take a chance” now and then, relying on common sense or past experience to choose which brand best suits their needs.
There is a need for better education to promote sales of quality products. However, making a sale goes deeper than just providing product knowledge.
It may be that the consumers’ priorities are different than what you think they are. Some consumers may be willing to buy cheaper quality goods not because they don’t know the benefits of good quality, but because they believe their money and attention are better invested elsewhere—they just don’t care that much what kitchen towel or pillowcase they use as long as it’s “good enough” and at the “right price.”
The challenge for suppliers and retailers is first to understand why consumers who will seemingly buy anything don’t consider quality in home textiles a priority. It’s about knowing how they think the products you sell fit into their daily lives and priorities and addressing that mindset, rather than about your view of how products you sell benefit their lives. Sharing more product knowledge is only part of the solution.
Pam Danziger, president, Unity Marketing, indicates that challenges regarding understanding the consumer mindset exist for retailers and manufacturers not only at the low or mid-range price level, but at the luxury level as well.
The luxury market has changed significantly from the years prior to 2007. “In my many years of consumer research, I have never faced a business segment so under- and mis-informed about the customers they serve,” she writes in her new book, Putting The Luxe Back Into Luxury. “Marketers’ fantasies about how the luxury consumer lives and behaves cloud their judgments.
“Often I find [luxury] marketers attribute all kinds of motives to the aspirations of their customers, when what they really are doing is projecting their own aspirations onto the customer,” Danziger explains.
So in this post-recession new world, set aside what you think are the reasons for your customers’ choices and find out what’s really going on in their heads—their thinking may have changed. Then apply your selling and communications skills to educate and adjust their thinking, priming them to become your best customers.