A s a retail customer, are you willing to pay 10 percent for “special service”? For “guaranteed service”? Surely for “professional service”? Or simple “old-fashioned custom service”?
Are you ever really sold by other overused words for service, such as
“super,” “trained,” “extra,” or the ever-popular
“quality”? Do the phrases “Service With a Smile” or
“Best Service at Lowest Prices” influence you to buy?
As a retailer, large or small, do you believe that your service is somehow
unique from your competition? What do you mean by the word “service”
anyway? Can you describe in an ad just why your service is better than
your competitors? Do you really think prospects will pay extra for service?
Do you say to yourself, “I can’t beat them on price, but I will
still get my share because of my superior service and know-how”?
CUSTOM SERVICES ESSENTIAL
Tough questions, and difficult to answer! Most retailers in our specialized
industry must tell prospects about their services in some way, if only
by word-of-mouth. Ours is a creative industry, requiring advanced levels
of skills and experience. The selection and installation of window treatments
usually involves more than minor assembly and installation.
According to industry designers, decorators and trade specialists, their
talents and added services require education and training that merit higher
price levels. How much more to charge for these essentials is of major
concern because price competition is such a factor at every level of store
The major discount chains have built and maintain their marketing empires
on low price. Today’s shoppers search store ads and mailers to find
the lowest price offer. Then, they may drive miles for a dollar or two
SPECIAL SERVICES EXTRA
Smaller merchants who can’t compete on low price must try to convince
prospects of the need and benefits for their special services. These benefits
may only appeal to a minority of shoppers who are willing to pay a little
extra for creative design and installation talents.
As a result, the number of independent and chain specialty stores seem
fewer each year as the various Big Box discounters promote their own variety
of special services. They have been able to create what their competitors
contend are the myths of service and shopping fun.
Recently, I sat in on a meeting of a small business network exchange club.
The main subject of that day was customer service, always of major concern
for any business. The Kmart bankruptcy topped the news then and the question
was asked, “Where did their policies go wrong?”
One astute person answered, “Because Kmart employees weren’t
trained to give decent service. When you ask K-clerks for help they just
grunt and point to some far-away area of the store. You must search for
the item yourself. When you finally find the right area, the product is
sold out because the store only has received a few loss leaders. So, you
either buy another competitive product or go to Wal-Mart, where clerks
give better service—even take you to the product. With a smile, too,
which is important. Kmart clerks never seem to smile either. To me, that
says ‘poor training.’ Who needs surly clerks? It gives a bad
impression to the whole store.”
JUST AD MYTHS?
Another person interrupted: “I disagree. I’ve had non-smiling
clerks at Wal-Mart and other discounters, too. That great service concept
about Wal-Mart isn’t always true. A lot of it is just advertising
hype, an idea that was started and grew by repetition until people really
“It may have been possible when the company was new and stores were
much smaller. But can you imagine a clerk in one of their new ‘super-bowl’
stores leading you through long aisles of jam-packed customers to help
you find a little bracket or whatever? At that rate, she or he might have
time to ‘service’ one or two other customers a day. It’s
an impossible dream.”
Someone added, “It’s like the myth they call ‘fun shopping.’
They’ve been able to convince shoppers over the years that shopping
at Wal-Mart adds up to great fun, which might be true if your idea of
fun is fighting traffic rage, trying to find a parking space, dodging
traffic to reach the entrance, walking miles of busy aisles, then waiting
to check out behind some mother buying food, clothes and goodies for her
tired children while a fatigued, non-smiling checker calls for a price
The discussion went on with various other personal opinions mentioned.
Someone noted that in recent years, to add even more shopping fun, most
discounters are enlarging their stores. “So one can now shop under
one roof for all of their needs. They promote complete shopping convenience
without leaving the store. They don’t mention the additions mean
more miles of walking and confusion.”
BACK TO BASICS
Finally, the discussion leader interrupted to bring us back to the main
topic. “Are we overlooking our purpose here? We all know there is
more to service than ‘showing and smiling.’ What about selection
ideas, and all the other needed customer services? We are here to discuss
our own customer services.”
Another attendee stood up. She agreed there was a great deal more involved
in the idea of service. “I have a small, custom decorating shop.
We serve customers in many different ways from initial contacts, in-shop
or in-home to the final installation. We help with styles, color, fabrics
and the selection of products like hardware and accessories. We provide
the extra services that big discounters don’t provide.
“One of our chief competitors is Home Depot. But, even with their
added in-store assistance and installation offers, they can’t match
our extra services. All of us, including Penney’s and major department
stores, also the specialty stores, are trying to exist and compete against
the big discounters.
“What we really needed to discuss here is how we can ‘relate’
better to our prospects. How we can tell them more about our various services
and help them understand why our prices must be higher. That’s not
easy to do on our limited budgets and without much help.”
SUPPLIER HELP NEEDED
“Most of our sources, once separate competitors, are now part of
conglomerates. For higher profits, these huge national and global companies
usually reduce advertising and publicity expenditures for their collections
of competing brands. So, we no longer have much promotional help in selling
former well-known product names, or for home decorating in general.”
Another person spoke and agreed, “We need to communicate with prospects
more, individually and as a group. We can’t match discount low prices
or ideas of shopping fun, but maybe we can better explain our services
and ideas, not ‘myths.’
“We know that people will always search for low price. Many shoppers
really do enjoy the excitement and atmosphere of big-store shopping. They
like seeing the people, the huge assortment of products, the color packages
and displays. They don’t mind the many shopping inconveniences. After
all, that’s the fun.
“They also realize they may need to shop elsewhere for special, higher
cost home decorating products. The problem seems to be that many of them
prefer to go without. They invest in a big house or car, then postpone
purchases of needed interior products. Maybe they run out of money, time
and patience; maybe they don’t like to make the decisions involved.
NEED COMBINED EFFORTS
All agreed that more advertising and publicity was needed to sell consumers
on the pleasures and long-range value of home beauty, inside and outside.
They talked about possible ways to advance these goals. Some of the proposed
ideas were old; a few were new.
• Share Leads. Names of potential prospects and others are exchanged
during a networking period. All agreed that word-of-mouth is the most
effective advertising for home interiors products. Sharing individual
leads discretely is a way to increase business for all.
• Explain Custom Services. Expanding group efforts to sell the values
of specialized service is also a central subject at every meeting. One
member stated a basic club goal: “To convince decorating prospects
that our many custom services are indeed a true value. Our honest pricing
includes the best in products, complete selection, decorating assistance
and guaranteed satisfaction.”
• Expand All Efforts. The club members have worked together to seek
added business. That’s their natural and fundamental goal. Results
will vary but so far, members continue to be enthusiastic. They also have
increased individual efforts, when possible, with more aggressive advertising,
sales promotion and consumer education programs. They have outlined admirable
1. To spread more news and publicity about our services and benefits,
individually and as a group.
2. Use Internet Web sites, e-mail, chat rooms and online sources to show
and tell more about custom decorating products and fashion.
3. Seek added assistance from conglomerate stores in promoting and publicizing
home decorating fashion and trends.
4. Suggest the continuing need for fresh designs and high-style products
directed to the more fashion-conscious consumers market. Suppliers and
custom shops would benefit by creating awareness and desire for brand-name
quality, specialty products, something more than the standard packaged
I enjoyed attending the group’s discussion. They are sincere about
their group efforts to help supplemental sales in their niche markets
of custom home decorating products. I applaud their efforts and wish them
much success. I hope this report may be encouraging and beneficial to
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for
Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience
in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail
Window Treatment Advertising is a regular feature in Draperies & Window
Coverings examining many ways in which retailers can make the best use
of their time, efforts and resources to create effective marketing and
promotional campaigns. Past articles dating back to 1996 can be found
on D&WC’s online archive categorized by author and subject: www.dwcdesignet.com/DWC/ArticleIndex.html.