HIGH POINT — The International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn. recently fielded a survey with leading retailers to take the pulse of their businesses in light of the pandemic — and to find out how reps can better serve them.
Almost all of the retailers polled (95%) said that they have been able to re-open their furniture businesses since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Of that group, 73% are now operating at full capacity, 17% are at 50% capacity and 11% are at less than 50% capacity.
Just over one-third of the retailers surveyed said business is down from last year’s levels, while nearly half said business is up and 15% said business is flat.
The survey confirmed the impact that lack of product is having at retail, with nearly 60% noting inventory shortages as their biggest challenge. The next biggest challenge identified was slow traffic, followed by store closures, staffing and delayed shipments.
In light of the impact and importance of social distancing, IHFRA asked retailers their preferred method to have reps call on them. For now, about half the respondents said, they prefer email. Just over 20% preferred either phone or Zoom calls. Nearly one-third said they would welcome in-person sales calls.
A majority of the retailers said reps should call on them “as needed,” but nearly one-third said monthly calls are sufficient.
When asked about the most important tools a rep should have to help the retailer’s business, just over one-third said virtual selling/sales training tools were important. That was followed closely by 31% of retailers wanting real-time inventory information, and about one-fourth of those surveyed said they want “access to enhanced product images and digital assets.”
Retailer also noted tools and information they need more:
- Accurate inventory information/shipping dates
- Updating catalogs
- New products and images
- Need better sales training
- Accurate price lists
- No contact, no catalog, no one coming to see me
- Upholstery & mattress reps can’t bring or show actual fabrics
- More virtual markets
- Reps doing virtual updates
IHFRA’s survey includes responses from more than 100 individual retail companies.