I recently connected with an old friend/neighbor who had relocated to Atlanta. She saw my book somewhere and immediately recognized my name on the cover. She happened to be at a furniture store; one of the furniture stores I reviewed on my cross-country mission to uncover the best and worst furniture stores across the United States.
“FURNITURE HOT SPOTS” WRITTEN TO IDENTIFY THE HONEST FROM THE DISHONEST STORES AND AWARD STORES WITH EXCELLENT SERVICE, VALUE AND INTEGRITY
Until 2002, the US government had guidelines for selling furniture, and for describing the furniture that stores sold. After that point, the government lifted all restrictions on furniture stores across the country. Stores could call furniture anything they wanted to, and it would be allowable. Until Furniture Hot Spots was published there was no other book reviewing furniture stores across the country, using a system of rating the stores; in my case, the Chair of Distinction.
“CHAIR OF DISTINCTION”
If you see an orange sticker on the windows of furniture stores, with a little picture of a chair, that is the “Chair of Distinction”. The Chair is awarded to stores that I feel go above and beyond, in terms of quality, service and professionalism. Chain department stores and big box retailers, you would think, would have consistency and meet all the requirements of a store with a “Chair”. That logic doesn’t necessarily follow.
Studies have shown that in harder economic times small local retailers provide the most customer satisfaction. Large independent stores also offer added value; take Furnitureland South, for example, the largest furniture store in the world, located in Hickory, North Carolina. Shopping undercover at Furnitureland South was harder than hiking the glaciers—1 million square feet of shopping space. You’d think you would get lost and feel helpless. However, that wasn’t the case. As I pointed out on my recent radio show, with Jason Harris, President of Furnitureland South, the store makes it a point of having weekly classes for all salespeople, to teach them the latest innovations in furniture design and construction. Shopping undercover at Furnitureland South I was impressed with the professionalism of the staff, and indepth knowledge of the vast selection of furniture.
HOW THE WEB HAS HELPED SHOPPERS COMPARE NOTES
While I am not a big fan of shopping for everything online, I do believe that shopping online for furniture will help you determine what you might pay for a particular piece. “Furniture Hot Spots” shares my picks for the best websites designed for real furniture shoppers. What concerns me today is the rise in online auctions, or broker businesses that can charge the consignor up to 50% for selling the goods. Local sites are more cost effective, like Craigs List, where you pay a small percentage, and shipping is usually local. 1stdibs.com offers selection from high end antiques dealers from all around the world, but these dealers charge a lot for their goods because of their high commission structure with 1stdibs.com.
SHOPPING AT AUCTION IS STILL THE FAIREST SYSTEM FOR BUYERS
Yes, buyers (and sellers) pay a commission for buying, but the item sells only for the price people are willing to pay. One of my favorite auctions is the Market Place Auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. At this auction, which takes place several times a year, you can bid on anything from $50 up. If the weather is bad or if there is low turnout for other reasons, you can be the successful bidder who gets a steal. That is a fair system.
THE FAIR AND HONEST RETAILER
I am more impressed with how well retailers stand by their products and work with consumers on price and service. In this economy, service matters most, and the stores that go the extra mile will surpass the high-end antiques shops with bad service and little integrity. During the past two years, I have been extremely impressed with many of the big box stores, like Target and Wal-Mart, who have really stepped up to the plate in terms of competitive pricing, free shipping offers, and value that is so necessary to all families at this precarious time in history.