It seems that every furniture store is advertising free design service as a perk for purchasing with them. Before launching my business I was actually employed by Ethan Allen and provided this “free” service to customers, and it was very educational! I’d like to share what I learned working in the furniture business so that you can have the best possible experience the next time you are out shopping.
1. That “designer” is really a salesperson – My title at Ethan Allen was Design Consultant, and I did provide space planning and design schemes for my customers. My primary job, however, was to sell furniture. Some stores, like Ethan Allen and Stickley Audi & Co., require their sales staff to have some education or background in interior design. But remember, regardless of the services a particular retailer claims to offer, the amount of design training their employees have can vary widely. Ask your sales consultant about their education and keep that in mind if you are relying on them for help with space planning or selecting colors and fabrics.
2. That salesperson is working on commission – Most furniture stores operate on a commission system, so the person you are working with has a monthly sales goal they are required to reach. This means their primary motivation is to get you to make a purchase, because otherwise the time they spend with you goes uncompensated. To avoid awkwardness, simply be upfront with your salesperson about your intentions: if you have just started shopping and don't plan to buy that day or that month, let them know. They will give you some space and be less likely to employ high-pressure tactics.
3. That salesperson can be a great help (if you return the favor) – Your contact person at the store can make the difference between a great experience and a nightmare. They are your best resource for information about quality and construction of the pieces you are considering, and they may give you a head’s up about upcoming store promotions. It never hurts to ask them if there is any wiggle room on pricing, especially if you are making a big purchase. But the real help comes after you buy. Issues with deliveries and damage to home furnishings are common, and having an ally at the store can go a long way toward a satisfactory resolution.
So how do you create a good relationship with your salesperson? The number one thing to do is find out their name and ask for them every time you shop. As an employee working on commission, nothing is more frustrating than spending hours helping a customer only to have them return a week later and buy from someone else. If you are loyal to one person at the store, they will always go to bat for you so as to keep you happy and purchasing from them. If you buy from whoever happens to greet you at the door, all the store employees will be aware and none of them will go above and beyond if you have a problem after the sale.
4. That salesperson may (or may not) be responsible for mess-ups – A common issue consumers have when buying furniture is finding out at the time of delivery that items don’t fit in their home. That could mean the oversized sofa you bought is too large for your living room. Even worse, it could mean that sofa won’t fit through the front door! When I was working at Ethan Allen it was my responsibility to find out if the items my customer was buying would fit into their home, and we even offered measuring services if they were uncertain. Not many stores offer this option, however, and it is one of the reasons why Ethan Allen is more expensive. Remember, there is no such thing as a free service, it is simply factored into the cost of the merchandise.
Bring dimensions of your space when shopping and ask questions about how specific items will fit. If the entry point into your home is tight, mention it and ask for help determining if bigger pieces will make it in. What happens if your furniture shows up damaged, or if the delivery people scrape your walls while bringing it in? These are both common occurrences and it’s important to know how it will be handled before you accept items into your home. Find out about the return policy and warranty of that furniture before you fork over your credit card. Some salespeople may leave these details out in their haste to get you to buy, and it’s up to you to clarify to avoid hassles down the line.
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