By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

Rule No. 1 of marketing, and retail in particular, seems to always be the same: If something works, then run it until you beat the snot out of it and watch it die.

Rule No. 2 is to watch what your competitor is doing, then copy it and take it up a notch. (Unfortunately, your competitor also knows Rule No. 2, and they will continue to out-notch you.)

A prime example is percentage discounts. “Five-percent off!” used to be an amazing offer… until someone invented 10-percent off. Since that worked so well, 10 became 20, which became 33, which became 50 and 70 percent.

“Ninety Days Same as Cash!” was a great closing tool too, until it gave way to six months. Then one year became two, and since that worked so well, we kicked it up to six and (now even) seven years of same as cash.

In sports they say, “All else being equal, speed is the winner.” Levitz Furniture transformed furniture retail by keeping most items in stock for quick delivery. Kittle’s Furniture promoted 48-hour “Zoom Delivery,” and my former employer, Sofa Express, took over their markets with next-day delivery. Look online and you can now see retailers promoting same-day delivery.

While we think we are revolutionizing the marketing world, our shoppers see it as a Sea of Sameness, where one retailer’s message looks just like every other. Think about your store’s true competitive advantage. You may have listed:

  • Great products
  • Great selection
  • Great service
  • Beautiful showroom
  • Friendly and knowledgeable salespeople

I hope that describes your store. But if I ask your competitor down the street, or in the next town or in the next state the same question, chances are good that their answer will be… the same.

You’ve probably figured this out already. As you finally reopen your business, you will be doing it in a brand-new world. It’s how you market and operate in this new normal that will determine long-term survival and success. Your messaging, operations, appearance, store hours and promotions will have to change to become a wave instead of a ripple in the Sea of Sameness. Here are some examples:

Give an ample, not a sample: Nido Qubein is the President of High Point University. Before he entered academia, he started a nationwide chain called Great Harvest Bread. You can still go into one of those stores and ask for a sample of their baked goods. Don’t be surprised when they hand you a large slice with your choice of spread on it. The small investment of a give-away will reap very large benefits very quickly.  What are you willing to give away to create foot traffic or web traffic?

Voice to voice is the best. After six to eight weeks or more of being housebound, your shopper is craving the experience of just chatting with someone. Texting and emailing are great, but we are all getting bombarded with digital communication like never before. Being the gal or guy who talks to your shopping public allows you to get immediate feedback. Be prepared for some protracted conversations. Be a good listener too; don’t interrupt them, because when people are talking, they are buying.

Extra services don’t cost you extra. We recently had some home updates done to a property that we own. We hired a guy named Mike to install living room carpet. After completing it he mentioned that he noticed that the bedroom carpet had a hump in it, and he re-stretched it at no extra cost. On the way out he also noticed a dent in a transition strip (that thin piece of metal where the carpet ends). He had a scrap piece in his toolbox and replaced that too — again, free of charge. There’s no doubt that I’ll call him for my next flooring job. What extra services can you offer that cost you little or nothing, but earn you customers for life?

Create your own new playbook now for the different world we will be living in. Train and rehearse your store’s team members until they internalize it. Then take those changes and promote the heck out of them. Ride high above the Sea of Sameness instead of treading water or drowning below the surface.

You don’t have to believe me about every marketing message being the same. Invest 3 ½ minutes of your time and click here to see it for yourself.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can reach him at