How to Ruin Your Business in a Few Easy Steps

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

It was about 150 years ago that one of the first “how-to” books, Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help, became a bestseller.

In 1917, motion picture star Douglas Fairbanks published his advice in Laugh and Live, followed a generation later by Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an onslaught of self-help books explaining how to be successful at everything from dieting and child rearing to running and other human “Joys.”

Neither Sam, Doug nor Dale could have predicted the unusual times we are in now. Every day brings a new challenge, including supply shortages, staffing issues, higher fuel costs and more. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to provide advice that is guaranteed to help you succeed. However, it is very easy to provide advice that is guaranteed to help you fail.

We presented Serta Simmons’ Team Canada with the following scenario: Imagine your best and strongest retail customer has a new competitor in their market. In fact, the newcomer’s store is located directly across the street!

The new retailer does not sell your brand nor plans to. However, the store manager invites you to lunch.  She asks for your advice on how her store can become successful and dominant in the market.

You see the opportunity! You can give her advice that is destined to help her fail. Just give her a list of wrong ways to operate a business and soon there will be a vacant building where her business once stood.

Here then is that list of “negative advice” devised by Team Canada:

  • Don’t ask qualifying questions. Show the customer every mattress you display.
  • Ignore younger people, as they don’t have money to buy mattresses.
  • Create pricing that will always compel the customer to negotiate.
  • Focus on your weekday business, Monday to Friday, and close on weekends.
  • Keep overhead low by not investing in your brick-and-mortar business.
  • Focus on the mattress only; customers don’t care about or need adjustable bases, pillows or any other accessories.
  • Stick to a very small assortment and don’t provide alternate options.
  • Encourage sales associates to pay more attention to their cell phones than the customers.
  • If the customer has an issue after the sale, it is no longer your problem. Just ignore them.
  • Never pay your supplier invoices on time.
  • Tell customers that extra-firm is always best and recommended by orthopedic surgeons.
  • Don’t advertise or promote your business within your local community. It’s a waste of money.
  • Don’t offer a “Satisfaction Guarantee” like competing retailers do.
  • Bash the competition (brand and retailer).
  • Tell customers to press down on a mattress with their hands, knuckles or knees; this is the best way to determine if the comfort level is right for them.
  • Pillows are not important, although the bigger and harder the pillow, the better your neck feels.
  • Tell your shopper those pressure points mean nothing. More pressure points mean the mattress is right for them!
  • Discourage sleep partners from shopping together. Explain that it’s best when one person chooses the mattress, to save couples time, confusion and arguments.
  • Don’t stock, show or sell a bed-in-a-box. It’s just a fad.
  • Don’t stock anything. Nobody ever wants their mattress ASAP.
  • Offer delivery but minimize your level of service.  Don’t worry about wearing booties or causing damage to the customer’s home.
  • Continually mention and sell on the fact that you have a six-month comfort guarantee.
  • Don’t post reviews or ask customers to write them. It takes too long and is a waste of time for both of you. Besides, new shoppers don’t read customer reviews anyway.
  • When a couple comes into the store, always speak to the man; the woman has little say in the purchase of a mattress.
  • Do not offer financing. It’s time consuming and won’t help your average sale amount or closing ratios.
  • Only accept cash, to avoid paying credit card terminal fees.
  • Don’t ask “When do you need it?” early on. Let them pick out their favorite item and disappoint them later.
  • Always ask for the accessory sale when the customer is checking out and already paying for the mattress. It’s easier to add it on than to include it in the sales presentation.
  • Offer to test the mattress with the customer. Cuddle up with them!
  • Don’t have a modern, easy-to-navigate website, nor one that’s enabled for e-commerce transactions. Your customers don’t go online these days.
  • Wait until you have a staff opening to recruit new employees.

You’d have to agree that any retailer who followed these bullet points would soon be on a permanent vacation. And, by turning the advice around — that is, doing the opposite — you’ll increase your chances for survival, growth and success.

You can also help avoid failure by following this bonus suggestion: Start your own “how to fail” list with your store team, including sales, operations, finance, buying and leadership. Ask your staff (or yourself, if you wear each of those hats) what advice they would give to help someone fail. Write down their answers and place the list where your staff can see it (but shoppers can’t).

By avoiding the path to failure, you’re more likely to be on the path to success.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at