By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

There’s an old story about the difference in the way a sober person and an intoxicated person uses a lamp post:  Sober people use them for illumination and intoxicated people use them for support.

It’s about the same in selling. The top players on your sales team use features and benefits to illuminate the value of your merchandise and how they can make your shoppers’ lives better. The bottom third use features and benefits to justify the price point.

Along with all the fabulous products you show, your team also needs to spotlight the value of the services that your store provides. Very often those services are presented as a means to an end, when in fact the services you offer can also enhance the quality of life for your shopper. Here are two examples:

Extended Payment Terms

Offering free financing makes for great advertising fodder.  It started with 90 days same as cash. That moved to 12 months, and now 72 to 84 months or more is the benchmark. We promote financing under the banner of “If some is good, then a lot is a lot better.”

The value of extended zero-interest financing is not the length of the term, but what that term does for the shopper. During promotions with interest-free terms, your shopper with a $50-a-month budget can purchase anything in your store, from $599 (12 months) to $2,999 (60 months), and still be within their financial comfort level.

In the mattress biz, free financing allows the shopper who planned to purchase a $999 queen mattress the ability to enhance their selection with a $1,199 adjustable base for that same affordable $50 a month.

The shopper in front of you can enjoy upgraded selections and, since the financing is no extra cost to them, they don’t need to save for years to afford what they want.

Home Delivery

Back in ninth-grade geometry, Mr. Summers taught me that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  It’s true, except in the retail world. For many retail salespeople, the short path is the one of least resistance.

After the shopper selects their merchandise, the sales associate adds in the delivery charge.  That number, which was “free” in the 1980s, $20 in the 1990s, and $39 in the 2000s, often totals $100 or more these days, especially if there are assembly or haul-away costs added in. Those shoppers who are rarely in the big-ticket marketplace object to the charge, and the dance begins.

Many sales associates will go to their manager to get the charge waived, and if that doesn’t work, they may take the request for free delivery up the food chain. In fact, they may work twice as hard at getting the charge waived than simply explaining the value of the service.

Few retail customers understand what it takes to make a successful home installation. It means lifting heavy items; packing and tying them securely; and driving a large vehicle on streets populated by texting, talking and otherwise distracted drivers.

After doorstep arrival, those same items must be carried through hallways, stairs and doorways that are not delivery friendly. They must be negotiated without damaging walls, floors and even ceilings.

Then the assembly begins. Professionals who are familiar with the process can do it in 20 minutes. Customers need to read through 20 pages of instructions in three languages, spend an hour-and-a-half assembling it wrong, and land up with extra parts.

Customers who pay delivery charges hire an expert. Delivery service includes all the tools, vehicles, pads, ties, liftgates, fuel, training and insurance coverage needed to do it right. It’s at least a $40,000 to $70,000 investment per delivery crew.

That $125 delivery charge is now starting to sound like a bargain!

The retail road to purchase is dimly lit for your shoppers. It can be a rough neighborhood, especially at night. When you use facts, information and demonstration, you’ll light the path, brighten the experience, and your sales will shine.

Addendum: On Sept. 11, 2001, when traffic was at a standstill, firefighter Stephen Siller ran a mile-and-a-half in full pack through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to reach the burning towers. Siller lost his life that day to save others, and thanks to Tunnels to Towers (T2T), a charity started by his brother Frank, we all have a chance to give back to those in uniform. This Sept. 11, my everlovin’ bride and I will symbolically follow in Stephen’s footsteps to help raise funds for first responders and military in need. Please help sponsor our march to help those who risk it all and give it their all.

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