Believe them at your own peril

By Gordon Hecht, Contributor

You’ve probably heard the stories before. In ancient 20th century times, the tales were told around the water cooler (a big, bottled water), or shared on a rotary dial phone (attached to the wall with a long curly cord). In modern times they’ll appear as social media posts or private texts.

Urban legends center around a scary or gruesome scene with a negative outcome. There’s the one about the widow who bathes her little yip-yip dog. When the mutt starts to shiver, she decides to warm him up in the microwave oven. Or the guy who buys an unlimited pass to the tanning salon and after daily visits learns that he has cooked his innards.

My favorite is the myth of the family that goes south of the border on vacation and adopts a cute Chihuahua pup. They bring it home and take it to their vet for a checkup and shots. Upon examination, the good doctor informs them that they have adopted a large rat.

Those stories and more have circulated for decades. Though preposterous and untrue, they surface like fact every few years.

We’ve got a few urban myths in our retail world too. There’s nothing too ghastly about these legends unless you are horrified by the prospect of losing sales and revenue by those who believe them. Did you hear about:

The One-Legged ‘Up’: In certain parts of this nation, married (or other similar arrangement) shoppers who arrive without their other half are referred to as one-leggers. It’s a well know “fact” that you can’t close a deal without both partners being present. Except it isn’t fact at all, especially in the mattress business.

Think about this: If two people share a mattress and only one person comes to your store to shop, who do you think is the one having trouble sleeping? If you guessed the person coming to your store, you are correct. They want and need your help and the merchandise you provide to fix their problem.

Demonstrate to their needs and include their significant other in the discussion as if they were also in the store. As you move through the selling process, ask about what their other half would say/think about each feature and benefit. You’ll probably hear that their partner “doesn’t care and can sleep anywhere.”

There are situations where people who share finances are wary of making large investment decisions on their own. That’s why we have cell phones! Ask your customer to call their spouse and you’ll probably close the deal. Short of that, you’ll likely be able to close a smaller accessory sale — pillows, for instance — that will help improve their sleep.

The Mattressville Horror Story: It starts out as a sunny day with blue skies, unicorns and rainbows in your parking lot. Then an ominous black cloud forms and you hear the voice, seemingly emanating from an underworld inferno. “That other store is offering 90% off and another 10% off for cash, plus free delivery with 160-month financing and no credit or down payment needed. And two free pillows. And a bag of Fritos,” your shopper tells you.

When you hear an unbelievable competitor offer, know this: It’s unbelievable because it’s probably not true or has more asterisked disclaimers than stars in the heavens. The fact is, all retail businesses need to make money, and savvy retailers will promote a hot offer but pick up margin dollars somewhere else.

You won’t be blindsided by a myth if you know the facts ahead of time. That means checking all your competitors’ websites each day. That includes department stores, warehouse clubs, burrito bed-in-a-box websites and your local Mattress Universe, Bed World or Bucky’s Bedding Barn. Occasionally, you may want to send a scout to their stores to get the ground-level pitch.

Now you know what they are doing and what the exclusions or add-ons are. Craft your own promotion and package that exceeds their value and you’ll win the sale. Remember, there’s a reason the shopper is in your store now; they didn’t want to buy at the competitor.

I Know My Customers: A dozen years ago I showed retail dealers a new product — a memory foam mattress with a sheet set and two pillows. Eight inches thick and priced to sell at $499 retail. In 50 presentations I got two takers.

Here was the objection: The whole enchilada was roll-packed and placed in a box. Forty-eight dealers told me “I know my customer and they’ll never buy a mattress that was packed into a little box.” They said, “If I display a floor model, my customers will scream when the delivery team shows up with a cartoned-up cigar.”

Twelve years later almost every retail store that sells mattresses has some sort of a bed-in-a-box option.

This particular myth is half-true. Great retailers know their customer base, often on a first-name basis. They know what their base likes and how they shop. However, you can know your customers and not know your market’s potential shoppers. The retailers (and products) that dominate their markets own about 20% of the business. iPhone, for instance, is the dominate choice for cellular phones, but only owns 21% of the mobile market.

When you build your business to appeal to your customer base, you’re excluding 80% of the people in your area. They don’t see you and don’t think about you. When they need your product, you aren’t on their consideration list.

This fall presents several opportunities to see new products. You’ll see new ways to promote them and new accessory and service options. Visit the upcoming shows to see options for your customer base, but also reserve time to investigate and commit to the products, prices and promotions that will attract the other 80% of people in your community.

So long as we continue to communicate as a species, urban myths will be recycled and retold. It’s harmless fun for the teller and a shocking surprise for the listener. But believing the myths in your business world are not harmless, especially in our fast-changing environment.

So ask the questions, do the research and know the facts needed to win.  That’s when the real fun begins.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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