Is it time for the industry to drop out of the race to the bottom?

Years ago, as a newbie just starting in this business, I remember asking a veteran manufacturer what I needed to know about the home furnishings business.

Without missing a beat, he quipped, “Stick around and you’ll see that we may be the only industry that eats their young.”

I walked away having no idea what he meant. 

But now, after some three decades in the business, I am sad to report that I’m pretty sure he was right.

Should you be so inclined to look up the actual term of eating one’s young, you will find this: Filial cannibalism — the term is derived from the zoological phenomenon of animals killing and consuming their own young for sustenance. 

However, the definition we want can be found in Wiktionary, which defines it this way: To betray a constituent or charge out of self-serving interests or desperation.

So, where am I going with all of this?

I think our industry is guilty of betrayal and a bit of desperation. And the saddest thing about it is that we betray ourselves when we need not to do that.

Here’s how and here’s why: Many manufacturers burn the midnight oil making beautiful products that transform a house into a home. 

Designers put heart and soul into bringing form, function and fashion together in a way that delights the consumer, time after time.

Great retailers spend huge amounts of time and money to transform their showrooms into idea factories that enable shoppers to create the room or rooms of their dreams.

So, where’s the betrayal? Right in the hands of any of the above-mentioned groups that are in a perpetual race to the bottom.

Case in point. During premarket, I visited with an executive at a major upholstery maker.

He had just come back from a stint on the road and told me about a visit he had made to a very successful regional chain. I am not going to share the location or number of stores to protect the guilty.

The owner of this regional chain, who I’m told has a lot of cash on hand, had recently bought a few dozen truckloads of better goods that a manufacturer needed to unload. 

Suffice it to say the retailer netted himself one heck of a deal.

Here’s where the young become dinner. According to the upholstery exec, “The retailer could have easily sold each item for $999, which still would have been a great deal for the consumer, but instead, chose to blow them out for $499.

Can someone tell me why there are always folks who want to race to the bottom?”

That’s one example of how we betray ourselves.

Here’s a second way: We put blinders on our consumers. We are in the fashion business; we know that given the option, today’s consumers gravitate toward color. However, if I visit most upholstery showrooms in a month, I am willing to bet that we will once again find ourselves drowning in a sea of brown sofas.

As a believer that the rule of three is an age-old writing technique that implies that things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying and effective to readers, I will leave you with a third way I think we betray ourselves.

Too often, we see e-commerce as the enemy. I may take some heat for what I am about to say, but I think e-commerce, especially for brick-and-mortar retailers, can be another way to sell.

And, to circle back to my second point about putting binders on our customers, visit any of the e-com retail sites and you will see furniture decked out in colors that would put a peacock to shame. 

Back in 1966, a shopper could always find a $399 sofa. She still can today. Plenty of them. But here’s the difference: $399 in 1966 equals $3,723.96 in 2023.

Maybe the time has come to drop out of the race to the bottom. That’s a race where everyone, including the winner, loses.

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