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Wake-up call.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If your store doesn't make shopping exciting and entertaining, you're dead.

That was the blunt message issued to Karastan rug and carpet dealers by Peter Glen, a writer, speaker and marketing authority who specializes in the retail scene. Glen addressed a group of more than 500 retailers who attended Karastan's Fashion Bash, a weekend mini-market of new products and merchandising ideas.

Part razzle-dazzle cheerleader for the retailing business, part angel of doom, Glen stressed that retailing is changing rapidly in today's wired-in society. Shopping for basics will soon become purely an electronic function, Glen predicted. Consumers will only be motivated to go to a store that is merchandised in a unique and entertaining way.

That's why traditional retailers must radically change the way they do business if they don't want to take a one-way trip to tube city. "You've got to understand that you're not in the business of selling rugs or furniture; you're in the business of selling dreams," he said.

After scouting the nation's floor coverings and furnishings stores, Glen said dreams are in short supply. "I'm just bored. I'm not having fun anymore," he said. He said the most prevalent emotions he encounters on the retail floor are anxiety and depression. It's not an atmosphere conducive to selling.

But all is not lost. There are also some smart retailers who are changing the shopping habits of the nation by making their stores exciting and happy places to be, he pointed out. "You've got to be evangelists for good news," he asserted.

Retailers attending the Karastan event described Glen's message as a potent wake-up call. In fact, many of the most successful merchants in attendance were actively changing the way they do business.

In a major leap into marketing cyberspace, Bob Davidow said Benchmark Express will offer every consumer in the Kansas City market free access to the World Wide Web. As a regional server for the Internet, Davidow figures it might cost the company approximately $1 million per year. "It's money I would have spent on promotional activities anyway," said Davidow, who titles himself Benchmark's "teacher/leader."

Consumers must come to the store to pick up the software package. Each time they open up the WWW, they will be greeted with Benchmark's home page and an invitation to browse through its online store.

ABC Carpet & Home will soon open a new store in south Florida, but it can't be a clone of ABC's store on Broadway in Manhattan, said Jerry Weinrib, president.

Scott Hayim, who heads ABC's Absolutely Rugs unit, said: "There is no destination home furnishings store in Florida, and we hope to create one. At the same time, we realize that we cannot re-create the look and feel of the turn-of-the-century New York store in a modern building in Boca Raton."

Consumers driving along the highway will be confronted instead by ABC's wit -- and a wink at the New York store -- as a huge wrap-around mural depicts scenes from the New York store's classic cast iron facade and heavily embellished interiors, Hayim said.

"As leaders in the retailing business, it is our obligation to be in a constant state of change," Weinrib said.

Einstein-Moomjy, which has been selling rugs and carpeting in the New York area for nearly 40 years, recently opened a new flagship store a mile away from its former headquarters in Paramus, N.J.

The new store represents a radical departure in the company's merchandising. Rugs, not broadloom, are given the most prominent display area. The floors are hardwood rather than carpet. And Einstein-Moomjy, which has billed itself as "the carpet department store," is branching out into the furniture and accessory business.

"To be a success, or continue as a successful retailing entity, it is necessary to keep changing,' said Walter Moomjy, a company principal. "We can't be afraid of change. We've got to try new ideas. Sometimes they don't work, but you always have to try."

If ABC is a major destination furnishings store on the East Coast, Nebraska Furniture Mart serves the same function in the Midwest. There are fundamental differences in the stores' merchandising philosophies, but the subtext is the same: This is the destination for excitement, value and merchandise the consumer wants to buy.

The underlying differences and similarities of ABC and Nebraska Furniture Mart are apparent in how both stores decided to feed their masses of customers. ABC operates a popular cafe that serves delicate sandwiches and salads surrounded by the cluttered chic of ABC merchandise. In Nebraska Furniture Mart, there is Burger King and a See's Candy stand.

Peter Glen cited salesmen behind desks as one of the most depression-inducing traditions of floor covering retailing. Nebraska Furniture Mart recognized that, too, according to Bob Batt, who heads the store's rug business.

Desks have been cleared off the selling floor, and salesmen and customers now stand at tall coffee-bar tables to write orders. Salesmen never sit down on the sales floor. At first, the salespeople balked. "When sales and commissions improved dramatically, they stopped complaining," said Batt.

Merchants who are instrumental in changing the consumer's shopping psyche with brand new concept stores must also continue to tweak and tinker. For example, the Home Depot Expo is definitely a work in progress.

Amid great fanfare, Expo made its debut just two years ago as the upscale home furnishings arm of the home improvement giant. With Expo stores in place in Dallas, Atlanta, Long Island and Miami, management continues to tinker with the look and feel of the up-market stores.

Pat Shaw, who heads floor covering marketing for the Home Depot Expo stores said the stores are in the midst of retooling. "Over the next year, all stores will be based on the prototype of the Miami unit," he said.
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Title Annotation:rug store atmosphere, sales approach
Author:Wyman, Lissa
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Nov 25, 1996
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