Members of the BrandSource, the national merchandising and marketing group, have a proven track record of resilience during crises, and the current coronavirus outbreak is no different.
A new survey of BrandSource members conducted by parent organization AVB, confirms their adaptability, and also provides a snapshot of the small business landscape. According to the poll, the vast majority of members’ showrooms remain open, at least to some extent; most are supplementing in-store sales with transactional websites; and some 85 percent are providing either curbside delivery or full in-home installation and repair services.
The nationwide survey, conducted April 17, also shows that a sizable number of dealers are experiencing sales increases, although perhaps the most important finding is that nearly all BrandSource members are taking some form of precaution to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
How are BrandSource dealers generating business? Fully 65 percent of the 199 survey respondents are keeping their showrooms completely open and their store hours unchanged. Another 12 percent are opening their doors by appointment only, and 11 percent are operating with reduced hours, limited days and/or restricted product categories. About 13 percent of showrooms are closed altogether, members said.
Fortunately, while 95 percent of members maintain websites, more than two thirds (69 percent) of those are transactional, and the vast majority employ all the tools in the AVB Marketing toolkit to maximize traffic and sales. Specifically, 63 percent of members’ e-commerce sites use banners to indicate the companies’ current service levels; 54 percent have enabled live chat; 48 percent list their assortments by popularity, with best-selling items up top; 32 percent flag products that are in stock and/or are available for next-day delivery; and 29 percent post their delivery, installation and/or haul-away charges.
Members are using a variety of mediums in addition to websites to communicate with their customers remotely. Phone calls are the most popular non-physical means, employed by 98 percent of respondents, followed by Facebook at over 70 percent. Close to 60 percent are using Google My Business to keep customers apprised of any operational updates, while live videoconferencing via FaceTime was cited by a third of BrandSource members (32.5 percent), 13 percent said they are using Skype, and 36 percent reported a combination of conference calls and/or videoconferencing.
But when it comes to serving customers in person, members are taking no chances and have clearly adapted to the “new normal.” Specifically, 97 percent of respondents regularly sanitize high-touch surfaces in the showroom, 95 percent are keeping a safe social distance from guests, and two thirds (66 percent) are limiting the number of customers permitted in the store at any one time.
Members are also following good PPE (personal protective equipment) practices whenever they can, with 48 percent mandating face masks and 44 percent insisting on gloves for showroom personnel. Unfortunately, more than 56 percent of members described finding hand sanitizer as “extremely difficult,” while 43 percent reported similar difficulty locating face masks.
Bleach, however, appears to be the go-to disinfectant for dealers, with nearly 42 percent describing it as relatively easy to secure.
All told, over 75 percent of members said they outline their sanitary policies and service levels on storefront signage.
Speaking of service, nearly two thirds of members (61 percent) are offering curbside delivery; more than 46 percent are providing in-home delivery with no installation; and an almost equal number (45 percent) are offering in-home delivery with installation.
In contrast, 15 percent of members surveyed are not offering delivery service at all.
For those providing in-home delivery and installation, 68 percent screen their customers for coronavirus prior to the appointment by asking symptom-related questions. Once there, 90 percent of crews sanitize their hands and equipment before entering the household; 82 percent do so after completing the service; 81 percent wear gloves; 76 percent wear face masks; and 44 percent wearing booties.
Additionally, more than 69 percent of respondents are still providing in-home appliance repairs. Of those, 83 percent are pre-screening customers for COVID-19 symptoms, and gloves and masks are worn by 79 percent and 72 percent of their techs, respectively. In addition, 59 percent of members are taking the extra precaution of monitoring their employees’ temperature and health on a regular basis.
As for the employees themselves, 58 percent of store owners said they are allowing them to work from home if they feel unsafe and 55 percent are requiring workers to stay home if they or anyone in their household is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. In addition, 42 percent of members have reduced employee hours; almost 15 percent have had to lay off workers; 14 percent are providing additional paid sick leave; nearly 13 percent have furloughed employees, and third of respondents (33.2 percent) reported no change in employee status.
On the sales front, more than a fifth of the respondents (22 percent) reported an increase in in-store appliance sales of between 1 percent and 20 percent, while 28 percent cited the same range of gains for online orders. Nearly 8 percent said their online appliance sales have increased more than 20 percent, and 3 percent also reported a 20 percent-plus rise in in-store sales of appliances.
Furniture and bedding stores have taken a harder hit, as many have been deemed “non-essential” by their localities and have been forced to close their doors. Accordingly, in-store sales of furniture and bedding were up between 1 percent and 20 percent for only 5.7 percent of respondents while 4.2 percent reported comparable increases online, with 2.1 percent indicating e-commerce gains of over 20 percent.
Service revenue was down for 38 percent of members, up for 12 percent, and unchanged for 25 percent.
In between managing staffs, stores and websites, the majority of BrandSource members are using the slower sales period to catch up on overlooked tasks. Sixty-seven percent said they are re-merchandising their stores, 59 percent are re-merchandising their websites, 65 percent are training employees, and some 58 percent are making use of the time by starting or finishing renovation projects.
As AVB CEO Jim Ristow told members last week during his first virtual Town Hall, BrandSource dealers are outperforming the industry and will emerge from the health crisis even stronger thanks to their leadership, resilience and support from the group and each other.
BrandSource is the leading merchandising organization for independent appliance, home furnishings and consumer tech dealers. Its parent company, AVB, is a $19.5 billion member-driven co-op that provides merchandising, financing and digital marketing services to nearly 5,000 independent dealers in the U.S. and Canada. BrandSource affiliates include ProSource (consumer tech and custom integration); TRIB Group (rent-to-own); Mega Group (Canada); and HFA Buying Source, serving home furnishings dealers nationwide.