Business Issues  

Men Worry About Price, Women About Mistakes

By Joseph F Carroll

A woman doesn’t want to make a mistake; a man doesn’t want to be taken,” she explained. A woman wants to have confidence she is making the right decision. “Men are looking more at price and value

The inspiration for this column comes from a shopping project my wife and I have planned for this coming weekend. The matching pair of club chairs we sit on every night to watch television are over 20 years old and are in dire need of replacing. The fabric looks almost new but the foam and springs have bottomed out. They have served us well but to use a North Carolina expression, “they don’t owe us anything.”

We are fortunate to live near High Point North Carolina. As you can imagine, located near the headquarters of so many furniture manufacturers and distribution warehouses, retail furniture stores in the area are very competitive. Therefore I am going to beak one of the time-honored rules in our industry and actually pay the retail price.

When we moved into our new home about 10 years ago, we needed to purchase several rooms of furniture. Of course, I could have gone to my friends in the furniture industry and asked for what is euphemistically called an “accommodation sale.” As ours is without a doubt a deal-oriented industry most of us would not think twice about asking for the wholesale price. However, when I weighed the advantages of purchasing everything from one local retail source at discounted prices, including home delivery and set up, against having to spend a day or more shopping various manufacturer’s showrooms at the Market and then relying on their friendship and kindness to purchase one or two pieces which would in turn involve shipping from their warehouse to my home - delivered by truck drivers who were accustomed to dropping off their shipments in their cartons at a loading dock, buying from a local retailer seemed worth the extra cost.

We decided to shop at Furnitureland South, the largest retail furniture store in the U.S. We requested a sales person whom I had known for many years. Before turning to retail sales she had been a merchandiser for a major fabric company. During the time we spent with her I enjoyed observing how she interacted with my wife. Even though my wife and I share similar tastes, I noticed how she approached the buying decision from different viewpoints. I asked Mary, our sales person, if she used different selling strategies with men and women.

“A woman doesn’t want to make a mistake; a man doesn’t want to be taken,” she explained. A woman wants to have confidence she is making the right decision. “Men are looking more at price and value.”

Mary is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and has worked for several major upholstery companies as well as a fabric supplier. She knows sales from inside out. She gains her customers’ confidence by letting them know that she can explain the different fibers the fabric is made from, how it is printed or woven, and how it can be coordinated with other fabrics. She can also describe how the sofa is constructed.

To gain a man’s confidence she may ask, “Do you know what eight-way hand-tied is?” Then she explains that’s how some of the more high-end sofas are constructed, often sketching out details to describe the craftsmanship that goes into making it. If you ask a man, “Do you want solid wood or veneer?” he will always say “solid” because he doesn’t think veneers are strong. He might even ask if there is any plastic on the furniture. Mary may have to crawl under the dining table to show him that it’s not MDF (medium density fiberboard) or a wood substitute. But at this point she is beginning to gain his confidence. Now that he understands the technical aspects she can show him better pieces of furniture.

She says most people are afraid of color. Women seem to prefer blues or greens. Both men and women will usually choose “safe,” neutral colors because they don’t want to make a mistake. The way to interest them is to show them texture: leather, chenilles, Berbers, jacquards, etc. Fringe and trim also help to make the sale.

Mary tells customers who are afraid of color to back off about 10 feet and look at the fabric from afar. A fabric that appears to have three colors may look like a solid color from a distance. Men have no difficulty jumping in and saying, “Sweetheart, I thought you didn’t like flowery things – I’ve got to live with this too.” The wife will reply, “Honey, I was picking it out for you.” He’ll mutter something about having too much white space in the background. She will say she chose it because she thought he would like it. Since almost everyone seems to be afraid of buying something that will show dirt, Mary points out that, in time, everything gets dirty. The solution is to buy fabric that has a lot of pattern and activity going on.

In the final analysis, men want something soft. They want their leather chair to be soft. They don’t want leather that has been sanded, spackled and painted. They want soft fabrics like chenilles and the micro deniers. Still, men are more concerned about a chair’s comfort that what fabric is on it. They like attached pillow backs. Women don’t don’t because you can’t turn them around.

With tables, men like a lot of metal: pewter, pewter and gold, bronze, metal and wood are popular. The shiny look is out. In bedroom furniture, sleigh beds are still very popular. Men generally do not like foot boards; they want simple lines. Woman like foot boards and they like high headboards so they can display their big, square European-style pillows. Women like to put lots of pillows on their sofas, chairs and beds. Men don’t know what to do with them.

Men really like wood. They look closely at the grain. A beautiful table top will dazzle him. “Men look at wood the way a woman looks at a pair of Manola Blahniks,” Mary told me.

Men like recliners and home entertainment centers. A woman will accept an entertainment center as long as it doesn’t have to be the focal point of the room. Women prefer doors that cover the TV screen.

Mary believes couples should shop together and make the buying decision together. Her best advice to someone shopping for furniture? Allow more more time than you think necessary to shop. There is a lot of beautiful, well-made furniture to choose from today. The important thing is to help your customer create a home that reflects their own, unique personality.

Which brings us back to this weekend’s shopping mission to find a pair of club chairs. Will I return to Furnitureland South? Absolutely. Will we shop other stores in the area? I would have probably said no but I saw an ad this morning that the La-Z-Boy store is having a 25% off sale on everything in the store. Like all of us, I can’t resist a deal. We’ll probably check it out.

Joseph F Carroll is the former publisher of Furniture/Today and one of the original founders of the IAFP (International Alliance of Furnishing Publications). He is an international marketing consultant.