Much has been written about the importance of the final mile in successfully (and profitably) completing a furniture sale. Delivering big-ticket products of large size and unusual shapes and materials that are susceptible to damage during transit can be tricky in the best of times. In a pandemic, all the usual challenges only intensify.
At the close of any sale, shoppers are presented with delivery options, often for an additional cost. No professional furniture retailer would drop a purchase on a doorstep (at least in normal times). Rather, they offer “white glove delivery service.”
The near-ubiquitous term calls to mind professional, crisply uniformed delivery people arriving in pristine trucks with a store’s logo. And that’s the problem with it, says retailer Lael Thompson, COO of Home Collections Furniture, in Aurora, CO.
Largely promulgated by third-party, final-mile delivery agents “who charge more based on a perceived value,” Thompson says he won’t touch the term “with a 10-foot pole. ‘White glove’ sets up unrealistic expectations. The final mile companies know what she wants, and could give a damn that her dreams will be crushed when Spike with the tear-drop tattoo, who just got out of prison, shows up in a graffiti-covered vehicle to deliver her sofa,” he says. “I want to control her expectations in a way that is realistic.”
That being the case, Thompson is something of a hybrid when it comes to delivering his store’s made-to-order products. “We do some of our own deliveries, and we outsource the bulk to a family-owned service because they were smaller, so I felt that there would be a little more control, and little more mutual respect. There are upsides to outsourcing delivery…it’s somebody else’s job and responsibility, and I can minimize overhead and staff. The problem with going with some of the larger, higher-priced guys that we know and love is that they have higher requirements with minimums. There are some really professional furniture delivery companies, but you have to have a pretty sizable contract before they buy a truck and wrap it just for you.
“The downside of outsourcing to a smaller company is that sometimes you might not get the truck you like,” he continues. “You can contract what you want, but on the day of delivery, when the guys come to pick up, if they don’t have the truck you specified, are you just not going to deliver the customer’s furniture that day? No. You call the customer and tell them that the guys are running about 20 minutes behind, that they’ve had a truck break down, but we’ve got a U-Haul and we’re still coming. It’s embarrassing, because I don’t want a U-Haul truck delivering my furniture, but it’s a lot better than disappointing your customer.”
Delivering on the Promise
At the conclusion of any sale at Home Collections Furniture, Thompson ensures his customers know exactly what to expect during the delivery process. “We let them know that every item is received into our warehouse first, completely unpackaged, inspected, prepped and ‘deluxed.’”
Thompson notes, “You know, a lot of furniture stores do not unpackage furniture until it’s in the customer’s driveway. This is the worst possible thing you can do. Talk about showing up unprepared! In my warehouse, I have skill, tools and appropriate lighting. I have time. When I’m in your driveway, I’ve got a touch-up pen and if there’s an issue, what quality remedy could possibly be applied between the time you see the truck arrive in your driveway, and I’m walking in and out of your front door?
“My job as a quality, ethical retailer is to make sure that what I’m sending out the door is in the customer’s best interest and in my best interest. The reality is that most companies don’t want to take the time, and the stores are trying to pocket a little extra money by not unpacking and inspecting the product. None of that is to the customer’s advantage. If you get a delivery right the first time, they are always happier about it.”
Thompson tells customers, “‘You bought a piece of furniture, and not a to-do project.’ So, we’re going to make sure it has all the right parts. When it goes onto a delivery truck, if it’s upholstered, it’s bagged and shrink-wrapped. If it’s a wood item, it gets shrink-wrapped, and then it’s going to be padded and tied down in place. Every delivery will be performed by [at least a] two-man crew, and then the product will be placed in the room of choice.”
He charges for the service. “We don’t bake it into the price of the product. Some people want to save a couple extra bucks, and this is their chance. But we make it clear that if they [damage it], it’s their problem. Most people don’t want to buy a nice piece of furniture and risk messing it up on the way home.”