Opinion. The author is an independent furniture retailer.

Heatwave gave us a summer to remember.

We may not of had the Olympics to cheer us this summer but it has still been one to remember, if not always for the right reasons.

Things started off not too badly, particularly at the better-end where at least there is still some decent margin to aim for. But then came the heatwave.

Thankfully, we had a fair few outdoor sets left from last year, which in July was easily our bestseller, and now at least we don’t have them taking up space in the warehouse.

Thanks to the lack of footfall we took the chance to give the place an extra polish and move bits around. Not that it was untidy or anything, but a summer update does no harm. I also took the chance to visit a few stores outside of my area and found that’s what they were doing as well.

One thing I’ve tried to do is find alternatives to unbranded oak. While the big boys continue to batter each other by selling it cheaper and cheaper, it’s not an area I really want to be in. As a result I’ve been giving more prominence to my branded ranges. Yes, consumers will compare prices online, but most of my fellow retailers in the area are pricing along the same lines (and no we haven’t arranged it) and I think our customers still want the reassurance of buying from a company they know.

It seems to be working, and along with putting non-oak products in better positions, cabinet sales are managing to do OK.

I’d like to think we’ve got a pretty loyal base of customers, for whom we are at least the first shop they visit, and hopefully the final one. We always telephone them a couple of weeks after we’ve delivered to them just to see that everything is OK, but this year we’ve tried customer feedback forms. When the guys deliver the furniture they leave a card asking for feedback on the furniture and the whole buying process.

I didn’t think we would get that many back so we offered a small monthly prize of some vouchers to encourage them. And it’s worked far better than I thought.

Rather than posting them, the majority of people pop into the shop and hand them in — I don’t put a postage stamp on. It’s brought far more people into the shop and we’ve even got some good sales out of it, as they see something new or a product they didn’t look at on their previous visit.

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