Lets say that youre perched in a sector of the retail industry thats increasingly being dominated by drastic price wars driven by circus barker, bait-and-switch advertising. And lets further stipulate that youre shrewd enough to see that it doesnt pay in the long run, nor perhaps even in the short, to compete on that purely commodity basis, even if you wanted to, which you dont. What to do?
If youre Tony Amato, owner of the 12-location World of Sleep mattress chain, you might try short circuiting that untenable situation by introducing a low pressure, consumer education component to your sales pitch. Which he has.
Its not a bad idea. After all, hes someone with an obvious reverence for information and learning, something of a lifelong student who almost unconsciously looks for the small but crucial edge in the marketplace not by sales hype, which he evidently abhors, but through appealing to customers as intelligent beings.
Given half a chance, hell reflexively bend your ear about studies on sleep and associated medical issues that render mattresses something rather less than automatic cure-alls to disruptions in a good nights snooze.
So two years ago, he decided to employ a staff nurse to regularly train his sales people on the medical issues connected with sleep, including sleep disorders, a malady from which an estimated 8 percent of the general population suffers.
Last year, he ratcheted that approach a notch higher, though almost accidentally. The head of the Cleveland Sleep Centers, something of a sleep clinician, happened to buy a mattress from Amato. He became intrigued by World of Sleeps more cerebral sales approach, which drew on elements of his specialty, diagnosing and helping solve sleep disorders by hooking people up to instruments and monitoring their overnight sleep, or lack of same.
That led to the center being retained for sleep assessments and an even higher order of snooze-consulting than the staff nurse can provide.
Our sales people have a general knowledge of sleep disorders, says Amato, and they try to employ it both to give guidance to customers in the selection of their mattresses and perhaps moderate their expectations of the role a mattress any mattress can play in providing a good nights rest for anyone with an underlying medical complication.
He likens the layering in of additional in-house or external expertise to the various services offered by accounting and law firms, which offer clients an array of services at different price points.
The reason for it is to be proactive with customer service, Amato says. If you go out to buy the top-of-the-line, most expensive mattress and expect it to single-handedly solve your problem despite your underlying medical disorder, youll be disappointed with the product. There might be some underlying sleep disorder and not the mattress he just sold you thats preventing you from getting a good nights sleep. And we want to be able to separate that out.
Amato is enthusiastic about the approach. Despite the investments, it might nevertheless save him even more expense and headaches from unhappy customers who try to return a previously purchased mattress out of a mistaken expectation that it could solve their more deeply rooted sleep disorder.
The educational thrust also has the not unimportant additional benefit of separating him from the pack of competitors, many of whom are competing solely through barking about who offers the cheapest mattress and box springs.
Theres nobody doing anything like this, says Amato of his approach, which involves integrating the medical message in TV ads and store displays with training of the sales force. In fact, he suspects that one of his national manufacturing suppliers decided to adopt a similar program after learning about World of Sleeps program through a vendor presentation Amato staged a couple of years ago.
The latest twist? Recognizing that a lot of customers will recoil from sharing such private matters as sleep disruptions with mattress sales people, Amato is considering how he might let potential customers contact the sleep centers directly for a personal sleeping assessment.
We just want to be a resource for our customers to find information in a nonthreatening environment.
How to reach: World of Sleep (440) 891-9071