Dec 08 2020

Industry outlook: How do certificates work in the furniture trade?

This time the experts Carmen Tappeser, Leif Kania and Hans Hermann Hagelmann will discuss the pros and cons of certificates in the furniture trade in an industry overview. How can you use certificates successfully in sales? And what advantages would an independent certification system for kitchen retailers, for example, have?

Certified origin, climate neutrality, safety standards: Manufacturers are constantly striving to obtain new certificates to promote them and their products and to support retailers. Specialist retailers also have a number of opportunities to draw attention to themselves. However, certificates in the furniture trade are not self-runners and the three experts have different opinions about whether and how they work... 

Very few people know the labels 

"Most labels are not known and therefore in need of explanation", Leif Kania is sure. "In my opinion, customers therefore do not pay attention to any quality labels at all." The coach speaks here from years of experience in selling furniture and kitchens. "If you don't actively include this in a conversation, I have never seen anyone attach importance to it." 

Carmen Tappeser confirms: "Although some manufacturers have been awarded certifications such as the Blue Angel or the Golden M. But not a single customer has approached me about this.

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Carmen Tappeser has an affinity for furniture and interior design in her blood. Her mother is a seamstress in a furniture store and thus responsible for the creative side that the kitchen consultant and vintage lover also shows in her private life when she tailors her clothes. Her father - who has been working in the furniture industry for over 30 years - was and is Carmen Tappeser's role model in her profession. She likes to discuss furniture topics with him passionately. It is therefore not surprising that she turned her back on her original career in hotel management after completing her training. In 2010 she ventured a career change in a furniture store and discovered her talent for consulting, planning and sales. Since 2013 Carmen Tappeser has been working in the kitchen retail trade near Cologne. Customers appreciate her direct and honest way of communication.

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Typical purchase criteria 

Instead, the kitchen consultant has other interests: "Above all, personal taste and design play an important role. Many customers associate old-established brands such as Miele, Siemens or Nobilia with quality. This 'knowledge' often comes from previous purchases and good experience with the product. What has proved its worth is gladly bought again and in a new form". 

Especially with a large and expensive purchase such as a kitchen, durability and comfort also play a role, says Carmen Tappeser: "The surfaces of fronts with their special characteristics are of secondary importance. Most customers look more at the quality of the pull-outs and hinges". 

Labels don't lie 

Labels, one might think, are of no use at all. In fact, as BMK President Hans Hermann Hagelmann reports, there is a difference of opinion: 

"This is a fundamental discussion in marketing: do we need certificates, do we need labels? But as terrible as I find them myself, they have a strong impact. It helps to provide things with quality labels. Subliminally, you think 'They're not going to put one of those things on it now, if that's not true, because they don't lie'". 

As a sales professional, Hagelmann also knows: "It is incredibly difficult to establish a brand in the furniture sector. That takes a lot of patience. And if someone is unsure whether they know the brand, you can help a little by using quality labels. 

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Hans Hermann Hagelmann studied business administration in Bochum and Frankfurt before embarking on a career in marketing and product management in the early 1980s. Among the professional stations of the business graduate are Pepsi-Cola in Offenbach and BASF in Mannheim. In 1990, Hagelmann switched to the furniture industry and initially worked in the supply industry. In 1999, he became a member of the management board at Nolte Küchen, and in 2001 he became managing director for marketing and sales. At about the same time, he joined the board of the marketing company A30 Küchenmeile and was spokesman of the board of AMK from 2004. He held both positions for around ten years. Since 2013, Hagelmann has not only been the owner of 3H-con Unternehmensberatung in Bad Oeynhausen and 3H-Distribution for the kitchen brands Pronorm and artego in France, but also President of the German Association of Medium-sized Kitchen Retailers (BMK). In 2017 he completed additional training as a certified business mediator.

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Labels as a silent seller 

But how do you help with certificates if customers need some help with certificates? Carmen Tappeser says: "Labels would have to be visibly attached to the goods or advertised separately. Hardly anyone notices the small pictograms on catalogues". 

Hans Hermann Hagelmann sees manufacturers on the right track who not only affix their labels to the furniture but also list them in a striking way: "How many people stroll through the individual departments on the large surface and there is no salesperson there. This has an effect and is necessary for the product to explain itself further and not just say 'I'm a wardrobe and I cost so and so much', but that there's a bit more to it. 

Whether labels work, is a type question 

Leif Kania, who focuses on psychological patterns in his training courses, sees certificates in the furniture trade more as a tool that appeals to certain types. Since most of the labels need some explanation, the silent sale is one of those things: 

"As a salesperson, you have to work actively with this tool and should of course know your customers' buying motives and be able to assess their personality structures. Then, for example, you have the opportunity to draw the attention of a very 'number-data-facts'-oriented customer, who is very analytical and has security as his main - by the way typically German - buying motive, to seals of approval such as the Golden M and the corresponding characteristics".

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Leif Kania is a trainer and coach for the furnishing industry, drawing on over 20 years of sales and management experience in the kitchen and furniture trade. The former managing director of a large VME company with craft and commercial training knows the problems of his customers first-hand and knows how to solve them sustainably. As an accredited trainer according to Insights MDI®, the industry expert focuses on the recognition of individual strengths, which allow sales teams and managers to reach their full potential according to their personality. The focus of the sales training courses is on type-specific advice as the key to increasing sales.
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Certificates in the furniture trade create trust 

For Leif Kania a certificate is only as good as the seller who knows how to use it. The linchpin for him remains the consultation with a detailed needs analysis: 

"The customer comes into a furniture store and is suspicious at first - of the seller, the goods, the surroundings. He is outside his comfort zone. Now it is important to create trust in a good sales talk. This happens when the customer realises that it's all about him, it's about his solution". 

Only then would certificates come into play. Kania continues: "If the basis of trust is there, a seal can provide confirmation - because what does it ultimately stand for? For trust! In my opinion, however, this trust bonus amounts to a maximum of 5 to 10 percent. Everything else is about emotions and whether I manage to find a product that meets the purchase criteria". 

Excellent service 

When we talk about advice, we take a look at the qualified specialist trade. He should at least be qualified. But how can customers recognise this? 

All three experts agree: Anyone who wants to buy furniture today should first find out about it on the Internet, ask questions in forums or look at the numerous portals that are supposed to pave the way to the kitchen studio or furniture store with customer opinions and stars. 

Carmen Tappeser explains: "There are customers who come to us via recommendations. However, it is mostly the reviews they have found while googling that give many of our customers the incentive to make an appointment for a consultation".

The crux of the dealer search 

Hans Hermann Hagelmann has carried out a search in this way in an exemplary manner for the kitchen trade and, after studying the range of products on offer intensively, comes to the conclusion: "There are plenty of opportunities to obtain information. However, there is no neutral and comprehensible qualification or quality statement that would reveal which standards this or that kitchen dealer meets. Because: there are no standards! And evaluations are always very subjective. 

On the internet, every platform has a different focus and applies different standards. For consumers, the criteria are not obvious at first glance. Sometimes they are simply classic advertising. 

Plaque for the kitchen specialist trade 

If it goes to Hagelmann, this will soon be different. Some time ago, he initiated a neutral, cross-association and nationwide certification with uniform standards that are easy for every consumer to see. 

Together with an independent certifier from Berlin, a test phase with selected retailers began last autumn. Then Corona took a compulsory break. Nevertheless, Hagelmann is satisfied with the interim results: 

"The quintessence of the whole thing was a positive surprise among the participating retailers, who said, we know we are good, even consider ourselves the best, but we have learned a great deal in this certification". 

Aha-experience for dealers 

In other words: Not only end customers would benefit from such certification. It is also about the internal effect. Hagelmann continues: 

"We didn't evaluate whether the children's corner had enough Lego bricks, but rather put the very strong focus on how to deal with the customer. How quickly are e-mails answered, how is the customer received, how are plans made with him, to what extent is there even a uniform language regime internally, how does the dealer present himself externally? Then we had owners, they said, that's obvious! Everyone here knows how it works, they have been around long enough! But when individual employees were interviewed, each of them came up with a different version of what the culture in the company is like and how to articulate it to the outside world. 

This is where Leif Kania also finds himself with his observations, which he made in his daily work as a coach: "Ultimately, every retailer is responsible for orienting his company in such a way that the customer who comes in is optimally supplied. But many people find that difficult. Certification with uniform standards could help here".

Ambitious undertaking

For end customers, a dealer badge could speed up the search on the Internet by providing top hits, says Kania. He and Hagelmann also agree on marketing. The BMK president states: "Just sticking to the door to the other 25 seals is not enough, you can give it away. It must be actively marketed in advance and from many sides. That is a very ambitious undertaking. But I am of the opinion that the effort is worth it. 

Turbo after the pandemic 

Corona could also act as an accelerator here. After the pandemic, new impetus must be given. Here, independent certification could help to further strengthen the position of the specialist kitchen trade. Hagelmann estimates that it will take a good two years before "vaccination", i.e. certification, is available across the board. From the point of course where the threads are taken up again. In the long term, he does not rule out an extension to other specialist shops... 

So: certificates are dead? No! Long live certificates in the furniture trade! 

Author: Christine Piontek

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Now it's your turn: What do you think about seals of approval? How do you market labels? And would you have your company certified independently? We welcome your comments!

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