In today’s technology induced, fast-paced market, running a successful retail mattress store is no less than performing a clever magic trick. But we are not short of unriddling skills either. In this interview with Mr. M. Miyaji, owner of hyperlocal mattress store M.M. Furnishing in Udaipur, we dig deep to learn about his recipe of successful mattress business and hopefully uncover some secret ingredients too!
Arriving a little earlier than the decided time for the interview, I’m almost mistaken as a customer and greeted with a genuinely warm welcome at the door. At a glance, what really strikes me is the interactive setting rather than a typical “customer and products on either end” set-up and of course Mr. M. Miyaji’s hearty smile. Started as a clothing store in 1996 by Mr. M. Miyaji’s father, the business was soon expanded into an exclusive furnishing showroom in a second location, accommodating all sorts of soft furnishing items, from upholstery, curtain fabrics, to wallpapers and flooring items. Soon enough, mattresses were introduced to an overwhelmingly good response and became the dominant product, a status still preserved till date.
The man behind this idea, Mr. M. Miyaji explains how using existing knowledge and background, it made complete sense to diversify in the same field. “Business is all about making the smart choice.” The art of calculated risk lies in the creating balance between “trying new things” and “using existing experience, knowledge and resources”.
Today, the store offers a variety of mattresses: from residential economy to semi luxurious types, readily available in-house itself. For ulta-premium types they have miniatures and catalogues to assist customers with their shopping. They serve offices, home sector and hotels, even though the “competition is cutthroat in hospitality in Udaipur” remarks Mr. M. Miyaji. The store sees a footfall of 20+ customers a day, besides the regular project based clientele. The stats today show a 13x fold rise in mattress sales since their introduction.
|| BUSINESS MANTRA 101
On inquiring about this manifold achievement, Mr. M. Miyaji exclaims “Keeping it original goes a long way!”. Further elaborating on his business mantra he states “Retail segment of the mattress industry offers an opportunity to curate a personalised experience for customers like no other”. Since the ideal mattress is unique for every customer, “asking them about their sleeping habits and needs, listening patiently, answering their curious questions; all of this helps establish trust and makes them feel understood.” This customer-retailer relationship forms the base of every sale and “midst tough market divide due to new D2C models, it has proven to be our biggest asset” adds Mr. M. Miyaji.
Adding onto this Mr. M. Miyaji also lays special stress on ethical conduct. “Customers see us as their trustable allies”. In the age of the internet “they are more aware, they do their homework and look up their options before arriving at our doorstep. Yet when it comes to the final buy, they entail a lot of trust in us and seek honest advice”. It is the retailer’s duty to transparently inform customers about all the available options and suggest mattresses that fulfil their needs and not just the dealer’s targets. “In the long run, it always pays off in the form of customer satisfaction and helps retain a customer even after 7-8 years when they are on a lookout for their next mattress”. Good and honest service always leaves a long-lasting impact. This is also a powerful tool for stimulating some word of-mouth marketing, which Mr. M. Miyaji believes is integral to the retail segment. “With google ratings and reviews, word-of mouth marketing has only adapted itself into new forms but still retains its effectiveness.” He adds “When a customer leaves our showroom happy and satisfied, we know that itself will help bring in new ones.”
On probing him further regarding his various business strategies he jokingly says “What strategies?! We adapt, that’s what retailers do!”. Following up, (no jokes this time) when specifically quiered about his strategies in the age of e-commerce, Mr. M. Miyaji remarks that “the key i think is to accentuate our own assets” rather than taking a head on clash with the e-commerce models’ hard-to-defeat qualities. So besides having an upper hand in building good customer-retailer relationships and giving them a personalised experience, “we also focus on using the physical nature of the store to our full advantage.”
Customers enjoy being able to see and touch the mattress, even sit on it and contemplate before the final purchase. After all mattress is a very intimate investment. It’s where one rests their mind and body at the end of each day. “We Indians are still very old school that way and it’s a good thing” remarks Mr. M. Miyaji. He explains how they give special attention to displaying various types of mattresses at all times. “It’s not always about bombarding them (customers) with technical information. Sometimes you have to just let them be with the mattress; feeling the texture, pressing it to check the bounce.”
Another strength for retail stores, Mr. M. Miyaji points out lies in cross selling. In fact, he swears by this strategy, saying it’s a two way street. “Pillow covers, bedsheets, bed runners and so on. Most of the customers coming into the store always look around and mattresses are hard to miss.” Also, presentation matters!
Like every retail store, M. M. Furnishing has seen it’s fair share of hurdles till date. Mr. M. Miyaji recalls how tough it was to bring in customers during the initial days. “To make customers step out of their comfort zone, you have to give them some incentive and that might mean taking a few punches yourself.” Hence, lucrative deals, vouchers, free trials, deliveries etc were all put to use at one point or another.
“Demonetisation was a bad time too.” Cash flow was severely affected and so was business. Mr. M. Miyaj says building trustful relationships with manufacturers over the years paid off big time during these trying times. Manufacturers willingly extended their support with flexible credits and supply. New technologies have helped bring vast diversification in mattresses. This means specific sleeping needs of customers can be satisfied. “It also means more homework for us. Firstly, we need to be able to understand new features. Then we have to communicate it in such a way that it helps customers understand how these features will be beneficial to them and address their specific needs. A task easier said than done.” Mr. M. Miyaji confirms that with years of experience and knowledge, one can easily get a hang of it. “Help from manufacturers in this matter is obviously a prerequisite.” He keeps up with the latest trends regularly and also stresses upon training staff and refreshing their knowledge base regularly
|| THE WAY AHEAD
“Overall the industry is doing really good.” Be it because of people becoming more carefree and willing to spend on their present day quality of living or due to more awareness regarding importance of sleep, “increased and consistent footfall since past 2 years is evidence enough that mattresses are in high demand.”
Mr. M. Miyaji points our, it’s “not just the increase but also upgrade” we should take into consideration. There is a shift towards better and more durable options, “in our case that is semi-luxurious and luxurious mattresses”. A very positive trend indeed.
Customers are considering many more factors before making a purchase. “Questions regarding durability and maintenance are becoming very common.” Health related factors are also being given much thought. “Customers are consulting with their doctors regarding their back pain problems and sleeping disorders in relation to sleep products” They are taking the time to become more self aware about their needs and are willing to use professional expertise, both online and offline to make more informed choices. Mr. M. Miyaji puts it well in words saying, “This helps us in helping them.”