Success at Big Sandy Spans Across Generations
Surrounded on all fronts by its competitors’ retail contraction, Big Sandy Superstore is most definitely in expansion mode. The regional chain, which is one of the leading furniture retailers in the country and also carries a well-balanced brand roster of mattresses, consumer electronics and appliances, just opened two stores in Columbus, Ohio, and is set to open a third. “We’re filling a market need,” Stephen VanHoose, the company’s vice president, said. “It’s a growing, big market, and we can support it.”
Big Sandy is a multi-generational business with 15 total locations and 700 employees that serve West Virginia and Kentucky as well as Ohio, and its success is founded in building on a stellar reputation that took root when, in 1953, Robert VanHoose, Sr., Stephen’s grandfather and the father of company CEO Robert VanHoose, Jr., funded the first store in Kentucky with a $1,000 loan.
Guidance by The Golden Rule
The company philosophy of providing the best service and value for the money to every buyer, and of always following The Golden Rule, informs each step of the management process at Big Sandy – and permeates the company’s approaches to personnel supervision, training, and enhancing the customer experience.
“We pay our salespeople the best in the market, because we want to get and keep the best people,” VanHoose said. “We use a couple of training programs, but although everyone has a different name for it, the Seven Steps of Selling is still our main focus.” Generally, some of these steps include opening the sale, qualifying the customer, demonstration, handling objections and closing the sale.
Bolstering sales efforts on the showroom floor is an aggressive amount of TV advertising, and there is an internal drive on to bump up social media outreach. “Social media is very important to us in attracting Millennials,” VanHoose said. “We have found that they are probably the most profitable television purchaser right now as well, so attracting them is very important to us.”
Playing a key role in Big Sandy’s ability to do well not just in better-margin product categories such as furniture and mattresses but also in typically margin-challenged ones like TVs is the fact that Millennials tend to be premium-TV buyers willing to spend extra for more featureful models. “I think OLED and QLED are going to be big this year, and obviously, rallying around those technologies will be very important to us.”
What has also helped, VanHoose said, is that major manufacturers have subscribed to UPP pricing policies – a move he called “the best change for the industry…This has taken pricing out of the selling equation, and allowed salespeople to sell the product for full value without concern of being beat on price. It has also been very beneficial to the bottom line… Now, we just have to train the salespeople and drive the traffic, and we don’t have to worry about price.”
Citing another benefit of UPP pricing, he further elaborated, “Outside of sales tax savings there is not a reason for the customer to purchase a TV online… I think when the government gets the online sales tax aspect figured out, that will tip the scales back in brick and mortar’s favor even further.”
Big Sandy is a big believer in using financing as one of its essential competitive advantages and differentiators, as well as leveraging its sales staff’s expertise to make add-on audio sales that help the bottom line.
The company is also a prominent member of the Nationwide buying group, and Stephen VanHoose said that relationship and the networking opportunities it has brought the company have gone a long way in fostering the chain’s success. “Nationwide gives us competitive advantages and is very important to our business; they do a very good job of allowing us to compete.” And the admiration from Nationwide is mutual. “Big Sandy Superstore’s impressive 60-plus-year track record has seen them grow into a Top 50 home furnishings company, and is testament to CEO Robbie VanHoose, Jr., and his team,” reflected the head of Nationwide Marketing Group, CEO Dave Bilas. “Nationwide values their membership, their leadership and their friendship.”
And Big Sandy, for its part, pays it forward, by valuing its customers and following through. “It still seems to be that we just have to give every customer that we come in contact with a great experience and out-execute our competition,” VanHoose explained. “We feel that our salespeople buy into and believe in that. That is still the biggest key to success.”