A Q&A with MTA: MarTech Advisor

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I was recently asked to take part in a Q&A session for Martech Advisor.com (MTA) and below is the article.  You can also view it on their site at MarTechAdvisor.com.

Digital Is In Vogue, But Brick & Mortar Is Alive And Kicking Too!

Apoorva Kulkarni Assistant Editor, MarTech Advisor, Staff Writer
Jul 26 2018 | 10 Mins Read

James Einspahr, Digital Creative Director of the Furniture Row Companies, explained to MTA why going digital did not mean the end of the brick and mortar stores for Furniture Row. He spoke about the need for creating a unified brand experience while maintaining the individuality of each sub-brand. James currently leads the digital creative team at Furniture Row where he and his team are responsible for everything from production to final creative that drives multiple websites, brands, and Furniture Row owned companies.


Furniture Row is made up of multiple specialty brands such as Denver Mattress, Sofa Mart Bedroom Expressions and Oak Express. Each of these brands have an individuality but are also an integral part of the bigger “Furniture Row” brand. What strategies does the organization follow to ensure that the Brand Message and Brand Experience remains the same across all channels and platforms?

The Furniture Row® brands started as stand-alone brands and were later grouped under one roof and branded as Furniture Row®. We have many locations across the country which are under one roof and some remaining that are not. There are a few which are newly built, mostly being Denver Mattress® locations which today has the largest stand-alone presence.

As a whole, we do take a very streamlined approach to advertising representing all the brands in the markets that make sense, but still have a handful of Denver Mattress® specific marketing objectives which require individual attention.

Denver Mattress® also has its own website but both sites and overall media strategy cross the inherent marketing stream which we maintain a one for all marketing directive across all mediums in most cases.

Furniture Row has a legacy of more than 40 years to bank on. How did Furniture Row transition from the conventional brick and mortar stores to a digital shopping website? What tips would you give other organizations planning to transition into the digital world?

I wouldn’t call it a transition really.
Our brick and mortar stores are still a huge part of our business and while we have become more and more successful online, we still see the website as a tool for our customers to learn about product before making a decision and purchase no matter the avenue.

We have high resolution images in multiple angles, zoom features to view fine details, and supply customer reviews all of which help customers come in to the stores or shop online with a better idea of what they are looking to purchase and why.

We are still there for those customers who prefer the online shopping experience, and some of them will make the purchase online after visiting a store or even cross shopping.  While we do have a successful digital presence we still find furniture and mattresses to be a very personal choice which requires the “touch and feel” experience to make a decision that is right for each individual, couple, or family, so we cannot ignore our store environment either.

Furniture Row has created inspiring and engaging blogs/magazines in-sync with the organization’s products – “The Front Door” and “Home Is Here”. How do these activities benefit the brand’s customer engagement?

We have worked hard to create content that our customers and even people who aren’t (our customers) want to read, keep up with, and use to live the better life they want and strive to have.

We find the style and lifestyle content we create to be an important and successful way to engage our audience without blasting them with sales and promotions.

The added blog content also gives us material of our own to use in both email marketing and social media.

Social media is an indispensable part of marketing today.  Shoppable content within social media is a huge new area of growth for e-tailers. What is Furniture Row’s take on the trend?  Any learnings?

We are still watching this trend and while we do work hard to curate content and connections that our customers are looking for we find that diving too deep, too fast, or too early can be a detriment more than it is helpful within our specific vertical.

Working hard to keep in front of customers in this type of space can quickly be viewed negatively and so we are working hard to maintain a healthy level of being in front of the customer when they want us to be, and not when they don’t.

More and more consumers are logging in to shopping websites through their smartphones or tablets. In this context, what should organizations be prioritizing in their mobile marketing strategy?

We were very early adopters of mobile strategy when many said we couldn’t pull it off, that we needed an expensive app and not a web app, or that a vendor’s technology would not work within the space.

We pushed ourselves hard to make it happen and then had to push many of our enterprise level partners to jump in with us.  In several cases I had to design the solution for the partner in order for them to even agree that it would be possible.

Nowadays every retailer has a pretty strong mobile presence so when we look back even just 7 or 8 years and recall large fortune 500 and even fortune 100 partners tell us that it wasn’t going to be possible, but we made it happen anyways, the successes are quite a feat. It has been well documented that we were first to go live with mobile websites built using ATG Oracle commerce, Scene7 images, and Bazaarvoice’s Reviews & Ratings just to name a few.

Based on your own experiences, how should a CMO approach marketing technology selection and investments at a time when many marketers find themselves stuck with ‘Frankenstacks’?

We learned some very hard lessons by putting too much faith in technologies or vendors that over promised and under delivered. We have used outside RFP (Request For Proposal) firms for the bigger projects like platform selection, but have learned enough about our needs and processes in doing so that we are now comfortable doing it internally. Our failures while sometimes tough to swallow have made us much better at the upfront process .

The best advice I have after dealing with the ups and downs of technology and vendor selection is to make sure to do your homework, and, be thorough about it.

What has been best for us is selecting a “partner” and not just a vendor. Looking for data on the company, reviews from other retailers or marketers in your vertical, and not just ones a vendor gives you names of.

“Furniture Row Racing” is a very popular stock car racing team that competes in the Monster Energy Cup Series. How does this sponsorship tie-in with the rest of the marketing strategies of the organization?

The owner of Furniture Row actually owns and operates Furniture Row Racing, so it is not really a sponsorship play but a separate business he built from the ground up. The team is currently sponsored by Toyota®, Bass Pro Shops®, 5 Hour Energy®, and Auto Owners Insurance®.

For years Furniture Row®, Denver Mattress®, and Visser Precision® were on the #78, including the 2017 Championship year, the added visibility did help build awareness of the brands within the fan base. We have watched the team’s fan base grow along with the team’s success and that has certainly been a benefit to the companies.

As a Digital Creative Director, how do you balance the creative and analytical sides of marketing?

Balancing creative solutions against real data can be tricky but it gives us some opportunity to take personal/subjective opinions out of the equation to some level. We use the data we collect on clicks, averages, and similar to improve each iteration of the creative whether for one of the websites, banner ads, or even our blog content . All that said, using or even chasing the data can cause issues too.  We like to allow the creative and user experience to stabilize before we rushing to judgment and only then take the insights to work.

What are the emerging marketing trends in the home furnishing industry that you are excited about?

I would lean towards more of what we are doing in marketing technology being, things we are excited about from within the digital team. Overall the trends specific to the furniture retail arena haven’t changed much beyond the online shopping experience and we have been part of that many years at this point.

One example of things we are currently excited about include working to leverage our DAM (Digital Asset Management) system to push data, images and other assets to and from our POS (Point Of Sale) systems, websites and more.

Our most recent addition to our process and something we are seeing great results from is the implementation of our DMARC program through 250ok, and their analytics platform, which made the DMARC process smooth and easy to put in place. Email is a huge part of our digital strategy and we have recently seen major gains in inbox placement, clicks, and opens.

The increases we have seen related to putting DMARC in place have a direct correlation to online sales increases and additional foot traffic to the stores.

After having such great success with our DMARC work we are taking part in a beta program through 250ok and OATH called BIMI, which allows us to add our logo within email applications similar to when a friend calls and their assigned photo shows up.  We are still watching the results from BIMI but are very excited to see how it will also increase brand awareness, inbox placement and open rates.

About Furniture Row:
The stores of Furniture Row® (including Denver Mattress®) provide home furnishings, mattresses, and linens all at one convenient location. Family-owned and operated with more than 330 stores in thirty states, Furniture Row is one of America’s largest furniture and bedding retailers. Real Furniture. Real Value.

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    Hello! My name is James Einspahr and I’m a Creative Director & Digital Strategist based in Denver, Colorado