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  • Highland House

    HIGHLAND HOUSE: Using Consumer Research to Improve Product Design

    This company, which manufactures upholstered furniture, has been operating since 1959, producing higher-end, fine quality loveseats, ottomans, sofas and other occasional furniture for the living room and family room.

    It's a subsidiary of Furniture Brands International, the largest furniture producer, which owns a number of companies in the industry, including well-known national brands like Broyhill. They sell their traditional to transitional products to 1200 of America's finest stores.

    Tom Staats, president of Highland House, had been following the career of Britt Beemer for ten years. He was introduced to Beemer by Art Van, a successful, nationally-known furniture retailer from the Detroit area.

    Around five years ago, Staats decided to study the various market segments of his customer audience to understand more clearly how to improve his business.

    "I wanted a national survey of people who buy products like ours to learn how we can give consumers more of what they need and want."

    Staats felt this kind of research could be vital for a more focused marketing and advertising campaign in which he could present his furniture more effectively.

    He couldn't have been more right. His business began to realize substantial increases, as he puts it, and Britt Beemer, he says, was a major factor in the rise.

    "In general, the furniture industry has little experience with consumer research.

    "So most make basic decisions based on 'gut feelings," even after 25 years in the business.

    The general understanding of this effective tool, therefore, is a bit naive, but happily progressive companies like Furniture Brands International, encourage this process.

    "Even when some companies do bring in people to do research, they study the numbers for a while, and then file away the report without taking action.

    "We didn't want to make that mistake. If you don't plan to take the necessary action based on the findings, you shouldn't do research in the first place."

    One of the major issues that Britt Beemer tackled was the large proportion of Highland House customers who were 55-65 years old, and how to deal more effectively with this segment of the market.

    He got the names of 200 older people who had bought furniture in the previous two years. When asked about their satisfaction with the purchase, 57 percent zeroed in right away on the seat cushions, complaining they were too soft, "much like a featherbed."

    "Our more mature customers wanted a firmer cushion because it puts less pressure on the knees when they get up."

    "Since then, we made a big change in the firmness of our cushions, and our business leaped ahead in this category. It was a simple concept that everybody knows about today, but Britt recognized the need before the industry, and we benefited greatly from it before it became widely known."

    Interested in learning more? To request more specific information on ARG's consumer research and marketing strategy services, fill out this form.