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Play To Your Strengths: Gardners’ Jeff Giagnocavo Confronts the Wisdom of Entering E-commerce

If you’re a smaller mattress retailer, do you approach e-commerce in the same way as the top 100 retailers? Do you have an in-house team looking specifically at how your shopping cart is used or which keywords are best for SEO?

The obvious answer is no, but if that’s the case, then why is there a mindset in our industry that you have to have a robust e-commerce website?

That’s a question Jeff Giagnocavo, co-owner of Gardner’s Mattress and More, answered when I reached out to him about a comment in a Facebook mattress industry group about an article focusing on e-commerce. Here’s what he said:

“I feel where articles like these continually miss, and those speaking to our industry miss is that the e-comm business is so encompassing. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in and of itself, the skills and people needed to effectively dominate is massive. Consider this: Wal-Mart put the nail in Jet about a year ago or so. Jet was going to be Wal-Mart’s answer to Amazon. And after BILLIONS in investment, they simply ‘shut the doors on Jet’ for good. That is Wal-Mart. We in here are not Wal-Mart, even bigger regionals like Sit & Sleep, Metro Mattress, Mattress Direct don’t have the funds or people to win in that scenario or anything close to it. 

Having a shopping cart on your site is not being in the e-comm game any more than someone who reads mattress reviews sites for an hour is properly educated. To win on main street with a website, the site first must have a clear path and reason to exist, add value to the person visiting it. Provide pathways for different shoppers at different points in the buying process—ready to buy now, versus researching.

Offer ways to engage—chat, consults, text, email, information that is offered. In my opinion, a main street website begins as that and have amazing employees able to have the best answers for the customer the business wishes to do business with and moves the conversation forward to a phone call or in-store visit where the sale can then be made.”

There’s a lot to dissect there, so we called Giagnocavo to get some more clarification and see what he feels isn’t being talked about enough.

“E-commerce is a big conversation because of its presence,” Giagnocavo explains, referring to his Facebook comment. “You have to have a presence today, but as I said, that presence should serve a purpose that points to your strengths. There’s so much talk in the industry right now about digital, the digital experience, meeting the customer where they are online, etc. What I’m not seeing from most sources is suggestions, advice, input, articles about playing to your strengths.”

He points out that many smaller retailers are not even competing with Amazon or Wayfair, but that when it comes to his local market, Giagnocavo feels he’s at the top of his game. 

“I’m nothing in the digital space,” he says, “but I would put forth that when it comes to, in my local market, generating a lead from my website that comes in the door and I can unequivocally point to that working, I think I can hang with the best of them.”

The main issue he has is that he doesn’t see a lot of people talking about the overlay of doing the best with your customer in person and truly delivering a better sleep experience. He says everything you do— from how you market and advertise your business, and that includes online media—should point to that. And you need to play to your strengths as a brick-and-mortar.

For independent brick-and-mortar retailers, selection, customer service, and delivery are three easy differentiators. 

Studies show that people don’t like choosing between too many options, so having more limited options at your brick-and-mortar store than the bigger retailers can actually work to your advantage. 

Bigger players might have 15 salespeople on staff, but having fewer salespeople can make things more intimate, meaning the customers will be more comfortable picking an option. They need someone there who can guide them through the shopping journey and answer questions along the way.

And the examples go on.

“It would be funny if, over the 10 years of running our business, everyone who told us to get online put their money where their mouth was,” he says. “We’d have cashed in a nice little check. Less than a year ago, we didn’t even have pricing on our website at all. It was purely information.”

Giagnocavo feels companies are jumping into e-commerce headfirst because many are saying it’s do or die, but he wants people to know it’s not a panacea or magic Band-Aid.

“I think most business owners try to play this big game and they don’t have the budget, manpower, or skill,” he explains. “A lot of people are wrong about how they approach digital, so I’m going to play to my strengths and ignore everything else because I can’t control it, and I don’t want to control it. We like who we are and where we are, and we’re going to keep playing to our strengths.”

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