Maria Sepulveda, co-owner of the furniture company SUITE in New York, says that despite the poor economy, she and partner Kris Fuchs have continued to succeed in business, even as potential clients are closing shop.
When the company began in September of 2006, Maria and Kris knew competition was fierce – and that if they opened up shop in the midst of what was already out there, they would be just one more ship in the furniture sea.
Therefore, they changed their strategy. Rather than head to SOHO, where many furniture stores reside, “We went uptown, to Madison Avenue and 58th Street.” This, says Sepulveda, created a lot of attention. “We were immediately taken in by the community and business. We turned the key and it started. It is all about the buzz,” she adds. “We definitely achieved that.”
SUITE began as the economy was still experiencing its high. Businesses were doing well, people were spending, and a recession was something of the past, not talk of the future.
Yet quite quickly things turned, and Sepulveda watched warehouses close, stores shut down, and former furniture stores disappear. Coming in at the top of the market can be a great thing, but watching similar businesses fold like a deck of playing cards can be daunting for even the most seasoned of business owners. How did Sepulveda and Fuchs handle this?
Sepulveda believes their ability to keep customers and obtain new ones can be largely attributed to excellent customer service. The company does not have a receptionist; partner Fuchs handles this. Says Sepulveda, “She’s nurturing by nature . . . she will give the clients to the sales person, but first they go through her. They know who she is.” Customers want a positive experience, says Sepulveda. If they don’t get it, she adds, ” (they) have fifty other options of where to shop for furniture; why go with you?”
Sepulveda also believes in looking at numbers realistically and in planning ahead, even if the time to expand or take on new challenges is not immediate. Sometimes, she says, businesses don’t understand the ‘real’ numbers; and this is something that she and Fuchs have been working on.
“Kris and I have now for almost eight months been looking for the new level, the new rate of sales; what it is now that we can anticipate what sales may be. Not looking at the numbers from before.” Some companies, she believes, live in the past – they look at what the sales were, and unfortunately do not understand the numbers completely and so do not get a realistic vision of where they are and where they may want to be – or how to get there.
The owners of SUITE also work on strategizing on sales not just between themselves but with those who work for the company as well, which Sepulveda believes is really crucial in running a company. Each week they have a meeting during lunch in which they talk about strategizing. “The person that leads the meeeting is sort of like a professor in college who will sit down and dissect the ways in which they are going about with their sales techniques. We really make it a big part of our thing here.”