"Has your Showroom Team “Quiet Quit” (Yes that’s a Thing now!)"
The Business of Furniture - 08/31/22 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen, 

For many years I've worked at both a manufacturer and a dealer, I noticed that when working at a manufacturer, especially when the headquarters is in the midwest, Europe, or down south, it's very easy for some people on our team to coast through their job. Coasting = doing the bare minimum. You're still performing your duties - "going through the act" of your job. Now called: “Quiet Quitting."

Workers are simply not putting in any extra effort to be an outstanding employee. I'm in field sales, so I am most affected personally when my support staff “coasts” or quiet quits. My office is in the showroom but most of my day is spent in front of specified-design firms, realtors, furniture managers and dealers. I do go in and out of the showroom for client presentations, to pick up chairs or samples, and it's very apparent to me from our showroom manager all the way through our sales assistants, everyone on the support team in our field office is quiet-quitting. They are checked out!

I wish I could attribute this completely to the pandemic and working remotely, which certainly has not helped, however, me and other salespeople in our office found that even before the pandemic the showroom support staff, those who answer to salespeople, were always lethargic. 

Let’s face it. What is the job of our support team? Keeping the refrigerator stocked for clients? Placing a catering order for a presentation? Helping dealers with a quote or specification? Dealing with questions from dealers and designers? Yes, important functions, all of them, but no reason to stop putting in effort. Oh, by the way, get this - instead of the salesperson or even our assistant delivering a sample, a chance for our firm to make a connection with our designer customers, our company had begun for a while to use #MaterialBank. Then our company wised up to the cost of using an outside resource like that, as well as to the loss of customer interactions and they decided to have us deliver samples ourselves. I'm the sales rep, afterall, not the FedEx package! During the pandemic it was a good idea and let me be clear there is a need for this service in rural and suburban areas, or for speed, but nothing beats an in person delivery of a sample for me.

Manufacturers - take a look at showrooms around the country today, I suspect you will see a bunch of casually dressed people playing solitaire on their phone or computers, and, if they're grandmothers, they'll be updating their facebook while the new younger hires will be learning the newest tik tok dance. Here's my point - they're doing anything but working, but they won't quit! Why? Because they're taking home a paycheck! And no one is saying a thing.

I wondered why most of these people don't quit even though they are unhappy being back at work. Then I realized it's management's fault in part, and so now I'm holding my employees more accountable or just outright firing them! I've noticed with the Michigan based companies in particular, they're all afraid of big cities, so they stay away, allowing for this lack of productivity. 

As a salesperson, I get paid by making my sales quota, in order to do that I need to be supported by an engaged assistant in my office. I need samples to be delivered on time. I need to get price quotes from my sales assistants, and I need customers to have a good experience in our showroom. Not walking in and catching the person at the front desk playing solitaire! My boss seems removed from the conversation, what should I be doing about it?  

Ripping my hair out!
Dear Earnest, Hard Worker, 

Your story is not unique and you're 100% correct. In support teams at manufacturers in particular, quiet quitting or coasting has been going on for years. Remote working and the pandemic has just made it worse, because it's given already lazy people just another excuse to be lazier. 

I recently had a regional manager from a major manufacturer tell me that a showroom manager put in a request to work remotely. What!? Your job is to execute and lead the customer experience in the showroom and manage the showroom staff if there is a staff. Yet you feel you're entitled to work remotely? Request denied!

You and your manager should begin immediately documenting every aspect of your support team's work. Some very minor things that most company's take for granted should all be noted, here is my list:  

First and foremost, you should notify your HR department if your company has one. HR is the key and may lead this. Yet there are other simple things you can do locally such as keeping track of your support personnel's habits and measuring them against a written job description. That starts with promptness, what time do they get in? And when do they leave? Then there are all sorts of online tools available from software that measure productivity to time spent in the office.

Sometimes it is as simple as a conversation with your support person over lunch about the way we are “back to work as normal," your need for issuing customer quotes, sending samples to the customer, or delivering them if necessary. And remember, be nice!

If someone is a part of your job and potentially affecting your income by not doing their job, you need to act. Talk to them and then put it in writing along with HR. Chances are they're going to blame their lack of effort on the pandemic, if that's the case, ask them if they want to go on disability or if they want to continue on with their position which is now fully back at work. 

If the people supporting your sales job are no longer a part of the "hustle culture" mentality, that work has to be your life, and if that's the culture of your company, then they should no longer be a part of that culture! On the other hand, some, but fewer companies have told me today, that their company culture has changed as a result of the pandemic and the pace has slowed.

The irony is that everyone reading this column in Business of Furniture manufactures or sells office furniture, therefore it should be simply understood that if you're selling a product like office furniture, you need to be in the office. If you're selling an automobile, you shouldn't be riding a bike to work, and if you're a scientist in a laboratory developing a vaccine, you shouldn't be an antivaxer. 

I fully appreciate the media is constantly filling our heads with stories of companies not returning to the workplace. If you believe that you should be one of those people, or if that's appealing to you, you don't belong in an industry that makes furniture for the workplace. 

The nutshell problem in the furniture industry right now is not the salespeople that sell the furniture, I hear from manufacturers (less so from dealers) it's the sales assistants and showroom personnel that support the sales team that have become less ambitious, less accountable, and not fully showing up. We have a chronic problem in the field sales offices and showrooms of furniture manufacturers across this country where the support team in those offices are not fully supporting their salespeople, they've become apathetic, unengaged.

It's time for human resources departments and headquarters as well as regional managers and, you, field salespeople whose income is being impacted by this to start taking steps to make changes. Everyone deserves a second chance, but chances are most of these people have already had that, it's time for change.