DELIVERY: Passing the white glove test

Premium delivery service for hefty hard goods

In an effort to make ordering furniture by mail more convenient and attractive for consumers, several catalogers, including Pottery Barn, Garnet Hill, and Ballard Designs, offer white glove delivery. This premium service typically entails item delivery, unpacking, assembly, and in some cases, dunnage removal.

According to Bob Earley, former senior vice president of distribution for San Francisco-based cataloger/ retailer Williams-Sonoma and now a senior principal at Haskell, NJ-based operations consultancy Spaide, Kuipers, “White glove delivery started in earnest about five years ago when catalogers began to realize that they could sell furniture direct.” Pottery Barn, for one, began offering white glove delivery to customers in 1993.

Franconia, NH-based natural fibers cataloger Garnet Hill uses white glove delivery service for its beds, which range in price from $595 to $2,600. “When you’re selling merchandise at those prices, you want to make sure the service is commensurate with what you’re selling,” says chief operating officer Brad Williams. “You don’t want to leave the customer’s big-ticket item on the front lawn.”

Garnet Hill charges customers $75-$175 for white glove delivery into the house, and an extra $100 for total delivery, which includes set-up and dunnage removal. Although the cataloger contracts out the actual delivery, it has two full-time staffers dedicated to white glove service: One fields customer inquiries and coordinates delivery times, and the other is a liaison between Garnet Hill and its Westborough, MA-based courier NationStreet, which has a network of 1,000 local carriers nationwide. Garnet Hill beds are made to order in North Carolina, so NationStreet must coordinate with the manufacturer for pick-up and delivery.

When the courier is key

Experts say it’s important to partner with a carrier that understands your business, since this relationship will make or break a white glove program.

“We’re not happy with our carrier,” says one cataloger who requested anonymity. “The company doesn’t use the proper protective wrapping on a marble tabletop we sell, so the product arrives broken. Most carriers haul freight, and it’s a big difference when it comes to delivering breakables.”

Indeed, Earley advises catalogers to get references when choosing a product delivery firm, especially when these companies are from different parts of the country. Different U.S. regions, he notes, have their unique challenges, and agents across the country will differ in regard to capability. “You might have a great local agent in Los Angeles, but a terrible local agent in Chicago.”

And be sure to read the fine print on contracts with the couriers and the local agents used for your white glove delivery service. Factors such as waiting time for a customer and delivering a couch to a second floor might incur additional charges – and hurt your margins on these furniture sales. “What you thought was profitable or break-even suddenly isn’t,” he says.

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