Big Save Furniture – A retail winner

You would think winning an award for worst ad would be a big disappointment for an advertiser. Why then is Big Save Furniture smiling all the way to the bank?

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It was described by many as one of the most annoying ads on television. Yet when Big Save Furniture’s director, and star of the aforementioned ads, Lily Salter accepted the award for worst ad on Fair Go last year, she positively beamed.

Today, six months later, she’s just as happy: “We were absolutely stoked. It was the most fun we’d had. You could have taken it the other way, but we’re not that sort of company. We were just really, really pleased to be recognized nationally.”

The ads may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but when Salter poked her head out from between a stack of mattresses and shouted about Big Save’s massive choice of mattresses and bases, they practically flew out of the store. Bed sales leapt 11% after the ads – not bad for a company that sells thousands and thousands of beds every week.

Lily Slater keep up the family tradition.

Over nearly 40 years of being in business, Big Save has honed and perfected the dark art of low cost retail advertising – quickly and cheaply producing campaigns, blasting simple messages that have an immediate and positive effect on sales: if its ads promote beds on a Wednesday and a Thursday, then come Saturday and Sunday the company sells a lot of beds. If its ads promote lounge suites, it sells a lot more lounge suites. The format isn’t new, but it works and we asked Big Save’s dierctors to tell us why it works for them.

For Ray McKimm, Salter’s dad and founder of Big Save Furniture, it is all about providing customers with great value. “If we want to deliver the best value product, we have to do that within a cost structure and [our ads are] commensurate with that.”

McKimm’s philosophy dates back to 1973 when he opened the first Big Save Furniture outlet in Paraparaumu. Back then the company broke new ground as the first furniture company to open on a Saturday. Since then the company’s grown steadily, moving its head office to larger premises in Napier and opening 21 stores throughout the country.

Television has always played a key part in Big Save’s sales strategy and it was to play an even bigger part when Big Save decided to step out of its familiar regional comfort zone and enter the highly competitive Auckland market.

Challenging the big boys

The reason television is so important, especially when entering Auckland, is it gave the company the credibility to rival its far bigger and more established competitors, says Salter. “When we entered Auckland five years ago, we were the new kids on the block. But when you go on television, you are almost overnight established as a large company; a credible company; a company that isn’t going to sell you something and not be there tomorrow.”

Though the television ads are central to the company’s marketing, the big bucks are spent on printing catalogues promoting the company’s best deals. The catalogues and TV ads are reinforced by local radio advertising, also starring Salter.

McKimm says the personal format of the ads has changed little over the years, with the previous star of the show being Lily’s uncle Tim McKimm. Salter says she depicts a character in the ads; that she’s not really that crazy in real life. It’s impossible not to smile, however, when she and her dad burst out laughing when asked if she’s sure about that.

McKimm says they wanted a really bubbly personality. “Nobody needs to hear how hard the world is. If someone on television has a message to put across that’s bubbly and exciting and energized then there’s a good chance that people will pick up on that.”

One of the company’s biggest competitors is Australian-listed furniture giant Harvey Norman, so the ads also needed to show Big Save was a Kiwi-owned and operated family business. “We can’t out muscle them with capital, but we can with people”, says McKimm.

As for this year, McKimm and Salter joke they’re hoping to win the title of worst ad again, especially if it means a repeat of the sales jump they achieved last year. “So we are going to be even more manic and out there this year,” McKimm laughs.