Metro-East News

Decommissioned: Furniture store shifts away from selling on commission

General manager Alan Jones on the showroom floor at Weekends Only Furniture & Mattress in Fairview Heights.
General manager Alan Jones on the showroom floor at Weekends Only Furniture & Mattress in Fairview Heights. snagy@bnd.com

When furniture salesman Brian Dallas and his co-workers heard that his employer would no longer be paying them on commission, he got worried.

“We were pretty nervous that we would not make as much money,” Dallas said.

The 31-year-old Belleville resident had been selling furniture as a home-furnishings consultant at Weekends Only in Fairview Heights for two years when the store made the change in July 2014. Two months ago, the business implemented a non-commissioned sales policy at its other stores located at St. Louis; Bridgeton, Mo.; St. Peters, Mo.; Manchester, Mo.; and Indianapolis.

The discount furniture chain opened its first store in 1997 and as its name implies, it is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The lone metro-east store, located at 51 Commerce Lane, implemented the policy a year ago and served as a testing ground for the other stores.

A year later, Dallas said he, his co-workers and customers are much happier.

“No one is pressuring the customers,” he said. “The customers are comfortable because they are not seeing 15 sales associates at one time. We don’t have to worry about that anymore. The customers are comfortable in the store now.”

No one is pressuring the customers. The customers are comfortable because they are not seeing 15 sales associates at one time. We don’t have to worry about that anymore.

Brian Dallas, home furnishings consultant at Weekends Only in Fairview Heights

That was one of the reasons the company decided to switch to a non-commissioned sales basis, said company president Lane Hamm. He said a commissioned sales staff tends to focus more on the sale than the service.

“As a commissioned sales person, you really work for yourself to make as much as you can,” Hamm said. “That’s not to say that’s true for all commissioned sales people, but to put more emphasis on teamwork is a factor that allows us to break down those lines in the store and provide more flexibility as well as put more emphasis on teamwork.”

As a commissioned sales person, you really work for yourself to make as much as you can. That’s not to say that’s true for all commissioned sales people, but to put more emphasis on teamwork is a factor that allows us to break down those lines in the store and provide more flexibility as well put more emphasis on teamwork.

Lane Hamm, president, Weekends Only

Prior to July 2014, the store’s 25 commissioned sales employees were earning a minimum hourly wage plus commission, said Fairview Heights store manager Alan Jones. The commission was based on a percentage of their revenue dollars. Jones said that under the non-commission model, employees earn a higher base wage and are no longer pressured to complete enough sales to maintain a decent payday.

Another change was made to employees’ pay. Before the change, Weekends Only sales staff earned a minimum of $10 an hour. Now, they are hired at $11.50 an hour and some newly hired are earning more than that. Employees are eligible for raises every six months, based on their performance.

Hamm said all employees, of which two-thirds work part-time, can make as much as $24 an hour. He said only one member of the company’s sales staff has left Weekend Only since the new non-commission policy was implemented.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks working second jobs trying to pay off bills and make a good hourly wage based on ability to take care of employees,” he said. “It gives them a chance to make raises along the way.”

The change is a departure from traditional models that reward sales employees for achieving more transactions. There may be benefits to each, but the level of success may vary from business to business.

At Mueller Furniture in Belleville, the sales staff not only assist customers and complete transactions, but they also have knowledge about custom-made furniture fabrics, upholstery and the selection of wood stains available at the 88-year-old store. Store owner Lyn Mueller said the traditional commission system works best for his employees.

“We are a very different store than Weekends Only,” Mueller said. “Weekends Only is ‘here it is, what you see is what you get.’”

He said Mueller Furniture’s sales associates and designers must also have more knowledge about what they are selling and what is available for the customization of the furniture in the showroom.

“Therefore, the more experience and more knowledge they have, the better they can do,” he said. “So they need to be in a system where they are rewarded for their abilities. On commission, they can obviously make more money that way and be rewarded more for their efforts.”

Since the sales model change at Weekends Only, Jones said he has heard only positive feedback from customers at the Fairview Heights store. He said sales staff used to aggressively pursue customers the minute they walked through the door, and many customers would try to avoid them. Now, customers are left to browse without being hassled by staff.

“It’s been fantastic,” Jones said. “The first thing I noticed was just the change in the customer experience. The furniture business has this old historic model of being high-pressure commissioned sales. Moving to a non-commissioned environment, employees’ sole focus has been providing a greater customer experience, and our customers were just really receptive to that. You could just tell. Our customers’ resistance in interacting with employees, it just went away.”

Jones also said that employees are no longer pressured to complete sales to ensure their paychecks are sufficient.

“It gave them peace of mind,” he said. “In a commissioned environment, you never know what your paycheck will be because you never know what the customer traffic will be. It gave them a feeling of stability because they know exactly what they’re going to take home and can determine how many hours they want to work. They are completely in control.”

In a commissioned environment, you never know what your paycheck will be because you never know what the customer traffic will be. It gave them a feeling of stability because they know exactly what they’re going to take home and can determine how many hours they want to work.

Alan Jones, general manager, Weekends Only in Fairview Heights

Workers were also provided more flexible schedules. Whereas before, when the sales staff was required to work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they are now able to schedule work during the week and occasionally have time off on weekends.

“The work-life balance of employees got instantly better,” Jones said. “The new model now at an hourly wage eliminated commission and gave employees time to work on the days they would not have been able to work before.”

Dallas said he enjoys his job more than before. And he is not missing the commission-based sales environment.

“Oh no, I’m not,” he said “In a commissioned environment, it’s dog-eat-dog. If you don’t get sales, you don’t eat. Now, I don’t have to worry about that. I go to work and do my job. There is no pressure.”

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