Strategies to connect with buyers build loyalty
In this excerpt, Barrentine describes one of the strategies he uses to build interest in and loyalty to the Market: small, behind-the-scenes tours of the Market site. Barrentine goes on to describe his belief in the efficacy of a small core of leaders and his plans to retire in the month following the interview, in keeping with a promise he made to retire at age fifty-five.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
RB: We take our guests on a brief tour of the Market, to one showroom, and we walk them through some of the temporary space. It's access to the Magic Kingdom that those people won't get otherwise. It's in a comfortable environment because they don't know how to get around the event. We take them through. It's a leisurely walk on a set route. We know exactly what we want to show them. We walk from our offices to Market Square. We have several routes we could take. Because we coordinate everything, we rarely have a rain date that we have to encounter, but it humbles us when we do. But, we know how to manage that. We have these eleven or twelve people all of the principal days at Market. We're bringing one hundred to a hundred and ten, fifteen people into the Market. They then understand the importance of the partnership. They are flattered that they have been asked. We've let our partner invite them on our behalf. That makes our partner important in their local communities eyes because they have that discretion as to who they're going to bring. We've had the opportunity to have in a closed room [and] to talk to them about their participation in our event as a city or whatever agency we're dealing with. Then we take them on a tour. It's a multiplier effect.
We do that every Market. We have Winston; we have Thomasville; we have Greensboro. We have all the sheriffs. We have all the fire chiefs. We just have a long list. We ask our partners, “We'd like for you to bring a group.” We put together ten or eleven. We're finding now that it's to our advantage some days to mix two partners and have them bring five or six and five or six. Then we can have a dialogue between two partners. So, we do that. It's one of the most important things that we do with our partners at Market. It keeps us from having to say, “I'm sorry, you can't come. You know this is a private event.” If they are of influence, they need to get hold of a person who we've assigned to make the invitations. They need to convince them. The pass is good for the rest of Market too. It is a pass to Market Square. I suspect that a lot of people do double back on us and come and we don't mind that. I remember from '77 thinking, why in this world have we never been invited? We are a principal player and now you're in trouble, and the reason you're in trouble is because you never saw the need or didn't have the facility. They saw the need. They didn't have the facility to do it. Well, you asked me that. I think that covers promotion and coordination and communication and there's some mix over between that.
Administration--. We have all the legal terms that you need to run a North Carolina corporation. We are a non-profit organization. We own the worldwide trademark of the name. We are the structured sponsor of the Market and not just a philosophical sponsor as we probably started out being. All of that legal structure has been added since 1977. Obviously, we've changed the name, so we've had to change some of that. We have seen the membership of the marketing association increase over the years because the industry has changed. There was still an interest that the group be kept small, so that it could make policy decisions. The Marketing Association members were never going to make a decision that was going to harm the event. They were the principal players. All the smaller players were the beneficiaries of noblisse oblige. We understood that you can't make decisions in large groups and then be satisfied with the decision that you made. We did see the complexion and configuration of the Marketing Association membership change because the industry changed.
We then realized that it was time for us to look at the possibility of a merger with the American Furniture Manufacturer's Association. The American Furniture Manufacturer's Association is the successor to the Southern Furniture Manufacturer's Association. That same group of people that founded the Southern Furniture Market founded the Furniture Factories Marketing Association. It's all the same group of people. We shared most of the same leadership members. We tried to be careful that we didn't have the same president at the same time, though we did a couple of times. It was okay, but it was too much work to ask somebody to do. But, I had made a career decision early in my life that age fifty-five, I would retire. It didn't matter if I was having a good time. I would retire. In February of 1999, I will be fifty-five years old. My plans for retirement have been in place for a long time. The officers of the Marketing Association have known about my intent to retire for more than five years -- possibly longer than that. The goal was to let the Market know that I was going to be leaving, so that all that we had accomplished together could have a long transition and that any changes that those leaders felt should be made, we could plan for.