Milva Wheate, Fantastic Furniture

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Milva, you have owned and operated the Port Macquarie Fantastic Furniture for over 20 years now – congratulations! What is it about running a retail business that excites you the most?

The people who are in my team excite me the most. I love listening to a wide variety of clientele that come into the store and delivering them exceptional customer service. It’s really rewarding to come in and deal with furniture, colours, styling and make sure we always look fresh and on trend – this is actually one of my favourite parts of the business. Being part of a customer’s life and helping to make a difference for them is very refreshing. Every day is a different challenge.

What was it that first inspired you to buy and manage this local business?

My husband and I have always been in customer service; the love of styling and making a difference in people’s homes excites us. My husband, Jeff was given the opportunity to work with Fantastic Furniture in 1997, and the General Manager at the time had expressed a view to grow and expand the business. We have always loved the Port Macquarie/Mid North Coast region and were provided with the opportunity to help Fantastic expand here.

The retail industry has changed significantly over the past 20 years. One of the more noteworthy changes is the shift in consumer shopping from bricks and mortar stores to shopping online. How has Fantastic Furniture adapted its business model to adjust accordingly to this shift?

Fantastic have developed an online buying system that will provide a seamless customer experience between online and in-store. They have added the ability to “click and collect” their order within 60 mins – so all in-stock, online orders can be picked up within the hour. All the in-store price tags have QR codes that link directly to the product on our website. 

We have tried to make it so that our online experience provides the same exceptional customer service that our store does. The bricks and mortar is definitely staying, but we are integrating the online experience as part of the sales process.

Customer service plays such a large role in retail selling. What is your personal customer service philosophy?

My best customer service tip is to listen – make a customer feel special and provide them with satisfaction at the end of the day. My team make this possible due to their consistently exceptional service, and they are ranked the highest nationally for customer satisfaction. At the end of the encounter, we want each customer to feel as if they are the most important person in the store. When the team is happy, this flows through to happy customers.

What do you think are some of the important factors that employers need to consider when they are hiring and training staff?

During the hiring process I look at their individual personality, as well as understanding who they are as a person and in their family environment, hiring the right person for the right job, and even though they may not have the experience in a particular area – they need to have the initiative and willingness to learn.

What is it that you love most about running your business?

The satisfaction of working in a great team environment where we all feel like family. When we have a great team, this happiness reflects on our customer experience.

As a retail brand in a fairly competitive market, it’s important so stay front-of-mind with your target customers. Can you talk about how advertising and marketing have contributed to the growth of your business over the years? 

Fundamentally, with our business we need to be front-of-mind with our customers. Our marketing and advertising needs to be strong and obvious. It needs to be attractive and appealing to a wide range of consumers. Lately, we have been making ourselves more prevalent in the community, and this has been bringing more traffic into our store.

And finally, if you could invite three business people to lunch, whom would they be and why would you invite them?

Tim Cook – I love the way the Apple team is all about customer service and making company changes and policies based upon customer feedback. They are creative and innovative and change quickly. Their customer service is exceptional. 

Richard Branson – he’s very customer service focused and has turned Virgin into a huge worldwide brand. He’s fun and in the public eye, so is relatable for customers. 

Malcolm Turnbull – I really admire what he has done but I would love to find out what goes through some of the politician’s minds to reach some of their decisions and policies. It doesn’t seem as if they listen enough to the people, so it would be interesting to know how their decisions are actually made. 

Thanks for your time, Milva.

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