August/September 2008

By Bruce Odette

Many people ask what a retailer should be doing when the economy is soft and store traffic is down. It’s times like these that make me love the flooring business even more. You have the opportunity to create long lasting loyalty from your people, as well as fine tune your business practices.

When economic conditions tighten, people feel a little more thankful for all of their blessings in life, including their employer and place of employment. This creates great attitudes, and we all know that attitude is one of the most important components to the sales process. When business is good it’s typically easy to get sloppy. The sales come so fast and frequently that we don’t worry that we are losing 70% of our customers. In a slow time, we can create habits that make the most out of every customer who walks through our door. We will have these better practices when the economy turns around and that will make us even more successful.

Of course, if you ask a salesperson his closing ratio, he’ll tell you that he closes 80% to 90% of the customers walking in the door. Do yourself a favor and look at the real number. This is the only way you have a chance to improve. There is no possible way to improve if you are not measuring. See how long it takes for a customer to be greeted when she walks in the door. Are your salespeople really listening to what the customer says that she wants? Do the people on your team know all that they need to know to help her find the best product? Do your homework. Know your product. Strengthen your people skills. What can you do to be better, to close the sale? Cheesy sales tactics just don’t work. What works is developing a real strategy to help your customers. Have the best products, have the best people on your floor, and she’ll have every reason to buy from you. Period.

The first thing you should look at is your people. People are the most important asset you have. They can make or break a store. You can have the best looking stores in the country, the best brand, and an effective advertising campaign driving traffic through the store, only to fail because the wrong people are in place.

Encourage your salespeople to be leaders. There’s one type of employee who believes that just because he’s not “the boss” he shouldn’t exhibit leadership behavior. And then there’s another type of employee—one who leads. Look for salespeople who understand the team concept, who understand they can build respect by showing the ropes to someone new on the floor and taking others under their wing. Some of my best salespeople and managers over the years exhibited strong leadership qualities from day one. Simple things, like showing up to work early, leaving late. Look for managers who put in those extra hours and make each minute at work matter. I’m not talking about “filler hours.” I’m talking about real, productive hours. Seek out those who manage time effectively, manage business well, and take that extra step with each customer who walks through the door.

If your sales people can answer “yes” to these three questions, you will have the edge to succeed in any economic climate.

Are you passionate about flooring?

If you aren’t passionate about flooring you won’t be successful in this business. Do something you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Do you have the desire to provide a level of customer service that is memorable?
If the service you’re providing your customers isn’t memorable, they won’t be referring customers to you. Referrals are the key to successful companies. Are you selling a product that your client will love? From start to finish, are you communicating with your customer? There’s nothing worse than a customer having to repeatedly call a store to find out information about her purchase. It gives her the impression that her business isn’t valued. Call the night before the install, and call again the day after installation. These are the touches that’ll make her come back later and tell all of her friends. She must remember the great service.

Are you committed to making a customer’s home beautiful with new flooring products?

This is selling your customer a product that exceeds her expectations for years to come. Make a customer’s home beautiful and you have a customer for life.

Often a sales associate will sell a customer what he believes she can afford, instead of putting her into a product that will meet her expectations. A typical consumer has no idea what the value of a product should be. They’re relying on us, the specialist, to put them into the right product. Listen to what the customer is telling you she wants and offer her options that meet those needs.

Advertising is another important area. We do consistent advertising all year long, seven days a week. Television is our main focus. The newspaper is a dying medium because readership is going down all over the country. Television, the Internet, and direct mail are more effective. Being aware of current trends in how people get their information is critically important when deciding where to put your advertising dollars.

Another key question I hear is, “What effect are rising product costs having on key price points?” The effect of rising product cost in carpet is negligible, in my opinion. The real challenge in rising product cost is to change the mindset of your salesforce. If they’ve been selling their favorite product at a certain price for a given period of time, and now they have to sell it for 12% more, they hit a mental block. They have to believe it’s now worth an extra 12% in order to have the confidence they need to make a great sales presentation. The truth is that it actually costs 12% more to make it and ship it, so it is worth that. Carpet is still one of the greatest values that a consumer can purchase.

New fibers are another great way to drive business. I have seen many changes in fiber technology over the past 25 years. There’s no question that Stainmaster has had the most impact in creating a demand for its fiber at a consumer level. We have always believed strongly in a branded program at all of our stores. The new Lotus FX technology from Stainmaster should definitely keep it at the forefront of the fiber race.

Having said this, the most impact from a yarn lately has to be Mohawk’s SmartStrand. The recent introductions in the second-generation yarn technology have quickly become our best selling products. The number one selling feature is the softness of the product. Most flooring retailers know that consumers still buy with their hand. Would you ever guess that Karastan’s best selling product is made with SmartStrand yarn? Ask any Karastan dealer three years ago if they thought this was possible and I am sure you would get a big NO. By the way, it’s our number one selling Karastan product.

Take this opportunity, in the current economic climate, to fine tune your business practices and you’ll be set to reap the rewards when the economy turns around.  

Copyright 2008 Floor Focus