In my first 15 years selling flooring I sold little to no tile. The chains and small stores I worked for and managed simply wanted nothing to do with it. We looked at tile as a small portion of our business that we could do without. When you could spend an hour with a customer to sell a 4 x 4 entry for $250 or use that same hour selling a house full of car- pet for $4,000, it made no sense.
During that period I noticed just how many people walked in asking for tile when we had to direct them to another dealer. I started working at a flooring store in Southern California attached to a specialty tile store and my first realization was that the customers who came into our shared parking lot were going into the tile store at a ratio of about 5-to-1. It was mainly cash and carry with a referral list for independent installers. The good part was we benefited from each other with buyers that needed both carpet and tile.
After talking in depth with the tile store owner I learned that he was considering going to in- house installation because many of his cash and carry buyers were frustrated finding their own installers. They wanted to have one source that could both sell and install the product. After working out the kinks of in-house installation he quickly saw the value with a 27% increase in monthly dollar volume.
During this time I got to know the salespeople next door pretty well and learned that one guy had a much bigger sales volume than the rest. Being a student of sales, I asked what made him better. He said one word: “design.” Knowing little about his product, I inquired deeper. He explained that almost none of his customers had a clue how to create anything more than a square layout in tile. Even though he was no design genius, he knew enough about a few simple design changes like turning the tile on point (diamond), clipping some corners and adding another color for the dot (deco), or just adding a border row in a shower or floor. That little bit was amazing to his buyers.
He then told me that most customers can’t visualize a finished pattern so he would draw the design on paper. This was back before computer programs made it as simple as we have it today. At that time I had just invented my diagramming scale ruler, “the layout tool,” and I gave him a couple to play around with. After a few days of using it, he told me jokingly that I was a genius. So, we started pooling our backgrounds and I slowly got the hang of tile design even though I did not sell it. But it did help me go that extra step with my carpet buyers because I could help them with that kitchen tile design and hand them over to my friend next door.
Skipping forward to the present, my store in Loveland, Colo., devotes about 30% of our showroom to tile displays. Is tile still a pain to sell? You bet, but it drives our business. That extra 5-to-1 ratio of foot traffic and a friendly, knowledgeable sales staff just got us through a bad depression with room to breathe.
Take it from a carpet man, now tile designer called “the straight guy with a queer eye.” Let tile build traffic and the rest will grow accordingly.
Thanks for reading.