Every trip I take to work with flooring retailers is a learning experience. I have visited almost 1,000 retailers across the country, and with a few exceptions I’ve been treated like a dignitary. My host or hostess picks me up at the airport, shows off their store and treats me to their favorite restaurants. All this attention is part of what I love about my job.
If all retailers were this nice, our industry sales figures would double. The fact is that only successful retailers hire professional trainers and, in general, part of their success is due to their attitudes toward people which, of course, trickles down to their people.
Two years ago the executive director of a 160-store buying group, Metro Floors or Carpet 1st, heard me speaking at Surfaces and asked if I would like to come to the UK to speak to their dealers and vendors. Hey, I love what I do so much I am excited about going to Gary, Ind. Anyway, we firmed up the deal prior to the next Surfaces. Traveling with the executive director, David Kipling, were members of the board of directors, who were some of the most jovial and friendliest people I had ever met.
Thus began a thoroughly enjoyable trip. When dealers call me to recommend a merchandising group to join, my advice is always to visit the major groups and choose the one where you feel most comfortable with the people. I would join Carpet 1st. Every member was nicer than the previous one. Everything I heard about the UK was wrong. First of all, all six days were warm and sunny. The food was excellent and the people engaging and friendly. Tea time rapidly turned into cocktail hour with this group, making the stay even more enjoyable.
In visiting their stores, I learned that carpet in the UK still enjoyed an 80% market share. Unlike our manufacturers who believe our paltry 40% share is due to changes in consumer fashions, I know the real reason is because we sell so much cheap carpet through non-flooring stores that refuse to train their folks. I sold my stores in 1985 and don’t remember even one customer who said, “Don’t show me carpeting. I hate it!” Every week in my wife’s store, several customers express this opinion, which is because they had bad experiences from being sold cheap goods. We all know the name of the game in synthetics is appearance retention. As one mill executive said, “My 28-ounce Stainmaster is guaranteed to walk out in four weeks!”
Back to the UK, 80% of the carpet sold in better stores is wool or a wool blend. For those who haven’t experienced wool, it is by far the most resilient fiber, naturally soil and stain resistant because of the natural oils. For those dealers who have never cleaned a good wool, you don’t know what you’re missing. Good wool may mean a 60- ounce real frieze (not a short shag as we commonly mislabel the style), which is priced in the UK between $45 and $50 (in our dollars) per yard, which still makes it the best consumer value on the market. Nothing any homeowner can do will make such a dramatic difference in their home in so little time for so little money. The average UK citizen is going through the same hard times we are and actually has less disposable income. Carpet 1st’s knowledgeable dealers sell better carpet and more of it per capita than we do.
The trip was an eye-opening experience and my best ever. David Kipling was terrific as were his members. Even the vendors seemed interested in my rants about the great divide between manufacturers and their retailers. Knowledgeable retailers, cooperative vendors, good wool and great attitudes are a recipe for success even in bad times.