Expanding your business beyond floor covering

Home News Expanding your business beyond floor covering

As the old adage goes, less is more. Healthy diets use less salt; greater awareness for the environment is achieved with less waste; fuller lives can be led with less stress. Yet sometimes in the case of retail, more really is more, especially when it comes to turning a profit. With floor covering sales scraping along the bottom of the trough at 15.8% lower in 2009 than the previous year (FCNews, June 28), expanding opportunities to make a sale by broadening your product mix is one of the most effective ways for a retailer to increase his revenues.

In this day and age, consumers can buy motor oil and a loaf of bread in the same store. Time has become a commodity that only stretches so far and if buyers can’t find everything in one place, they’ll take their business elsewhere. Convenience is king and shoppers are accustomed to instant gratification and ease of purchasing, no matter what they’re looking for. “It became apparent to me that consumers wanted to purchase their goods at one store,” said Wendy Fried, owner, G.Fried in Westbury, N.Y. “Their time was valuable and it was easier for them to coordinate everything.”

Though flooring dealers are grouped into the specialty category, adding additional home improvement products and services to your showroom floor might push that sales ticket the extra step from breaking even to breaking out of financial chains. Whether it is an effort to maximize her time or a compulsive purchase at the checkout counter, you can offer your shopper something she didn’t know she was in the market for and just can’t live without.

Working from the ground up

Chances are floor covering isn’t the only improvement that your buyer is making for her home, especially if it is a remodel. With new construction down, many retailers are finding favor in this segment.

“In understanding the motions most people go through to redecorate their home, the project usually starts off small and snowballs into other categories,” said Stuart Perque, owner of Perque Carpet & Drapes. “For instance, they may decide to repaint a room and then realize they need new furniture, flooring, drapery, etc.” Having those items available to her may be the deciding factor in capturing a greater sale.

Window treatments are a very popular category to which flooring retailers can expand. “Studies have shown that a large percentage of consumers            buying flooring become interested in further improving their homes’ décor with window treatments just months after making their flooring purchase,” said Steve Sidlinger, president and CEO of Preferred Brands, Floor to Ceiling and World of Floors.

In rooms like the kitchen or bath, cabinetry has been found as the starting place and he recommends those items be a dealer’s high priority. “By offering these products at the beginning of the design/purchase cycle, our stores have the ability to sell the floor covering as an add-on sale in many cases,” Sidlinger said. “This tends to raise gross margins for the store as the result of less competitive shopping by the consumer.”

Product mix varies depending on the market and the particular dealer. Often times, that retailer’s motives dictate the add-ons to his or her store. “I was bored with ‘fuzzy-side-up’,” Fried explained. “I started to check out other stores that were already [diversifying products] and I started to do research, calling vendors from furniture and window treatment companies.” Ultimately, she chose to sell window treatments, accessories and decorative home pieces like vases, mirrors, cocktail tables, benches, paintings, sconces and throw pillows.

Invest carefully to top it off

According to Fried, expanding your business now is a viable option only if a dealer brings in items that won’t cost too much. “I’ve heard too many horror stories about people putting their own money back into their business, and before you know it there is no more business.”

At West Bay Decorating Flooring Center in Westlake, Ohio, owner Bill Pawson had to abandon certain selling items due to a troubled market. “I started the business as a paint and wallcovering store with a crew of 45 painters and paper hangers but we have eliminated the paint sales due to the big box stores. We just can’t be competitive.” His store currently carries granite countertops, blinds, window treatments, wallcovering and flooring. For Pawson, diversification and an entrepreneurial approach has been the key to his success. “I started a granite business when new home building was at its peak and there was a huge demand for granite. Luckily, I sold it in 2006 when it was a good time to sell.” He has maintained some of the benefits in that product area by continuing those sales at a considerable discount from the new supplier.

Pawson is not the only dealer to find favor in countertops. Preferred Brands found a steady movement toward more sophisticated countertop materials in recent years, including quartz, granite and concrete. “In fact, more expensive cabinetry and other accessories are sacrificed in order to afford higher-end countertop materials,” Sidlinger said. The sale extends further when the counters include kitchen islands, wet bars and bathroom vanities.

Being the expert

Instilling confidence in shoppers can give her the extra push for her remodel project and grow your profit. Sometimes, consulting an expert can quell worries of making a very expensive mistake with her home’s appearance. Whether your store’s expert is an ASID designer or a well-versed salesperson, knowledge is the key to making an expanded product mix successful in your store.

“The reputation of a good designer spreads quickly,” said Sidlinger. “It can become a major part of the store’s brand—a primary reason why customers will visit one store over another.”

Susie Axelrad, vice president of merchandising and marketing for Lewis Floor & Home, also found design consultants to be a defining element. “Consumers need someone to take them through the entire project,” she said. “Otherwise, they may as well shop at different stores and then you have a [greater] chance of losing them to the competition.”

Assurance of an experienced salesperson is sometimes enough for a buyer. West Bay Decorating Flooring Center has decorators without formal credentials and has found this more than sufficient. “They have a great eye for color, texture and design,” Pawson said. “It is a great asset to our clients to be able to offer this and it builds a lot of trust among our buyers.”

The most important element of selling beyond floor covering is training, a point on which all retailers with whom FCNews spoke agreed. Lewis Floor & Home holds in-store training every week for the entire staff, Axelrad said. Though it is not mandatory, her staff knows that product knowledge is essential to close the sale. “Our staff receives reports that tell them their sales by category and how they stack up against the entire store product mix. If they are not selling enough of a product, we ask what they need to improve and then help in any way we can.”

-Emily Hooper

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