How retailers can ‘clean up’ and gain loyalty: Making a customer for life through maintenance

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During these difficult economic times, adding cleaning services or putting increased emphasis on flooring maintenance can be crucial to an operation’s bottom line and/or profit margin. So said industry experts who shared their thoughts with FCNews,

“It is very important on multiple levels and key to success in the retail flooring business for dealers to get involved in cleaning/maintenance services,” said Ron Dunn, co-CEO of Alliance Flooring, parent company of CarpetsPlus and ColorTile. “Repeat customers are a vital piece of ongoing success in retail. Providing maintenance keeps retailers in constant and continual contact with their customers. It positions them as the flooring expert in every aspect and provides an annual opportunity to showcase professionalism and customer service. The result is loyalty.”

Dunn also cited cash flow and margin as advantages of adding a cleaning component to one’s business. “Cash flow makes or breaks a business. This is more true today than anytime in our business lifetime. The maintenance business is a cash business. What you do today you get paid for today. It’s also a high-margin business. Retailers who proactively run an efficient maintenance division are netting $40,000 to $50,000 per unit. In today’s economy, it’s clear what one, two or three of these units can add to corporate health.”

When it comes to maintenance, the same practices hold true in commercial as they do in residential. Peter Mathias, president of Mathias Services in Philadelphia, a ReSource Commercial Flooring Network member, said there are several reasons why contractors should be involved in maintenance. “When the economy fluctuates, maintenance doesn’t fluctuate to either extreme as does flooring. Also, profit margins are higher in maintenance than they typically are in flooring.”

Mathias agreed with Dunn in that customer retention is important in any business. “If we are constantly in front of those customers, we have a better chance of getting any new work as well as any additional services they need done.”

Fred Williamson, vice president of operations for Starnet, believes providing professional floor care is essential to building long-term client relationships. “It is another opportunity to delight a customer and have them think of your firm as their local full-service flooring provider. The regular client contact and occasions when you ‘save the day’ after the coffee spills in the board room set you apart from those who sell and move on to the next client.”

Patricia Harman, director of communications for Restoration Industry Association (RIA) and a frequent contributor to FCNews’ CleanSweep column, said being involved in the cleaning business is important from a practical standpoint. “It provides another revenue stream and allows retailers to encourage their customers to practice smart floor or rug care for their purchase.” Education is the key, she explained, both before and after the purchase. “Everyone is watching how she spends her money as she wants to make sure she can enjoy her investment for some time. Helping buyers make a wise purchase and then showing them how they can maintain it (e.g., cleaning/maintenance schedules, recommended products, who to call if she needs a cleaning specialist) takes some of the worry out of making a large investment.”

In likening things to the auto industry, Starnet’s Williamson noted, if you are maintaining a floor on a scheduled basis, you are maintaining a client relationship. It’s a proven fact in the auto industry that the dealer who sells and services your vehicle has the best shot at selling you a new vehicle.”

According to Erin Appleman, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Rite Rug in Columbus, Ohio, being in the maintenance business “allows us to be a true full-service carpet company as well as a better supplier to all our customers, including retail, builder, commercial and property management. The relationship with our customers does not end after installation; it continues throughout the life of the carpet.

“Our mission has always been to provide the best value and service to our customers,” she explained. “Since we introduced our maintenance division seven years ago, we have been able to strengthen and lengthen our relationships with our customers by being able to provide value priced service for the entire life of the carpet.”

-Louis Iannaco

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