Salesmanship: Amid despair, hope

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by Warren Tyler

Arizona has a much higher rate of home repossessions and unemployment than most states. In addition, the federal government is suing them for enforcing existing immigration laws. You think you have it tough.

In October I was invited to speak to the Arizona Floor Covering Association. Thanks to the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), which co-ops the expense, it’s possible to bring top-notch speakers like Jon Trivers, Sam Allman and myself—unavailable elsewhere— to local meetings. I have probably spoken to almost every affiliate association and many on several occasions. But given the economic conditions in Arizona, I was fearful of the response.

Peggy McCarthy, the go-getting executive director, informed me that lately they were only attracting 20 to 25 members to meetings, but just before I left she let me know the count was up to 92. Like everyone else in the industry, business has slowed for me as well. Being hyper-critical of myself, I wondered whether people were forgetting me, but this meeting renewed my faith not only in my ability to draw people, but, more importantly, in the attitude of the nearly 100 retailers, installers, distributors and mill people in attendance.

There were seven or eight Beaulieu representatives in attendance. Larger retailers like Jon Toliver, Toliver’s Carpet One, were there and Longust Distributors was represented as well. What was most surprising was the upbeat attitude of everyone there and their faith in the fact that business will return. I met young people who were just opening new businesses directly in the face of the recession. Hope springs eternal.

Every year I have a new theme. How many times can you listen to the same speaker preaching the same message? Years ago when Home Depot and Lowe’s were just beginning to make inroads in the flooring industry, many independent retailers were terrified of what these behemoths could do to their businesses. It didn’t take long to unmask the boxes’ serious deficiencies, which gave rise to the theme of “How to Bury the Big Boxes.” It didn’t take long for smaller retailers to realize the best location for their store is as close to Home Depot and Lowe’s as possible. I take full credit for this.

As the merchandising groups grew more sophisticated, it was obvious to most middle-of-the-road retailers that joining a retail group made a lot of sense. Their merchandising, marketing and advertising expertise was far too expensive for individual stores to afford. They had the power to qualify all their members for much enhanced versions of every supplier program. Bottom line, group members sold more and earned more than similar retailers.

It was easy for me to become a champion for the retail groups. My theme for several years was “Should I Join a Merchandising Group?” Through my column, personal appearances and direct involvement in recruiting programs, I became responsible for hundreds of retailers joining groups such as Carpet One, Flooring America, Floor To Ceiling and Abbey Carpet.

For the past two years, the theme has been “The New Retail Paradigm,” which teaches retailers how to adapt to the new electronic age, an economy turned upside down and inside out and how to make money at it for the duration, which was the message delivered at the Arizona Floor Covering Association.

In an hour, one can only briefly cover: How to stop today’s more defensive customers in their tracks, how to bring expenses in line with your new sales volume, why traditional advertising media is less effective, networking, using social media, dealing with credit managers as well as new opportunities in flooring, all of which, could be the topic of a one- or two-day seminar.

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