Salesmanship: Carpet warranties

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by Warren Tyler

As a storeowner, I recognized long ago we had the opportunity to be the best source to handle customer complaints. Our people were schooled not to sell warranties, but to sell fashion and I guess it worked because we were the leading stores in six markets.

I sold my last operation in 1985. Back then manufacturers’ warranties were nebulous descriptions of what constituted wear. It so happened that Stainmaster, one of the greatest marketing promotions ever in any industry, came on the scene the next year. However, the very name oversold the product, because consumers interpreted Stainmaster as wearmaster, soilmaster and every other master one could think of. DuPont very quickly came out with a written warranty excluding many items that could be dropped on carpet.

Prior to this, consumers recognized carpet was only fabric and treated it as such. Appearance complaints on well-constructed carpet were few. How the times have changed; today, marketers put lifetime stain warranties that include pet urine, soil resistance, abrasive wear and texture retention warranties along with huge promotions that feature Rhinos living and organized food fights on carpet. These send a powerful message to consumers. Unfortunately, the message is: This floor is bulletproof and many consumers will treat their new carpet just that way.

Adding to the problem, many salespeople, taking the path of least resistance, sell the warranties. However, I find the majority of salespeople aren’t aware of the hoops consumers have to jump through to keep their various warranties intact. I’ve been told that some manufacturers require the carpet to be wet cleaned within 18 months of purchase and at various times thereafter for the warranties to remain valid.

Someone said the carpet had to be installed by a certified installer as well. Jim Walker has done a wonderful job training installers, but his certified people are but a small minority of the industry and we all would go broke if this were true—what about the true artisans who aren’t certified? Some of the best rug cleaners with spotless reputations don’t use approved equipment, but who would know this?

The point is that I work within the industry every day and haven’t been brought up to snuff. Then reading the industry news, I find there is something called the Seal of Approval (SOA) put forth by the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) which tells me if consumers don’t use approved products or systems it may void these wonderful warranties.

Being in touch with many retailers every day, I can state that it is the rare dealer who has ever heard of the SOA. So, it is reasonable that even more rare is the consumer who knows about it.

Knowing that the responsible salesperson should be aware of keeping warranties intact, I went to the CRI website and could not find a list of approved products and systems. What I got out of the site is consumers have to call the individual manufacturer to get details on the procedures necessary to keep these warranties valid. I did find that some mills recommended cleaning systems that didn’t have SOA approval. How does this work? One was among the finest makers of carpet in America.

My feeling is if your sales force sells on the basis of these warranties they also have to be trained to inform consumers about the rules. Likewise, manufacturers have to do a better job of informing retailers, otherwise these warranties have the potential to come back and bite us. I admit to knowing too little, so if there is anyone who actually knows this stuff, I would love to set my readers straight.

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