Salesmanship: Contrarian retailing

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by Warren Tyler

“If everyone is doing it, it’s wrong,” is a refrain that rings in my ears. The older I get, the more I recognize its wisdom. Every flooring store closes at 6 p.m.; we closed at 9 p.m. Every flooring store closes at noon on Saturday; we closed at 6 p.m. Every flooring store closes on Sundays, New Year’s Day and July 4th, some of the best sales days of the year. This is why small stores remain small.

This information is widely disseminated. What is the malfunction in the brain of some flooring retailers? AJC Best in South Portland, Maine, held a sale every Memorial Day, brought in consignment goods from retailers, radio stations and food vendors and did $250,000 in business over that weekend.

We had a store in Exeter, N.H., (population 3,500) that opened on July 4th and did $60,000 in one day. A Veterans’ or Presidents’ day sale properly run can produce 5% to 10% of your annual volume (that’s a possible $100,000 for a million-dollar store).

If a mill produced an ugly but wildly popular fabric like the old cut and loop multi-color shags, we didn’t sell them because we cared about our customers. We were the only one-price store in our markets because, unlike less successful stores, we taught our people how to sell.

At a show in Chicago we received $10,000 in 100% ad money from DuPont to buy $8,000 worth of its newest soft yarn. The same thing happens if you come into a jag of money. As a small store in the ’60s, Allied gave us $25,000 in 100% ad money on carpets made of Anso IV. Imagine the chaos if our people knew our costs on every sale was negative. Knowing prices psychologically kills salespeople. Big stores don’t do this, small stores do.

If you can sell, consumers will buy what they should have, not necessarily what they thought they wanted. Our people could sell Armstrong’s Anything Goes, which had the best per- forming yarn system in the industry. Less successful stores couldn’t because it was low, tight and hard and they needed soft yarns to sell which corn row like crazy—something mills don’t consider a defect. The result? We had customers for life. Others had customers until they tired of their ugly carpets or failed hard surfaces. The same is true now with unrealistic warranties that will lead to huge numbers of dissatisfied customers.

Small stores always looked for the least expensive remnants while we bought ours from Tex Tuft and Custom Weave leading to many $1,500 remnant sales. Everyone else bought rebond pad, just plain junk. We bought densified foam, which once again separated us from the herd of so-called competitors.

Today’s industry brings new problems that never happened before; the big one being no matter your local importance, every store I visit has the exact same displays. If that happened pre-consolidation, samples and displays from our store would be in the street. Even though we had exclusives, we still built and designed our displays and private labeled everything.

There are no brands in this industry. Small stores carry everything everyone else carries, big stores don’t. If there was ever a reason to join a group, it is to fill your store with exclusive labels, merchandise and consistent displays. There are a million other contrarian yet effective contrarian policies—no Yellow Pages, no manufactuers’ ads ever. Never loan samples, do measures, but don’t supply your competition with information—write out approximate measures for first time in closes. Have immediacy every day, have a system for constant customer contact that can be checked and of course, concentrate on networking, electronics and social media.

Warren Tyler has 52 years of retail flooring experience. He is one of the industry’s most sought after speakers, and his training materials are among the most requested. Call him at 804.384.7588 or email

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