Whew, what a year: 2011 most difficult ever

Home Columns Whew, what a year: 2011 most difficult ever

by Warren Tyler

The economy is the major factor in all of our lives and we thrash this around daily. We’re stuck with it for quite a while so to survive we must adapt. Last year, many specialty stores actually showed increases. But this year, the count of those operations seems to be way down.

I fight the same battle in my own business. Right now, when dealers need me most, the question many owners have is, “Do we bring Warren out for a day or do we pay the utility bill?” What I hear from flooring retailers is the lack of education available to deal with the economy, even through the groups. Retailers either get nothing or it’s the same ’ole same ’ole. The groups have to step up.

Depending on how you use it, technology can be either the best or worst friends. If you know how to use it you can compete anywhere across the country. If you can’t, retailers across the nation can compete with you, something we never had to deal with.

Today’s consumer is becoming evermore difficult. The country’s largest flooring retailers are as desperate as their customers as shown by their promotions and advertising which are totally specious and downright dishonest. Years ago if we advertised 60% off, the feds would check us and wanted us to prove we sold it for the original price for a specified time. Where are the feds now? The “free” install somehow costs $300, $400 or $500 and people fall for this.

And it doesn’t matter where you live, consumers in states where unemployment may be 6% are just as terrified of spending as everyone else because they read the national news. As a result, consumers with money are shopping with a vicious intensity that somehow excuses this unethical behavior. 2011 has been the worse year yet because consumers are getting educated in nefarious shopping practices.

If they see something on the Internet, they have no compunction about getting well-meaning retailers out to their house to measure, just to get the numbers and even the layout to use to buy somewhere else. Many retailers haven’t caught on as yet.

Now with two giants controlling the vast majority of the business, every store in the nation has the exact same displays and samples which never happened in the past. How can anyone send out quotes for every shopper when they are now used to extracting a better price from your closest competitor? If there was ever a reason to join a group or become aligned, having a showroom that can’t be shopped is reason enough.

Shoppers parade though showrooms with cell phones checking prices with other retailers. Most salespeople have no idea how to cope with these new forms of rudeness. People are much more willing to lie about prices and complaints are soaring as consumers only see this as a way to obtain a further discount.

Years ago consumers wanted to trust retailers, but those days are gone. The new sales paradigm is “no-sell,” which means building a meaningful relationship with customers. Done with proper training, it is the most important skill of the sales process. If a customer trusts you, she will believe your explanations of why no one can offer a legitimate 60% off or install it free. If she doesn’t like you, you’ll never get to explain why your quotes are legitimate and she will think any attempt to do this is just sour grapes.

The retail environment is poisoned by the economy, large non-flooring stores and misleading advertising, and will not change. It’s a tough time to be in business and 2011 was the toughest. Retailers must acquire the skills to cope.


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