Contrarian selling

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by Warren Tyler

As a retailer, I was always a contrarian. That is, whatever other retailers were doing, I wanted no part of it.

I learned early on conventional wisdom is always wrong. For instance, conventional wisdom tries to dictate the smaller the room, the smaller the pattern that should be used in decorating—absurd.

Conventional wisdom dictates the use of beige in new homes and rentals. I would guarantee builders and property managers if they let my people select and use color in their properties these would be the first units to sell or rent. It matters not whether flooring matched the customer’s current furniture, it was sizzle not the steak that sold the property.

In the early ’70s, someone created those ugly multi-colored cut and loop shags. Blessed with a sense of aesthetics, my people hated them. We knew this would be a fad, so we promoted “The European Look,” a low pile, high-density carpeting—the opposite of what was selling elsewhere. We remained the highest volume stores in our respective market areas. There was virtually nothing about our store resembling other flooring stores. We rarely used any manufacturer’s displays, opting to make our own which were cheaper and better looking. Space limits any examples, but my book, “Warren Tyler on Retail” gives several of these creative displays.

The problem is it takes courage to be a contrarian because it is more comfortable doing it the way we’ve always done it. Market leaders continue to break new ground. Once the competition starts to copy them, they are off on a different tack. A bumper sticker from Big Dogs is a favorite: “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”

It also takes courage to choose the path less traveled. Salespeople rarely show improvement once they become comfortable with “May I help you?” then settle into a routine of following the customer around the store, which sometimes leads to getting lucky. I have written often about the comparison of successful flooring retailers and the rest as well as successful salespeople and the rest.

The “rest” is made up of about 95% of salespeople, whose only training has been: “Go with ’ole Charlie. He’s been selling for 20 years.” Well 20 x zero has always equaled zero. The same situation exists with the average retail owner.

They’ve learned from someone who has always done it this way. The 95% do all the same things wrong, while 5% do all the same things right. Today’s customer is better informed with both good and bad information. Salespeople have to be better than ever because of what their customer knows. Sometimes salespeople have been saddled with the same bad information from our industry customers get online. Kodel has infected three generations of flooring people with a skewed view of polyesters. Some things do change for the better.

An individual salesperson’s problem is how to overcome false information that customers glean from the Internet as well as competitive flooring stores. I’ve stated many times, if you haven’t established a personal relationship with your customer explaining any false information comes off as sour grapes.

It’s more important than ever for your customer to like you. It’s one of the few things that can separate you from the competition. I mentioned courage. It requires courage to be able to speak with a heretofore stranger on an intimate and personal level. How she feels about you is more critical than the merchandise, price or terms. She buys from the person she likes.

It will pay off greatly in this economy to step outside yourself and start doing things differently.

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