shows how a website is revenue and not an expense
by Steven Feldman
Boca Raton, Fla.—Fact #1: The economic downturn that began in late 2006 has claimed the business lives of countless independent floor covering retailers. Fact #2: Despite this downturn, retailers like Empire, Lumber Liquidators and Home Depot have actually seen growth in floor covering sales. Fact #3: The successful retailers that have survived these last five years—both independent and otherwise—have responded to and embraced the industry’s biggest change in the last 10 years.
That change has nothing to do with product or displays, logistics or pricing. So says Bobby Glennon, CEO of FloorForce, a technology company intent on keeping independent flooring retailers in business. Rather, the single biggest change the industry has experienced in the last 10 years is the way in which the consumer finds a dealer, and shops and searches for product. “Consumers’ eyes are no longer in the Yellow Pages or newspapers and they are not getting in the car and driving from showroom to showroom with the price of gas at $4. Their eyes are on the web.”
This means if an independent retailer does not have a healthy online presence—not only a website but a serious web strategy—he will be at a serious competitive disadvantage.
That’s where FloorForce comes in.
Officially, FloorForce is a company that builds websites for floor covering retailers, but that’s only the beginning. What FloorForce actually does is build a virtual front door for dealers, which today is more important than their physical front door.
Here’s why: According to many dealers, their actual physical store traffic in the last five years is down dramatically, sometimes to where only one or two customers are walking through the front door on a given day. Yet that retailer may have 10 to 30 visitors a day to his website—if he has a good website.
It’s all because most consumers start their shopping experience on the web—for just about any significant-dollar purchase. And these consumers draw their perception about a particular retailer based on the quality of his website. “So if they don’t like a particular website, chances are they won’t go to that dealer’s physical location,” Glennon said. “There are too many options today.”
So what exactly constitutes a good website? According to industry veteran Mark Lorberbaum, who founded FloorForce in November, a good website is attractive, engaging, educational and simple for the consumer to use. “They also like informative and knowledgeable reviews. That helps the consumer make a decision, not only on the product, but where she buys the product.”
While that may not be a revelation, this may be: FloorForce learned consumers want to see prices. “Major retail organizations like Lumber Liquidators, Home Depot and Wayfair are showing consumers prices,” Glennon said. “In order for the independent dealer to compete for today’s consumer, he has to show prices on his website.”
The secret sauce: Visibility
Today more than ever, the difference between an independent retailer surviving and going out of business is visibility. That’s according to John Van Cleve Weller Jr., vice president of marketing for FloorForce. “We noticed there was an epidemic of poor quality websites. There is a huge disparity between companies enjoying success in this economy and those that are not, and [there is a direct correlation with] the visibility of the website.”
As an example, he cited Empire Carpet, which has grown 10-fold in the last seven years in part by being the most visible company on the web. “Sure, they have a presence on TV and radio, but they have transitioned to spending more of their advertising dollars on the web,” he said. “The goal was to have the most visible website in the market. Today, you must have visibility as well as a good user experience.”
Another example, one that independent flooring retailers must pay attention to, is wayfair.com. This 10-year-old company is the largest furniture e-tailer in the U.S. with annual sales in excess of $450 million, Glennon said. “Now they are getting into the floor covering business. What they did in furniture was to make themselves visible and create a good user experience with the ability to shop and compare products. It makes for a great consumer experience.”
FloorForce looked at companies like Empire and its visibility and Wayfair with its good user experience and realized why these entities are taking dollars from the independent retailer. “So we built a company that can supply both the visibility and user experience needed to compete in today’s as well as tomorrow’s market,” Glennon said.
What differentiates FloorForce
After extensive hands-on research, FloorForce found independent dealers’ problem was not converting people from the web to the store; the problem was getting consumers into the store. Hence, FloorForce builds websites that create traffic for the retailers.
But while other companies claim to do the same, FloorForce is different. Why?
1.Industry-specific functionalities that others won’t even try to deliver. “For example, a proprietary product management system,” Glennon said. “It allows the dealer to showcase any product from any manufacturer or distributor they purchase from.
2.Dealers have the freedom to manage every aspect of their website. They are in control of the content; they are in control of promotions through coupons and banners. “I think the degree of control we give the retailer far exceeds that of any company providing websites today,” Glennon said.
3.FloorForce shares its office space and has employed key members of a high-level advertising and design company. It also employs in-house SEO experts, designers and content writers. “We not only work hand-in-hand with the dealers to create custom banners and promotions, we get these to appear on their website in less than one hour,” Weller explained.
4.FloorForce is not aligned with any manufacturer, distributor or group, which gives the dealer complete flexibility of what they promote, when they promote and how they promote.
5.All FloorForce executives have extensive experience in the floor covering industry.
6.Manufacturers and distributors have been given a unique and extensive platform to reach consumers with their brands and to market and promote products through Floor-Force retailers’ websites, “which is the most relevant place to advertise,” Glennon said.
7.Like Apple does with its iPhone, FloorForce is already working on versions two, three and four. “We will constantly be delivering new solutions to our retailers,” Glennon said. “They have a 24/7 upgrade program.”
The best part: FloorForce recognizes many retailers are neophytes when it comes to their online presence. Thus, it will hold retailers’ hands through the entire process.
“We recognize every dealer is distinctly different, so we give them an open platform to tell us what is important about their business,” Glennon said. “We make sure each dealer puts his best foot forward and distinguishes himself from other dealers in his market.”
FloorForce helps every step of the way—with content, images, even a mission statement if needed. “All dealers have to do is hand us the information about their business and we will hand them a website that works,” Glennon said.
Beyond the site
Having a good website is only half the battle. Drawing people to your site is equally important. In technology-speak, this is referred to as search engine optimization, or SEO. But this is what the average retailer needs to know: Statistically, 87% of people doing Google searches never go beyond page one. So if you are not on page one, you will only be exposed to about 13% of people doing a web search.
This is also where FloorForce excels. While no one can guarantee what a consumer will type in when she does a search, FloorForce claims for the most critical keywords to each dealer’s business, it has been quite successful at getting dealers on page one of Google.
As one example, 60-year-old Hessler Floor Covering, with three locations in southwest Florida, saw its business decline over the last few years. “They tried several website solutions,” Glennon said. “They were on page 28 of Google for searches involving key words of “carpet,” “tile,” “hardwood” in Punta Gorda, Fla. The company recently asked for our assistance, so we built their website, deployed it in early January and today they are on page one of Google in their target market. They have started to notice an increase in phone calls and traffic. The have had consumers say they found them on the web, which they never heard before.”
Lorberbaum put it in perspective. “If you do a search for “carpet” and “Miami,” there are 106 million search returns, and our dealer is No. 2 organically on page one. That’s unbelievable.”
And everything is out in the open. Retailers can go to Google analytics and see exactly what is happening on a retailer’s website. “This much is proven: Dealers’ website traffic is exponentially increasing the longer their FloorForce website has been up and consumers are spending more time on the site,” Glennon said.
Of course, the next question on everyone’s mind is cost. Some of the bigger dealers in the U.S., with their own IT departments, can spend $30,000 to $60,000 a year on their Google presence to get on page one. FloorForce dealers pay a one-time set-up fee of $1,499 with monthly charges based on one of four plans.
A drop in the bucket? Maybe not. But consider this: One FloorForce dealer has been getting 250 to 650 unique visitors a month to his website—an exceptional number for a flooring store. If he converts two of those visitors, the site more than pays for itself. “FloorForce shows retailers that a website is revenue, not an expense,” Glennon said.
The bottom line is that the majority of dealers cannot afford to compete with the industry’s major players on the web be-cause they do not have the capital resources. “We provide an affordable platform to compete with the largest players in the industry and win,” Glennon said.
Weller added, “That’s what’s great about FloorForce. We can take them from where they are to where they need to be.”
During the short term, FloorForce has one goal: Help independent dealers get on even footing with mass retailers. Next, it wants to educate the retailers on the importance of being visible and relevant on the Internet. “We know if we can give the independent retailers, which have been the backbone of this industry, a strong online presence, they will outservice, outsell and better satisfy today’s consumer,” Weller said.
For more information about FloorForce, visit floorforce.com or call 561.394.7876.