Retail education: Ace vs. the boxes

Home Columns Retail education: Ace vs. the boxes

By Kelly Kramer

Volume 26/Number 20; February 18/25, 2013

One day I was playing “Mr. Fix It” by attempting to fix my leaking kitchen faucet.

I went down to my local big box, and after about five minutes of looking for an advisor, I finally flagged down a clerk. Explaining my problem, he then called for backup because he was “not from that department.” The backup came a few minutes later and he, too, could not understand what I needed.

The third guy finally figured out I probably needed a couple of O-rings. Of course, they did not stock them even though they are from a brand of faucet the store sells. But, he was nice enough to suggest I try Ace Hardware.

When I entered Ace’s front door a cashier immediately directed me. That’s where I met the “Helpful Hardware Man.”

After telling him my problem, he confirmed the issue, explained how I should go about fixing it, and after explaining how the O-rings stretch, told me I needed one size smaller than the old O-ring I had brought for an example. All of this wonderful, helpful advice for a $.15 O-ring. I’ve never thanked one person so much for a fix to such a small problem.

Then on the way to the cash register I picked up a bag of snow salt and a quality snow shovel. Not because I felt like returning the favor, but because I know they carry “better quality” products than the big boxes do. When you look at what a place like Ace has had to do to survive against the big boxes, you get a better idea of what we smaller flooring retailers need to do.

Specialty store advantage

Over the years I’ve used this Ace Hardware scenario to explain to my buyers what makes us different and sets us apart from the big box flooring retailers.

In short, what is the buyer’s benefit for buying from me? Here’s how that conversation goes: “There’s nothing wrong with big box flooring companies. They often have the same products that we have, but they are private label. That means they can say they have the best prices, but you can’t prove it. So that 10% savings is often 20% higher. We also have private labels but we use them for our buying power and pass those savings on to you.”

Next, I tell them, “Like the Ace Hardware person, we know the products we carry and know the correct questions to ask to find the best product for your given situation.”

I’ll go on to explain to them, “The big boxes have clerks, often from an unrelated department, or semi professional specialists who have been turned into shelf-stocking clerks. The boxes will sell you anything they have just to make the sale. We put you in the right product—not the cheapest or most expensive. They charge a deposit for an estimate to commit you to the sale, or you lose that deposit. We offer a free, no-pressure estimate just for the opportunity to gain your business—and trust. Plus our estimates are honest, with the correct measurements and our installation is the best quality, backed by us (not an outside installation company). And like Ace we lose sales to deceptive advertising but our buyers love us and refer anyone they care about to us.”

When you’re up against the big boxes it simply takes knowledge, teaching skills, fare prices, ethics and a realization that you don’t have to make every sale. Make your sales to people who want what you offer. Always remember that referrals are low cost, high return adverting.

“Selling Clean” makes you an Ace in my book. Thanks for reading.

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