Driven to succeed: Cissell’s plan to grow Bob’s Carpet Mart

Home Categories Carpet Driven to succeed: Cissell’s plan to grow Bob’s Carpet Mart

May 12/19, 2014; Volume 27/Number 27

By Louis Iannaco

After joining Bob’s Carpet and Flooring Mart as director of operations late last year, following a successful 20-year tenure heading up the flooring division of the Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), as well as serving as president of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) from 1999 to 2004, Gary Cissell found himself on a mission. The lure of the 15-store Bob’s chain, which did nearly $30 million in sales last year, wasn’t only the weather, he joked; it was the challenge.

According to Cissell, Bob’s—with approximately 105 employees—does many things right but also has numerous opportunities for growth, some of which remind him of when he first began at NFM.

As he explained, the company has many good people, including several managers and sales associates he interviewed before taking the position, “just to find out where their minds were and what they were thinking. After considering those factors and figuring out they had a huge upside—that it is a good company that can be even better—that’s what really led me to take the position.”

Cissell then met with managers, going through a SWOT analysis to identify and determine the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. “It wasn’t necessarily something only I did,” he recalled. “While I had my own thoughts, I gleaned opinions from everyone else on the team and we boiled it down to some simple things.”

The plan

Cissell’s opening initiative has been to focus on the operational side of Bob’s, improving the company’s processes by analyzing them from “beginning to end,” cleaning them out and taking costs out of the channel. “We also wanted to look at building customer loyalty, something that had always been important to Bob’s. We just didn’t have the strategic approach to that but we’ve been working heavily on that portion of it.”

Another part of the company’s initiative to improve and optimize its potential involves staff development. “Our staff needed a plan of how we could help them improve themselves—and hopefully their incomes—by making them more professional, more knowledgeable, more hands on, [etc.]”

Cissell said he is still asking himself, “‘What else do you want to do to round out what Bob’s already has going?’ We’re looking at opening some new stores in the Tampa area.”

Regarding additional avenues the company may take to grow even more, advertising will play a key role. While Bob’s is consistently one of the largest advertisers in the Tampa area, the unique factor Cissell has brought to the table is “outside vision. I’ve seen things outside the Tampa area I felt I could bring here. I’d also like to get the managers involved in more of the advertising input.”

Moving forward, Cissell described the advertising plan as part of a process involving Bob’s staff “learning about me and me learning about them, while trying to figure out how we can drive more traffic into stores and what kind of advertising will get the job done, whether it’s print, TV, radio or direct mail. I’m heavily invested in getting input from all the managers on this.”

The plan implemented thus far features a strict advertising budget as well as proactive managers. “We have a very detailed strategy that encompasses not only TV but also direct mail,” Cissell explained. “We figure out when we are going to hold private sales, what they are going to look like, if they involve direct mail or not, etc. We’re consistently in the consumer’s face with our flyers and we’re involved in a number of media outlets throughout the Tampa region. Our TV strategy encompasses three major local channels allowing us to hit our target market.”

As Cissell noted, the plan has been well developed and extensively researched. “We’ve spent money in doing research to find out exactly where our customers live and the best way to get to them. So there has been a lot of time, effort and resources spent on that, while involving the managers in helping determine the look and the feel of our advertising.”

Surprise, surprise

Something that surprised Cissell when he first took the position at Bob’s involved the company’s product mix. “I was shocked at all the laminate we sell. Bob’s is a dominant laminate supplier to consumers in Florida. Carpet does well for us, but it’s in our name so you’d [assume] that.”

Some of the hottest growing categories taking shape at Bob’s are LVT, or what Cissell refers to as “design flooring”; hardwood, which he believes will continue to grow, and ceramic tile. “This [product mix] is an area on which we’re going to focus to simplify the shopping process.”

To help do so, part of Cissell’s growth plan includes taking road trips. “I’d like to go around and see what my competition is doing, as well as other retailers, and not just flooring people. I’d like to see from a merchandising standpoint what they do to attract customers into the store, and then steal shamelessly, using those great ideas and adapting them to the way we do business.”

Cissell’s idea is to create a plan with Bob’s managers utilizing reverse engineering. “We look at the shopping experience for the customer and how the product is going to be installed in the home. Then we train from that point backwards, put displays in place and go from there.”

Bob’s business philosophy is very simple, Cissell noted. “We want to continue to be dominant in every category in which we sell product, and we also want to figure out a way to give the customer an enjoyable shopping experience by improving her lifestyle.”

What the future holds

Accordingly, Bob’s sales associates will be important assets moving forward, Cissell said, as they will be the ones making it easier for the consumer to shop. “You can walk into many flooring stores, including ours, and be overwhelmed by the selection. It can be incredibly difficult, even for me sometimes.”

What Cissell wants to create, along with his staff, is an atmosphere with everything laid out in front of the customer, with her vision immediately becoming clearer just by seeing the merchandising displays. “She’s heard about us in the media, gets to see the merchandising display and then has the sales staff reiterate with her the key selling points that fit her lifestyle. We let the selection speak for itself and then guide her down the path to a completed sale.”

While Bob’s presently consists of 15 locations, Cissell considers the company’s Shop at Home program to be its 16th store and just as vital as the brick and mortar operations. “Our Shop at Home program has become a dominant factor for us. It would be our 14th largest store out of 16 if we counted it as a separate store, and this is very recent because of the way we’ve been promoting it. I see that continuing.”

As far as Bob’s future is concerned, Cissell sees more sales, happy customers and an equally happy staff. To help achieve these goals, additional locations are on the horizon. “We’re looking into various new stores, including anything from an outlet to maybe a rug venue to a prototype store.” Five years from now, Cissell sees Bob’s in the 20-store range. “Our goal is to be among the top 25 specialty retailers in the country.”

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