January 6/13, 2014; Volume 27/Number 18
By K.J. Quinn
In today’s competitive floor covering business, a savvy retailer must be sharp and innovative to capture the attention of targeted customers. Store operators have limited time and money to make marketing work, industry watchers said, so they need to find the most effective plan of attack.
“We’re putting our money into what works,” declared Lou Morano, owner, Capitol Carpet & Tile and Wood in Boynton Beach, Fla. “We stopped doing Yellow Pages advertising after 28 years because it didn’t pay anymore. All of our focus is on TV commercials and anything to do with Internet marketing.”
Successful retailers realize word-of-mouth referrals and a great selection of products are no longer effective as the primary means for bringing in customers. Because of this change, investments are being made into developing marketing and promotional initiatives that pique the interest of consumers. “We took time last year to analyze every aspect of our online presence to determine how the store could effectively use the Internet combined with traditional media outlets to drive showroom traffic and boost sales,” noted Paul Riemer, vice president, Riemer Floors, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “In September, we launched a new website as well as a mobile site.”
The investment in the website was significant, Riemer said, but well worth it. “It allows the customer to do all her research online before coming into our showroom. In turn, she is more comfortable with her own product knowledge and more willing to make a purchase.” The site also provides functionality, which helps salespeople close sales by using features such as a virtual room designer.
Many marketing initiatives implemented by dealers utilize the Internet as a conduit. Blog and Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and Instagram photos are popular social media tools that retailers are using to, among other things, promote new arrivals and announce sales and events. For example, Michigan Tile & Carpet, Battle Creek, Mich., posts pictures of various jobs, testimonials, products and other information on its website.
“We had one person from Arizona who used to live in the area contact us about a month ago,” owner Hans Stark said, “saying she wished we could do her bathroom floor as it appeared in the picture posted on our website.”
An increasing number of consumers are surfing the Internet to identify reputable retailers. Harris Carpets Flooring America in Anderson, S.C., has witnessed several out-of-towners say they heard about the store through online reviews and decided to buy there. “When you have one-time buyers who are new to an area, they’re more likely to go and post a review on the service you provide,” said Scott Junkins, owner. Salespeople ask customers to post reviews on social sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and City Search, he added.
The effectiveness of diversified advertising
Dealers agreed that advertising continues to work as an effective vehicle for driving store traffic. What’s changed, compared to yesteryear, is the type of media being used. “We have diversified our advertising into a broader mix of direct mail, TV, radio and the Internet,” said Darren Braunstein, executive vice president and COO of Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings in Edison, N.J. “Promotional and event marketing seems to be the best way to drive traffic into the store.”
Similarly, Carpeteria in Lancaster, Calif., utilizes different advertising platforms, taking into account how people prefer to obtain information using one medium over another. For example, “some people don’t read the newspaper,” owner Barry White observed. “So if you spend all your money on newspaper advertising, you may only catch people who read it once a week.”
Michigan Tile & Carpet favors targeted direct mailings because the local TV and radio markets are fragmented. “We almost have to advertise on all 20 radio stations to get any representation,” Stark noted.
Harris Carpets will advertise on local TV news stations, which it found more effective than appearing on multiple cable channels. “You may get a lot of spots on cable channels, but the chances of people seeing your commercial are smaller,” Junkins said. “We would rather be on broadcast TV with limited spots because we know the audience is paying attention.”
TV commercials featuring real and fictional characters—such as the “Empire Man,” starring in Empire Carpets’ television advertising for years—help capture the attention of consumers. For instance, Carpeteria will run ads featuring a character dubbed “The King of Carpet” on local news stations and programs. “I started the store about 12 years ago and would appear on commercials wearing a crown and a cape as the ‘Carpet King,’” White said.
One of the most successful TV commercials for Capitol Carpet stars Morano’s mother. “My mother appears in commercials saying, ‘We’ll contact you to make sure everything is OK,’ [after the installation],” he said. “We’re introducing some humor in the commercials with my mother.”
The results speak for themselves, as Capitol Carpet reports an increase in foot traffic since the commercials debuted. “We have people coming in the store asking for my mother,” Morano said, “so we know the commercials are working.”
Attracting repeat business
An important factor in any marketing campaign is what happens after customers actually visit the store. The shopping experience can be further enhanced when the showroom has been updated to reflect the latest styles, colors and products. “I believe it helps our customers to see that we are bringing all the newest products into our showrooms,” said Tom Garvey, owner, Garvey’s Flooring America, Bloomsburg, Pa. “Items seen on TV and in magazines can be found in our store.”
Carpet Man in Orange Park, Fla., invested most of its ad dollars into a select number of advertising vehicles over the last few years: television, radio, Internet ads and billboards. “I have also spent a lot of time training and coaching my team, so we can offer our customers the best buying experience possible,” said Chris Jackson, owner.
After the sale, dealers suggest obtaining contact details from customers. This information can be used to create a mailing list for informing shoppers about future sales and promotions. “We send existing customers ‘thank you’ gifts and make efforts to keep in touch with them,” noted Janice Clifton, a partner at Abbey Carpet in Napa, Calif.
One of the most prominent forms of interaction with prospective customers is networking, experts said. “If people come into your store as a result of a personal or professional networking referral, you can keep higher margins because they’re not going to shop at seven other stores,” Clifton explained. “You usually have happier customers because their expectation is that you are going to take care of them.”
Garvey said his team communicates with local realtors and provides incentives for new homeowners to purchase flooring from his store. “The homeowner receives a discount to purchase with us and the realtor receives a gas card as a ‘thank you’ from us for the referral. This method has generated a lot of business.”
Dealers can create additional awareness about their stores while giving back to the community and working with local charities and non-profit organizations. Garvey is actively involved in supporting local churches, school sports teams and charitable organizations. “I am a really big believer that people buy from people,” he said, adding that his sales staff is engaged with groups in the area as well.
Similarly, Jack Dean, retail sales manager of G. Fried Flooring America in Sarasota, Fla., attends local Chamber of Commerce meetings and performs volunteer work for numerous non-profit organizations. “I’ve also gone to realtor meetings at 7:30 a.m. and passed out business cards,” he said. “I will go out and sponsor a foursome at a golf outing and play with the group. It’s all feasible and it works.”
Dean estimated the store garnered more than $600,000 in 2012 sales as a result of leads generated from these networking efforts. “I let people know what I do for a living and ask them to see me the next time they need a new floor. These are people who otherwise might have never walked into the store.”
Dealers also cite the importance of taking time to measure the performance of their marketing efforts to see what works and what doesn’t so strategies can be tweaked. “We do try to find out how people heard about us and track that,” said Darren Hearns, president, Great Lakes Carpet & Tile, Orlando, Fla. For example, “In the local village, there are a lot of retirees, and we found they read the newspaper and listen to the radio a lot. In the Orlando market, our oversized post cards seem to work best.”
While there are various metrics that can gauge the effectiveness of multimedia marketing campaigns, industry members say the ultimate measuring stick is the amount of foot traffic and sales made during any promotional period. “Every day in the showroom, we have customers that come to us [via] some online channel, whether it’s social media, our website, online advertising or even our newsletter,” Riemer said. “The traffic has picked up through these channels, but, more importantly, the quality of traffic has also increased.”