Empire Today strikes with brick-and-mortar stores

Home Inside FCNews Empire Today strikes with brick-and-mortar stores

Three retail locations open in Virginia, on Long Island

By Ken Ryan

Westbury, N.Y.—After two years of “active planning,” shop-at-home giant Empire Today has opened the first brick-and-mortar stores in the company’s 55-year history. The move, executives said, comes partly in response to an improving economy, but because its research revealed that customers desired a real in-store experience.

“The No. 1 search on our website is ‘where are your stores,’” Keith Weinberger, chief marketing officer, told FCNews. “Our customers assumed we have stores.”

Paul Carter, executive vice president, added, “People know our brand, but we feel flooring is a high-touch market, and this gives us another chance to provide the Empire service experience in the store.”

Empire Today opened its first store in Fairfax, Va., on Jan. 29, followed by two Long Island stores—in Westbury and Commack—on Feb. 5. The company chose these locations because they represent the Washington, D.C., and New York markets, where Empire Today has traditionally done well. It also has regional distribution centers in these areas.

No additional locations are currently planned. “We want to focus on these three stores and make them as great as they can be,” Weinberger said.

Carter said the brick-and-mortar stores will have the same assortments available online but will offer a broader selection of products, perhaps 35 to 50 carpet styles and a commensurate number of hard surface offerings.

Each of the locations will be initially staffed with a store manager and four full-time sales associates, or “personal flooring specialists.” Each customer who enters the store will be greeted by a sales associate who will guide the prospect through the entire sales process. Weinberger said the staff is comprised of people with flooring backgrounds as well as those who excel in customer service. Associates will work on a draw-vs.-commission compensation model.

“We want to make this simple for the customer,” he noted.

“We offer shop-at-home convenience, but people who come to the store need convenience as well. In our store experience, you aren’t met by a random employee at a home improvement store; this is a flooring expert.”

Store hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wendy Fried, president/owner of G. Fried Carpet, which is located 1.2 miles from the Westbury-based Empire Today store, said she was surprised Empire would open a store after decades of success as a shop-at-home entity. “They have such a good thing going; why would they want to open stores and pay rent?”

As for Empire Today as a potential threat, Fried said, “At one point I would have said no, but I would say now their opening impacts everybody. They have been brilliant up until now, so who am I to doubt them?”

Fried said her store sells more high-end goods than Empire Today. In addition, she has a seasoned staff with expertise in the various categories. “It’s not easy finding good people in flooring.”

Carter said Empire Today’s vendors have played a key role in developing “the kind of training critically necessary to allow our salespeople to handle the situation. Having one person who handles the customer from beginning to end requires that he knows what he is doing.”

Empire Today provided the following specifics as to how it will differentiate its stores:

Design. Empire said it will create “neighborhoods” of products, so similar offerings across budget levels are grouped together in the store, intended to make it easier for customers to find what they want. Empire also worked with lighting scientists to help ensure the flooring colors customers see in-store look the same in their homes.

Personal attention. So-called “personal flooring specialists” will meet with customers in the store. These specialists will spend the necessary time to understand their needs, recommend products and provide the right samples. That same flooring specialist can also visit a customer’s home with additional samples to take measurements, schedule installation and take samples back; this way the customer doesn’t have to return to the store.

All-inclusive, transparent pricing. Weinberger said every product has an all-inclusive price affixed to the tag; this includes flooring, padding and materials, and installation, along with a rating to allow customers to easily compare products, even if they’re made by different manufacturers.

“Be Happy Promise.” If a customer is not satisfied with the flooring she bought within 30 days of the last installation date, Empire said it would cover the cost of the selected replacement flooring product (only of equal or lesser value).

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