By Ken Ryan
Atlanta—Pami Bhullar is the director of retail development for Invista, North America, but to legions of flooring dealers he is a training guru who travels hundreds of thousands of miles each year to share his retail wisdom.
On Oct. 2, it was flooring dealers and mill executives who traveled to Georgia-Pacific Headquarters here for “Pami Talks,” modeled after the exceedingly popular TED Talks program.
Bhullar’s message was simple, direct and concise. “This is not rocket science,” he told audience members. “We sell flooring. It is not hard. Let’s have fun with it.”
Selling floors in this online world has become more challenging for retail sales associates (RSAs) as consumers have access to more information than ever before, Bhullar explained. “More than 90% of customers have spent 6.5 hours on the web and have looked into 12 sources of information for flooring before coming into your store. And we used to worry that our customer would visit three or four stores before coming to us? Technology has made it possible so that customers can visit 100 stores. That means it is more important than ever to have a story to tell. If you don’t have a story then all you have is price and negotiation.”
For RSAs, success begins with passion and caring or what Bhullar termed “an honest desire to help the customer.” If you don’t have the energy and passion, you will likely fail because that lack of enthusiasm will reveal itself to customers.
Bhullar said there is an infinite amount of information floating around but not enough knowledge; RSAs must continually listen and learn to stay current. But in some instances that is not happening. Bhullar said he spends a considerable amount of time “mystery shopping” flooring dealers. On several occasions the sales rep he encountered did not have proper product knowledge or provided misinformation. “I had a guy show me carpet and he tells me, ‘This is nylon 6,6.’ I said to him, ‘That is great. Can you show me nylon 12,12?’ He said, ‘Let me go check,’ and I hear him asking the manager if they have nylon 12,12.”
The sales rep was wrong on at least two accounts. First, he was uneducated about product; there is no such thing as nylon 12,12. Secondly, he used industry jargon (nylon 6,6) that consumers typically do not understand.
Bhullar encouraged dealers to spend five to seven minutes every morning when they first arrive to their stores to study one product in their showroom sand get to know the two main benefits it offers. He encourages them to repeat the exercise every day for 30 days or longer until they have covered every product in the store and can confidently recite the benefits.
Bhullar said there are three common customer needs that “bubble to the top” during an in-store discussion. “No 1 is durability and how easy [the product] is to clean. The customer might not say it in those words but that is what she wants in a product more than anything. Second is style and look; third is price and value. And low price does not equate with value.”
He suggests RSAs practice their pitch, polish it and not be afraid of making recommendations. After all, the RSA is the perceived expert. “Did you know 67% of consumers will buy a recommended option but less than half of RSAs make a specific recommendation?”
Customer engagement is another key component to the selling process. Bhullar contends no one wakes up on a Saturday morning with the desire to visit a carpet store just to flip through samples; if they come into your store, they are in the market—so be prepared.
“Can I help you?” is not an effective opening line, he said, and should be replaced with something akin to, “Have you been here before?” If the response is “No,” the RSA can explain what the store offers and why it does delivers better than anyone else.
Another good question to ask: “Why are you replacing your floor?” Bhullar said this can elicit many responses. Most important, you learn why a customer is in the market. Do she own a rental property? Is she a homeowner looking to move? Perhaps she just needs new carpet after 15 years.
Bhullar noted two common mistakes RSAs make are moving through the presentation too quickly before truly understanding a customer’s needs and discussing price too quickly. He also shared tips on what words to use and how to use them. A few examples:
*Emphasize home rather than house. “Home is where you live. Home is where your kids are, where your memories are being made. A house is too impersonal.”
*Emphasize benefits vs. warranty. “A customer doesn’t buy a product for the warranty; she buys because of the benefits it brings.”
*Using phrases like “certainly,” “I would be happy to,” and “my pleasure” is much more effective than the oft-used “no problem.”
*When it comes time for payment, say, ‘How would you like to take care of this?’ rather than, ‘How would you like to pay for it?’ Bhullar noted, “People don’t like to pay for things, they like to take care of things.”
While first impressions are important, he said, lasting impressions are even better. “Every time a customer walks into your store understand what she can do for your business. If she has a good experience she may tell 10 people. A well taken care of customer becomes an ambassador for your business, so give your customer a reason to brag about you.”