Retailers personalize the consumer experience with one-on-one visits
Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15
By Jana Pollack
In today’s busy world, there isn’t always time to head to the store to shop for new flooring. And that’s just what retailers who offer the option of shop at home are betting on, which seems to be paying off.
For example, Debbie Gartner owns The Flooring Girl in Elmsford, N.Y. While she does have a brick and mortar store, she does 100% of her business through shop at home. Gartner said doing business this way is a no-brainer. “Plenty of times people go into a store to see samples and plan on buying them, but it’s the totally wrong surface. The customer doesn’t know that, and it’s not the customer’s responsibility to know. People say they want laminate for their basements, which is usually a very bad option because they have moisture in those areas, which they may not realize. If you go to a customer’s home, you can actually advise her on what to do and tell her the pros and cons.”
Sam McMaster, owner of Shop From Home Flooring in Augusta, Maine, said despite his store’s name it does have a retail store and operates that way as well as offering shop at home as an alternative. He estimates about 30% to 40% of the business comes from shop at home.
He said retailers who offer shop at home need to focus on doing it right. “For the big box stores, their selling technique is they have salespeople go out there, but they could have come from changing oil somewhere or washing dishes. But these people go into homes and they do high-pressure sales on flooring, and it’s all about the number. And that’s what a lot of people think they can probably do, start sending out salespeople and [pressuring sales].” McMaster warned against this kind of behavior. “If you had other stores doing the same kind of thing, and it becomes a bunch of worker ants out there polluting the industry, then the real retailers are going to be losing. So I wouldn’t want everybody to do it, but [shop at home] is not a bad concept if you can do it and do it professionally.”
Weber and Joe’s Flooring in Kansas City, Mo., also offers the shop-at-home option in addition to operating a traditional sales floor. Bob Bales, retail manager at Weber and Joe’s, estimates the store does about 15% of its business through shop at home.
Bales works to keep the entire Weber and Joe’s operation a friendly one. “We’re not going to try to ask the customer [who is going to be] home before we get there, because we feel like it leaves a sour taste in her mouth. We’ve learned—and are still learning—how to do shop at home without creating a high-pressure situation.”
The store staffs two employees specifically for shop at home and hopes to expand. Bales stressed that these employees are specialists. “First of all, you need somebody who is organized. Second of all, you need somebody who has a good work ethic, someone you can depend on to be out there working. And third, obviously you need somebody who knows the products.” The success of these employees is judged by their sales numbers as opposed to their working hours. “We track them with leads, just to make sure we’re getting a good closing rate on the lead we gave them.”
Logistics of home visits
Gartner emphasized that because someone always has to be sent to the customer’s home to do measurements anyway, conducting the sale at home simply makes sense—what was a two-step process becomes one. She also believes this method is easier on the customer and goes beyond convenience. “Many customers tell me that they get lost in the store, they get confused, and they just leave,” she said. “In their homes I can show them the samples right there on the spot, so they can see the colors in their own lighting. I can advise them on what type of flooring they need and I can measure while I’m there and usually give them estimates right on the spot.”
McMaster generally does the shop-at-home visits himself as opposed to having other employees make the house calls. “Being the owner, if I’m out doing the consulting then I know what my store is standing behind,” he said. “I’ve got 35 years of experience, so I’ve got a little bit of a coaching thing going on with the consumer. And since I have a good reputation, people are more apt to listen to what I tell them. I want to make sure my store does what we say we’re going to do.”
He also brought up the issue of comparison pricing, which can happen when offering estimates during a shop-at-home sale or in-store. “There’s a lot of people who are looking just for numbers to make comparisons. So even if you’re out doing that kind of [personal, in-home] consulting, you don’t always land that job. When someone comes into the store, [they can be persuaded] because [they see firsthand] the atmosphere, the performance of the sales staff, etc.”
Weber and Joe’s has been offering shop at home for about four years, and Bales said it continues to be a learning process. “I was told by one shop-at-home specialist that you don’t qualify before you go out to the appointment, and I differ on that. I find that it’s very helpful. You can load your truck up with what you think the customer is looking for instead of having a huge amount of things and then try to dig through to find the right ones. We aim to pre-qualify.”
When asked if they would recommend the shop-at-home option to other retailers, Gartner, McMaster and Bales all had the same answer: “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone around here!” Shop at home has been a successful part of these businesses, and they’re hoping to keep the secret to themselves.
“It makes it easier for the customer,” Gartner noted. “That’s really all there is to it.”