July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4
By Lisbeth Calandrino
When it comes to selling flooring we keep hearing the big box is clobbering the independent retailer. I find this hard to believe, so I decided to hold my own mini-focus group to get a clearer understanding of the issues. I recently convened a panel of 21 women—ages 25 to 65—at a small restaurant near my house. I asked the participants to provide thoughts on their shopping experiences relative to home centers vs. independent retailers. I asked a friend of mine to take notes so I could collect my own data.
Following are some takeaways based on the comments of the participants.
Lesson No. 1: With customer service, perception is reality. “Customer service in retail today is worse than ever.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. If you have a problem with a product or service, according to my focus group, the independent store is the worst place to get satisfaction. This seems to be due to a couple of things. The big boxes have more money, so they are more likely to solve a consumer’s problem quicker. The more a consumer presses them, the faster her problem will get resolved. Furthermore, it’s hard to find anyone in charge in the independent business. The big boxes often have a customer service department to handle problems, while associates in the independent stores have very little power to solve problems.
For many who have closely followed this industry, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It is a long-held belief that home centers and big discount merchandisers lack the skilled work force to provide personal, specialized attention—the hallmarks of the independent specialty retailer. Furthermore, there are countless stories of specialty flooring retailers who operate in the shadow of large home centers and still have managed to not only survive but thrive. And now with the big boxes dramatically scaling back the pace of new store openings, there’s an opportunity for specialty retailers to recoup some share.
My advice: Invest in a customer service department with a different phone number and have the calls go directly to the owner.
Lesson No. 2: Installation is critical. My focus group experiment proved consumers are indeed interested in the installation process and believe certified installers are the way to go. (Another plus in the column for specialty retailers.) They all seem to be aware the big boxes sub-contract their installation and feel that is a bad policy. It signifies that the home center has little control over the process and the warranty is confusing. Furthermore, many home centers continue to de-value the importance of professional services by promoting “free” installation, which is often misleading.
Thankfully, specialty retailers understand the importance of installation, as installers often have the last word when it comes to warranties.
My advice: Look for opportunities to get your installers certified. This will bring credibility to your business and instill greater confidence in the consumer.
Lesson No. 3: More consumers are utilizing technology. In working with my focus group, I learned people utilize technology in different ways. When it comes to ordering online, most prefer to use their computers rather than their phones. In addition, many enjoyed using YouTube to get information on how things work.
My advice: Create a YouTube channel to show your customers how to choose flooring and explain the installation process.
Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.