Beyond flooring: Retailers find success in cross-selling

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January 21/28, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 17

By Irene Ross


When Floors and More of Benton, Ark., opened its doors in the 1970s it was solely a tile distributor, explained Carlton Billingsley, vice president of operations. Then came that decade’s recession and, with it, astronomically high interest rates. New home building in the area came to an almost complete standstill.

But the story didn’t end there. Floors and More saw a new niche in the home improvement and replacement space, and little by little the company added paint, lighting, window treatments and countertops as well as restoration and remodeling services to the mix.

“It’s one-stop-shopping for customers,” Billingsley said. “It also eliminates the need for multiple project managers, because we have access to electricians, plumbers and contractors.”

Billingsley’s experience proves there are a lot of good reasons to add complementary categories to your offering. Among them: increased revenue, enhanced reputation, product life cycle, greater customer loyalty and market share.

The trick, successful retailers say, lies in creative marketing and merchandising. “If the customer has already bought from you and has been satisfied with the service, you might ask why she wouldn’t buy more from you?” said Sean O’Rourke, director of merchandising of Warren, Mich.-based Art Van Furniture, with stores in Chicago and Detroit.

Successfully selling complementary categories also requires a clear strategy, vision and careful planning as well as product knowledge and education. “Flooring is a personal expression of style,” O’Rourke added. “It’s that personal coaching that sets us apart.”

Training and education also supports cross-selling initiatives at Kent, Wash.-based Contract Furnishings Mart. “We encourage employees to get involved with design and other related groups,” said Garrett Anderson, director of marketing.

Following are additional suggestions from flooring retailers who have succeeded in cross selling.

  1. It’s all about the four “Ps” of marketing. In other words, product, promotion, price and place. Experts suggest retailers research, analyze and use data to understand their product and service offerings and how they relate to their geographic location, demographics, etc. Case in point is Pierce Flooring and Cabinet Design Center, which operates seven locations across Montana. “For the most part, our state is pretty blue collar and the customers want simple, clean and coordinated product sample displays,” said Greg Loeffler, vice president of sales, marketing and advertising. “But we do have pockets of high-end, fashion-conscious areas, which requires us to do a certain amount of customization. Even displays in these areas are different, requiring room settings or vignettes.”
  1. Know the difference between cross-selling and upselling. Although they’re often used interchangeably and have the same result in mind—i.e., increased revenue—they do mean different things. Upselling typically means talking the customer into buying a more expensive version of something. With cross-selling, you ask a lot of questions and qualify the customer. For example, if someone comes in for kitchen flooring you might find cause for suggesting new countertops or cabinets.
  2. Understand the meaning of “design from the floor up.” That’s designer-speak, which simply means flooring is what sets the foundation for the look of the room. “We have some sales staff who are also trained in design so we can help people visualize a complete remodel,” said Steve Johnson, a partner with Floors to Ceiling, Willmar, Minn. “Shoppers today want to see color, vivid displays and quality. They want to talk to designers, be educated and want to see the same kinds of things they see on Pinterest.”
  3. Focus on selling the “experience.” While shoppers were once in awe of the stores with bright colors, soft lighting, food, drink and perhaps some music, many have now come to expect these amenities. In a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, six out of every 10 respondents said they were interested in events, demonstrations, tutorials, etc. Furthermore, six out of 10 said that the ability to find something easily is usually the deciding factor in choosing a retailer for a redesign project. “I can sum a successful showroom display in one word—declutter,” said Paul Johnson, president of Carpet One, Oklahoma City. “I’d say 75% of the showrooms I walk into are completely uncoordinated, messy and unappealing.”
  1. Manage customer expectations. Salt Lake City, Utah-based R.C. Willey Home Furnishings sells just about everything a customer might need for a room remodel—flooring, furniture, mattresses, appliances and electronics, etc. In creating a positive impact for the customer, Eric Mondragon, flooring buyer, takes a page out of the food retailing industry. “If you go into a fast-food store, your expectation is you’ll either pull up to a drive-in window or wait in line, see messy tables and maybe even some screaming kids. But if you go into a high-end restaurant, you’ll expect low lighting, soft music, tablecloths and quiet.” Mondragon follows the same principle when selling complementary categories. “If a customer goes into a flooring store and sees mattresses stacked against the wall, she won’t feel comfortable buying in that environment. But if she sees it in a room setting, then she’ll get it.”
  1. Build a cohesive branding strategy. Having a clear visual, brand, design or slogan that makes your company stand out from the rest is a vital component to any business, retail experts say. This goes a long way in influencing how the customer perceives your store, your brand. A shining example is Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is known for its massive retail footprint as well as its deep inventory of flooring, appliances, electronics, toys, mattresses and, of course, furniture. David Chambers, director of marketing, calls it the Total Home Solution. “While each product might have different marketing and advertising approaches, they are still under the home decor umbrella and complement each other,” he explained.

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