By Reginald Tucker
Aurora, Colo.—Elevating floor covering salespeople and sales managers to a higher level of professionalism while arming them with the tools necessary to generate and qualify more leads, close a higher number of sales and execute more effectively overall. That was the main thrust behind the 2019 Flooring America/Flooring Canada summer regionals.
Scores of sales associates and sales managers turned out for Building Buzz West, which took place July 12–14 here at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. (The East Coast Building Buzz event kicked off July 24 in Philadelphia.) The regional summer convention format—new for 2019—reflected both a desire by buying group management to “shake things up” while addressing logistical issues for Flooring America, Flooring Canada and The Floor Trader members located in different markets across North America.
“We’re listening to our members, and they asked us to change things up every once in a while,” said Keith Spano, president of Flooring America/Flooring Canada, The Floor Trader and the International Design Guild. (IDG holds a separate annual conference.) “We’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I think summer is a great time to experiment.”
The primary goal behind the new regional approach, according to Spano, is to have more one-on-one time with members while giving more attention to the personal experience and the importance of how one person can make a difference in the sales process. “Our cooperative is special because of the people involved—that includes our members, sales professionals, core suppliers and our team. Hosting Buzz in two locations provides a more intimate setting for networking, sharing ideas and learning.”
Another reason for the new format was to give Canadian members of the group more options to attend summer convention. As Spano explained: “Flooring Canada retailers are very cognizant of their summertime. They have a short summer window, and they are very critical of us when we pick a time that conflicts with their holiday time. To be more inclusive for our Canadian members, we said, ‘You pick.’”Year of the sales pro
Logistical issues and conflicting vacation schedules aside, the common thread between the two regional events is the emphasis on supporting independent retailers in today’s ever-evolving and increasingly competitive marketplace. To that end, the group has dubbed 2019 the “Year of the Sales Professional” in recognition of the critical role professional retail floor covering sales associates and sales managers play throughout the sales process.
It’s in this respect that Flooring America leadership believes it can help sales professionals raise their game. “We feel that sometimes there can be a disconnect between what we do with our members at shows and when programs hit the floor, say, five months later,” Spano explained. “With everything focused on personalization right now, we feel it’s really important to focus on that unrivaled experience in the showroom that the consumer can’t get online at Amazon or elsewhere. Our aim was to rally around 2019 as the ‘Year of the Salesperson’ as a means to get face time with the people who make it happen, the ones who are in direct contact with the end consumer. At the end of the day, the salespeople are really the face of the company.”
With a captive audience of retail sales associates eager to learn, Flooring America developed a conference curriculum based on proven tools and programs sales reps have at their disposal—although some might not be fully utilizing these assets to their advantage. Targeted general sessions and breakout exercises aimed to get members up to speed on programs like DRIVE—Flooring America’s comprehensive custom relationship management system—as well as Mosaic, an innovative suite of sophisticated marketing tools.
“With retail not as strong as it could be, consistent execution is critical these days,” Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, told FCNews. “The main philosophy we’re trying to reinforce is ‘no lead lost.’ Every single opportunity you have to capture that lead to make that sales professional understand, that’s a potential customer for a sale. Part of it is to get the sales professional here to say, ‘This is how you do it.’ And not only are you coming to experience what the co-op does, but we are going to give you hands-on training so you come away with an understanding of how you’re going to apply it when you get to your showroom.”
In order to help members realize their full potential, Chiera outlined several points of emphasis. Among them:
Turnkey marketing. The aforementioned Mosaic marketing suite, which consists of a host of services: CRM platform, traditional marketing services, direct mail, digital campaigns and websites, among other tools. “These are all things you couldn’t get if you were not part of this group,” Chiera told attendees.
Utilizing data. With the growing importance of benchmarking, information management and sales tracking, etc., Flooring America is placing more importance on utilizing data gleaned from group activity to generate leads and repeat business. “We want to make sure everything we provide to dealers is measurable and provides a higher ROI at the retail level,” Chiera noted. “Whether it’s the DRIVE platform or the offerings we have in the Mosaic marketing suite, we want to make things easier for retailers to say yes and for those programs to work even harder than they have in the past.”
A big part of that hinges on reaching consumers earlier in the search phase. For instance, between Flooring America, Flooring Canada and Floor Trader, there are 6.3 million unique visitors coming to dealer microsites annually, Chiera reports. Furthermore, organic visits to Flooring America.com and Floor Trader.com and Flooring America Canada.com are up 52%. Program developers are also indexing on more than 21,000 flooring keywords, which is up 46% from the year before.
How does that translate in terms of traffic? CCA Global research shows there are about 38,000 domains today that index in the space of flooring. Out of those tens of thousands of domains, Flooring America and Flooring Canada sites rank No. 23. “All of this is organic tracking that we’ve built into your sites, driving leads down to the retailer level,” Chiera explained. “It’s about being found in a very organic way.”
Dealers who are utilizing Flooring America’s CRM tools as intended are realizing the benefits. Case in point is Bobby Merideth, president and director of business development for Oklahoma City-based Flooring America OKC. After participating in the DRIVE pilot program for about a year, the retailer has seen results in two critical areas: discipline and consistency. “Discipline, because all our salespeople have to input this information into a database, and consistency in terms of the format and how it needs to go in there with each interaction,” he shared.
By using DRIVE to closely track the results of each salesperson’s encounter with customers and prospects, Merideth’s team was better able to gauge the reasons why potential customers might not have been closed. “We were able to determine that only about 30% to 40% of our customers get closed, which means we have 60% to 65% that don’t get closed. But we also learned that although some prospects may not have been sold, the opportunity is not altogether lost. The customer might decide to do something else in her home or she might move to another home down the road. Or she might have a business she wants to make over. So that constant targeting and marketing—even though she may not have purchased from us—creates a top-of-mind awareness about our store.”
Focus on the experience—not just the customer experience but also the member experience. To that end, Flooring America plans to offer various tools such as live chat, appointment scheduling and SMS text messaging retail salespeople can add to their arsenal. “All these tools will work on your website to take that customer off the street faster but also to convert that opportunity/lead to a sale,” Chiera explained. “What’s more, all these features integrate with your Google calendar, DRIVE and other tools available in your store.”
There’s also an opportunity to develop custom programs for dealers. “If there’s a program that we don’t have in the marketing suite, just talk to us and let us know what’s important to you,” Chiera told attendees. “We have a team that can research it and vet it out and do some testing.”
Boost conversion rates. Turning more bona fide leads into actual buyers is a key initiative for Flooring America as well as all of CCA Global divisions (see companion story on Carpet One summer convention). Beyond DRIVE, Flooring America leadership also plans to leverage its partnership with Google as well as its vast experience across a variety of social media channels. “The content we deploy on behalf of our members is going to continue and grow in the future,” Chiera noted.
Promote consumer financing. On average, each ticket financed is nearly 3.5 times higher than it would be if no financing was offered, according to Synchrony Financial, Flooring America’s consumer credit provider. To that end, the co-op has announced attractive new terms designed to further sweeten the pot for Flooring America customers. “We have great merchandising, a dynamic marketing automation tool and—to make it easy for the consumer—a great partner on the financing side, Synchrony Financial,” Spano said. “We all know financing leads to greater sales and higher ticket sales. And now we have a new contract that offers heavily discounted rates for all our members.”
Spano noted sales achieved through financing at Flooring America is up 11% this year, while the industry at large is only 3% or 4%. “These are customers you can sell to over and over again,” he stated. “We are in a great place to own consumer financing right now.”
Streamline merchandising. Flooring America retailers are encouraged to conduct the bulk of their purchasing through preferred vendors—many of which provide private-label programs tailored for dealers. Not only does this discourage customers from shopping dealers according to pricing, but it also reduces hodgepodge on the sales floor. Commoditization and over-assortment in dealer showrooms, Spano warns, leads to lower closing rates and “analysis paralysis” on the part of the consumer. He refers to it as the paradox of choice, which states: The more choice you have, the less satisfied the consumer.
“We want our members to declutter the sales floor and avoid duplication,” Spano said. “Instead, we want them to: focus on things that are different, unique and proprietary; utilize the brands we offer; buy through the co-op; and hold their margins. In other words, don’t sell lobster for the price of chicken. If you must, change the product, not the price. Don’t chase the products that people bring into your store—lead with our products.”
It’s a philosophy embraced by Travis Shaw, owner of A&R Flooring, Buford, Ga. Not a massive store by any means (it’s only 3,000 square feet), but it is definitely clean, neat and organized. More importantly, all products are core Flooring America offerings—and nothing more. “I sell what I have,” Shaw stated proudly.
Other successful Flooring America dealers have experienced positive results operating within the co-op’s merchandising guidelines and recommendations. At Anderson, S.C.-based Harris Carpet & Vinyl, for example, the retailer employed effective merchandising strategies as a means to draw higher-end clientele. This entailed creating more of an upscale “designer showroom” as opposed to your run-of-the-mill, average flooring store. “Back in 2000, before we were aligned with Flooring America, we had forklifts driving up and down the center of the showroom,” recalled Scott Junkins, who now runs the retailer. “Back then we were doing maybe $80,000 a month, and everything we did was mostly cash and carry.”
Then in 2006, the retailer joined Flooring America—a move that ushered in a whole new era for the company. In 2008—in the midst of the economic downturn in the U.S.—Junkins made the bold move of completely redesigning the showroom. “We evolved into a special-order business to target a higher-end customer. We essentially redefined our customer.”
Embrace diversification. With signs of softening in the new home construction market, dealers are encouraged to seek out opportunities beyond key residential end-use markets. “We have been driving our commercial message to encourage members to be more well-rounded,” Spano said. “Like a good financial portfolio, it’s important to diversify. It’s the same thing with retail—you have to have a little custom builder business, some Main Street commercial, some negotiated commercial and, of course, some retail business to round it off. We’ve also been pushing kitchen and bath and window fashions as well.”Bright outlook
Looking at the short to medium-long term, Flooring America executives believe members as well as the co-op at large are in a good position to thrive in the midst of uncertainty as well as a projected economic slowdown. Since the winter convention, the group has grown in terms of members. “We’re up about 3 points so far this year in what could potentially be a flat year,” Spano said, noting that even when the market is down the group’s members generally tend to do better. “If you look back at 2007 to 2010-11 through the great recession and afterward, we lost fewer members than the industry in general just because our members tend to be a little more diversified. While others may pull back during a slowdown, our members put the pedal down. They ‘zig’ when others ‘zag,’ so to speak. We’re doing the right things and we’re exceeding the industry.”
Roll out the show stoppers
Aurora, Colo.—Vendors unveiled bevy of exciting new product offerings at the Flooring America summer convention. Standout introductions include: Resista 3.0, a performance-based carpet with three ply fiber; and Aqua Dura H20, a completely waterproof, real hardwood product. “These are two of the most exciting launches for us,” said Cathey Gundlach Links, vice president of merchandising. “They will be game changers for us and our clients. Resista 3.0 is one of the most durable carpets to enter the market. And Aqua Dura H20 is the waterproof hardwood product our customers have been asking for.”
The new product offerings reflect the characteristics today’s consumers are looking for. “All of our summer introductions take into account both performance and technology and married with the beauty of the product,” Gundlach Links said.
“Waterproof is the No. 1 attribute the consumer searches for flooring that fits her life. That means kids, pets, everything that fits her active lifestyle. She wants flooring that performs to fit her life.”
Aqua Dura H20, which began arriving in showrooms in late July, replaces the existing Downs Performance Hardwood collection.