Lessons learned: In flooring, it really does pay to be green

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October 14/21, 2019: Volume 35/Issue 8

By Tom Jennings

 

“I have never been hurt by anything that I didn’t say.” – Calvin Coolidge

While this saying may have proven to be beneficial in the world of politics, I think it is proving to be detrimental to today’s flooring dealer. The success and survival of a retail store depends on a thorough and ongoing awareness of the community it serves. Fine tuning the business and responding to changes in consumer interests and buying habits are more important than ever today. Today’s customer wants to know what products are made of, how they are manufactured and in what ways they will affect their families’ environment.

In spite of this shift in buying habits, I find that most flooring retailers are still conducting “business as usual.” There’s never a shortage of price-driven promotions, in spite of the fact that price alone has never been a proven differentiator over the long haul in this business. It might be effective on items that are bought frequently, but this logic does not apply to purchases made on the average of once per decade. When you focus on price alone, margins become so thin that most dealers find it nearly impossible to promote their businesses in a sustainable manner over time.

That begs the question: Why do so many stores continue to head down this path? I believe that it is due to the fact that they haven’t chosen a specific segment of the market to focus on. As the famous Hall of Fame baseball player Rogers Hornsby once said, “The best way to get on base is to hit it where they ain’t.” I feel a great opportunity exists today for a focused flooring dealer to actively and professionally present the “green story.” Virtually every product we sell has made major strides in recent years toward improving their content in ways that are kinder to our environment. While this topic is very well promoted among the commercial and design community, I see almost no one championing the cause at the retail level. Why the secrecy?

To focus on these products would not require a massive shift in your product offerings; these products exist today. What will be required is a shift in the way these products are presented to the customer. Ask yourself, while many of today’s carpet yarns can be recycled, when was the last time you suggested this feature to a customer? Cork and natural hardwood flooring are sustainable products that are featured in many design publications. Do you know their stories well enough to present in a compelling manner? The majority of carpet cushion is made from recycled or reclaimed materials. Do you tout this as a plus? Many stores currently bale and recycle their carpet cushion. If you do so, are your customers made aware of it? When was the last time you advised your customer you were keeping her best interest in mind?

None of these suggestions would cost significant funds to implement. What will be required is an ongoing commitment by every member of your staff to embrace the concept. It has been proven in virtually every industry that many customers will pay more for environmentally conscious products they believe in. Our industry has no shortage of such products. What is in short supply are great stores staffed with knowledgeable people to properly present them. Why not create your store in this image? Not only will you be doing our environment a favor, but you can also stand out in a crowded marketplace by taking a road less traveled.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a former retailer and sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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