A case study: New Braunfels Flooring Design
By Reginald Tucker
(This is the first installment in FCNews’ ‘Survival in the age of COVID-19‘ series about how floor covering retailers are adapting to not only survive but thrive in today’s challenging business environment.)
When the going gets tough, the tough get innovative. That’s certainly the case for so many floor covering retailers today who are facing monumental challenges amid COVID-19—the novel coronavirus that has resulted in both human and economic casualties. But true to their resilient nature, specialty floor covering retailers are facing the unprecedented challenges head on.
One such dealer is Texas-based New Braunfels Flooring Design Center. Rather than give in to despair, the retailer is fighting back by employing creativity, imagination and resourcefulness while taking a “community-first” approach in helping its customers navigate through this difficult period.
“The implications of COVID-19 on businesses shifts so frequently, it’s impossible to see a clear path through it all,” said Michelle Winters, cofounder of the company. “I’ve chosen to accept the uncertainty and lead our store from a position of agility. We are continuing to move forward in all the ways that we can.”
One major way New Braunfels Flooring is coping with this new reality is through flexibility. The company has suspended regular business hours and is accepting showroom guests on an appointment-only basis. The retailer has also adjusted staff schedules to eliminate overlap, alternating store personnel in order to limit unnecessary contact. “This allows us to sanitize frequent touch-points and displays in between any visits,” Winters explained.
New Braunfels Flooring has also pivoted to provide more “virtual” services by using tools like Zoom or even FaceTime to schedule jobs without the client ever stepping foot in the showroom. Like so many other retailers who became accustomed to attracting customers through conventional means—i.e., walk-in traffic, TV and print advertising—the focus has shifted toward more sophisticated, electronic initiatives.
“Online sales account for a significant portion of revenue in nearly every retail segment, but the flooring industry as a whole hasn’t adapted to e-commerce for a variety of reasons,” Winters explained. “With no time to develop and test a comprehensive e-commerce alternative, we are utilizing standard smartphone features to continue selling flooring with the same precision and attention to detail. It’s amazing how many tools we’ve had access to but haven’t used—just because they haven’t been used before.”
In keeping with the use of technology tools, New Braunfels Flooring also plans to utilize programs such as advertising credits being offered by Google and other companies. “While I think it’s important to adjust current marketing and advertising to show consciousness of the current scenario, it’s a good time to put thought into marketing and advertising for the future,” Winters explained.
In the meantime, Winters and her team are taking advantage of the decline in foot-traffic to make improvements to the store and operations—changes that would otherwise interfere with daily business. Top on the list: uncovering new opportunities in online sales; digging into the books to weed out unnecessary spending; sprucing up the showroom; and continually looking out for ways to help those in need. “We suddenly have an abundance of time to do all those things we have wanted to do before, if only we could get around to it,” Winters said.
Opportunities are presenting themselves beyond the business of flooring and outside of the showroom. In short, that means showing support for the local community. In fact, that’s the main advantage New Braunfels Flooring is looking to leverage in the battle against the local big boxes—many of which have remained open due to their “essential business” classification while so many specialty retailers have been forced to close. “We’ve become more competitive with big box stores by getting on their level with technology,” Winters said.
The success of adding virtual services has sparked the development of more robust tools, but they’re not planning to abandon the tried-and-true practices that have made them the fastest growing flooring retailer in their service area. “We are weathering the storm by using one of the best methods we’ve always used to set us apart from large chain stores—we are hugely invested in our community, and there’s no shortage of ways to engage with and support our community right now,” Winters said.
Case in point: During the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, New Braunfels Flooring reached out to the community—customers and non-customers alike—to offer assistance. Through the lull in business, the retailer provided necessities such as cases of water, toilet paper and even food. “We are offering anyone who cannot obtain essentials for themselves to reach out so we can deliver what we can to those who need it,” said Vallerie Newman, general manager. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our community. We need to help each other, no matter what. Especially the elderly; we want to make sure that everyone is safe and has what they need in order to make it through this crisis.”
This approach also pertains to its traditional service offerings. Where flooring installations are essential for commercial construction or safety, New Braunfels Flooring is deploying staff to complete installations in accordance with advised safety measures.
Brighter days ahead
There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way retailers operate. More importantly, it has altered the way everyday citizens interact with one another while patronizing other essential businesses. Despite all that has happened—and what is still yet to unfold—New Braunfels Flooring believes independent dealers will emerge stronger as a result.
“Some people say, ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,'” Winters said. “I say, ‘Hope for the best and prepare for things to get even better.’ I have no doubt that our store will re-emerge in a stronger position than it was before the current crises. Remember—recessions don’t kill businesses; the choices that business owners make during these times can kill a business. It all comes down to staying calm, flexible and positive.”