By Chris Wallace
If you asked most people to tell you their favorite flooring brand, they’d struggle. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have one at all — and with reason. Brand recognition is incredibly low in the industry, and the market isn’t expected to grow any time soon, with projections showing no more than 0.5% expansion year over year between now and 2023.
It isn’t easy to be a brand in the flooring industry. The product goes from the manufacturer that makes it to the retailers that sell it, and somewhere along the way, the brand story sometimes gets lost. Need proof? Just think about the last brand that made an impression on you. Chances are it offered more than just a good logo and a clever ad campaign. You probably had a stand-out experience with it.
The customer experience can be difficult to master, especially when you don’t control it. Because flooring purchases generally take place in the retail space, the store selling the product is in control of how customers perceive the brand. Essentially, once the product leaves the warehouse, manufacturers have little say in the experience consumers have with the brand — if they have an experience at all.
Salespeople often immediately tell customers about whatever special they’re running without having any real discussion of those customers’ needs or preferences. They’re selling the stock product at stock price to make the best mark-up.
Even though this secures some sales for the brand that locked in the stocking slot, it doesn’t build awareness for it. As a result, the interaction between sales and the customer ends up being almost entirely about price and not about quality, value or how certain brands can best meet customer needs.
More than that, if the experience leaves customers knowing nothing about the brand they purchased, their impressions are primarily shaped by the rep who made the sale — and that can have major implications.
All this begs the question: In this complicated multiplayer industry, how do flooring brands and retailers work together to make a name for themselves and create a solid customer experience? Follow these three steps retailers and manufacturers can take to make that happen:
1. Shift from product to brand conversations. Instead of talking with your suppliers about whether their products are better than they were last year, come to the table ready to press them for a distinct, clear message that will help you best meet your customers’ needs. Don’t settle for the answer that a product is more durable or more stain resistant. Ask your partners for differentiated brand stories and experiences that go beyond just features and benefits.
2. Change the focus of the sale. You aren’t just a customer of your supplier — that line of thinking is limiting. Supplier support shouldn’t end as soon as the customer interaction begins. Ask suppliers to provide the necessary tools for you to drive a great branded in-store experience for the end customer. They can give you customized sales conversation guides, tips on how to make the brand promise part of the product installation promise, and peer-to-peer best practice sessions. Telling great brand stories enhances interactions and creates a connection between the customer and the brand. Don’t go it alone — make sure you work with your supplier to set the experience apart.
3. Set expectations for the experience. When manufacturers help you sell to consumers in a way that builds their brand and stays aligned with their messaging, you can together set standards for how to execute the experience. Start with a dialogue by sharing with your suppliers what’s working and what isn’t. The more you can marry your daily reality with manufacturers’ brand visions, the better the customer experience will be. Raise your hand and ask your brand partners to make this vital part of the buying process stronger in order to find success.
In the flooring industry, merchandising alone won’t drive brand loyalty. Ensuring that a brand is strong from the warehouse to the front lines will be the defining factor in making it one that stands out among many, for the manufacturer and the retailer.
Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies transfer their brand messages to their customer-facing employees and partners.