Retailers leverage digital capabilities to connect with customers
By K.J. Quinn
(This is the third installment in FCNews’ ongoing series about how floor covering retailers are adapting to not only survive but thrive in today’s challenging business environment.)
It’s often said that desperate times call for desperate measures, and doing business during a pandemic certainly qualifies. Dealers like Bel Air, Md.-based Top Notch Flooring America wasted no time leveraging technology to interact with clients and potential customers in ways the sales team had never done before.
“We’re doing virtual consultations, which was a major adjustment, as not everyone on the sales team is comfortable being on camera and interacting with people online,” said Joey Zengel. “But the more we do it, the more comfortable people get and learn a lot of lessons.”
Sales staff utilized Web call applications such as Zoom, WebEx and FaceTime to provide virtual consultations and show products. “Once we narrowed down their choices, they can do curbside pickup of samples or we’ll deliver them to their house,” Zengel said. “We were never big on in-home appointments or mobile showrooms, but we’re offering in-home consultations.”
Sales reps adapt to a virtual environment
For Zengel and his team, the transition to virtual consultations entailed a bit of a learning curve—not only in terms of new equipment, software programs, etc., but also with respect to a change in operational mindset. “We learned that we need to use a tripod to hold the cell phone for video, and we invested in a ring light to show samples,” Zengel explained.
Another lesson learned was realizing a virtual tour of the showroom is much different than viewing it in person. “We break the call down into two interactions,” Zengel explained. “The qualifying part of it and gathering samples we think they would like.”
Putting customers at ease in the showroom
For those customers who make appointments to come into the store to shop, Top Notch Flooring America strives to emphasize health and safety first in its marketing messages on social media and the website, while assuring customers that management has taken extra precautions to provide a safe and clean shopping environment.
“We filmed and released a great TV spot wrapping all of this messaging into a very clean and concise commercial,” Zengel said. “We talk about all the things we’ve done to adjust to help the consumer. Anything we can do to make the shopping experience easy for customers is a win for everybody.”
One of these adjustments is allowing only one customer inside at a time. “When we shut down, we had a cleaning company come in and thoroughly clean our showroom,” Zengel said. “We’ve kept it up daily ourselves. We wear and offer masks to customers when they come in for appointments. I see a lot of things we’re doing—such as virtual consultations—really sticking.”
Dealers apply the virtual formula for success
Top Notch Flooring America isn’t the only retailer that’s relying more on technology to help consumers adapt to changes in the traditional shopping process. San Antonio-based Sunn Carpets—another Flooring America retailer—has made several moves to accommodate customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to the coronavirus, especially some older clientele who don’t want to be socially close to anyone,” said Jim Coleman, owner. “If they’re capable of embracing technology, several salespeople utilize Zoom, FaceTime or other media platforms to walk customers through our showroom and show products.”
These and other tools have helped sustain sales activity for Coleman, who described this past April as a “pretty decent month” in sales under the circumstances. “We keep the doors locked, but the sign says we set up appointments one at a time and everyone wears a mask,” Coleman said. “The floor traffic is way down, but we are still able to interact with customers.”
The preferred method of interaction varies by associate and client. “For example, one project manager who has a lot of builder clients does more interaction on Zoom with the builder, architect, superintendent and client all at once,” Coleman explained. “So, they’re coordinating selection choices and maybe some design ideas. Another project manager who does more business on the retail side will walk through our showroom with their phone or iPad, show products and try to narrow down choices for the customer.”
Much like Zengel and Top Notch Flooring America, Coleman foresees some aspects of the virtual consultation and sales process being incorporated as a permanent option once the pandemic is over. “It speeds up the sales process and helps make us more efficient,” Coleman explained. “We’re getting a head start as far as showing customers products without them having to make a trip to get here.”
Adding services gives customers more purchasing options
Sunn Carpets also offers to drop off samples or makes arrangements to have them delivered to clients and shoppers. “They decide and the deal is done,” Coleman said. “They can mail or drop off a check or pay by credit card. We also provide financing.”
Same applies to setting up times to complete the installation. Again, it’s all determined by the client. “We’re installing now as long as people are comfortable with that,” Coleman said. “People are still sensitive about being socially distant and that could continue for a while.”
It pays to diversify into other end-use sectors
Sunn Carpets is fortunate in that it doesn’t keep all its eggs in the residential basket, per se. Coleman reported pent-up demand for renovation work at hotels and churches in particular, as these buildings remain largely vacant. “We are able to do an entire wing in one week,” he said. “We don’t have to work around rooms being occupied—specially corridors and public areas—and we can get in and out quicker.”