Standing out in a mediocre world

Home Column Standing out in a mediocre world

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

(First of two parts)

I walked into an office supply store recently and an employee asked if they could help me find something. I told her what I was looking for and she replied, “Those are in aisle 23.” She then went back to talking with her co-worker.

Why didn’t she walk me over to the area where the item was located, make sure I found the exact type/color/size I needed and perhaps even offer to sell me related products? Seeing that this was a gigantic office supply box store, which was nearly devoid of customers, you’d think they’d bend over backwards to wow a customer who finally came through their front door instead of going to Amazon.

But this type of “lowest common denominator,” mediocre service is typical across virtually all industries and regions of our country, including flooring retailers. I’ve visited numerous flooring stores and I can’t recall even one that impressed me with their service. They all blended together—each retailer more forgettable than the last. Bad news for most dealers, but good news if you’re one of the rare dealers willing to put in effort to stand apart.

I’ve lost count of how many dealers I’ve encountered over the years who have bemoaned that they can’t attract quality customers, can’t get more than 35% margins, can’t close more than three out of 10 walk-ins and try to convince me it’s because of their cheap-price competition or their cheapskate customers or their idiotic town, etc., but then refuse to implement proven strategies to stand apart, create differentiation and attract the right kind of customers.

In the last recession, I worked with a number of dealers who actually grew their businesses—this while a massive numbers of retailers were closing in droves. They did it in part by surviving long enough to then scoop up the market share left behind by their failed competitors.

How did they survive?

By instituting changes and strategies their competitors were too ignorant, passive or lazy to implement. If, for some reason, we go into a second wave of massive lockdowns (like California is currently experiencing), we may see many more dealers get cut down. As with any thinning of the herd, the first to die will be the weak—those who have done nothing to create differentiation from the hordes of look-alike, “me-too” flooring retailers dotting our fruited plain. The strong—those who have implemented the right strategies to elevate themselves above the mediocre majority—will survive and scoop up the market share left behind by their failed competitors. Just like last time.

And if this latest economic crisis doesn’t cut down the weak members of the herd, the next one likely will. It’s only a matter of time. The flooring world is getting far more difficult and competitive, not less so. A harsh assessment? Perhaps. But better a slap from a friend than a coup de gras from a box store.

I guess the important question is: which are you? Are you content to be part of the mediocre majority? Or, are you willing to implement creative, radical changes to stand out from the crowd? If so, you’ve dramatically increased your odds of being around for the long haul.

Jim is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with marketing services and coaching to help them attract quality customers, close more sales, get higher margins and work the hours they choose. For information visit

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August 10, 2020