Merchandising: Sprucing ‘up’ during ‘down’ times

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By Leah Gross Whether it was mandated shutdowns or local quarantines, the impact of the pandemic was felt by nearly every business across the globe. It’s safe to say, feelings of uncertainty and doubt took a toll. While some flooring store owners say they felt “frozen in time” during the lockdowns of 2020, others say they seized the opportunity to rethink, revitalize and reinvent the way they do business. First on the list — showrooms, where some major “dusting off” occurred for several dealers across the country.

Following are some of examples of dealers who took charge and built back better during challenging times.

Flint Carpet Company
Flint, Mich.

showrooms

“I spent days walking in and out of our empty store trying to look at it from the perspective of our customer,” said Tim Look, owner. “Stuck in our homes with businesses everywhere closed, the only constant in our lives was the importance of keeping our distance from others and how wearing masks was going to be the new normal.”

According to Look, these social changes dictated what needed to be done to upgrade his store during the downtime. “I was motivated to find a way to create spacious pathways in the showroom. Ensuring my customers’ comfort and safety became my first priority. I looked at our store as a blank canvas. Prior to the new COVID-19 protocols, I did not see how many displays and items in the store didn’t have a place anymore.”

A space maximizing layout eventually crystalized, Look said, and a new pared-down and socially distanced showroom began to take shape. “Why do I need a sales desk that separates staff from customers? That area would make way for a customer-driven space that resembled a living room with comfortable open seating, worktables and plants. My desire was to give the space a ‘Zen’ feel. I knew big box stores were open during the pandemic. Those places pack in products and make customers feel crowded. Our space is designed to make customers feel at home.”

The lighting in the showroom was also changed from bright white to soft yellow giving it the feel of a 5-star restaurant, according to Look. “We want to make people feel like they are in an art gallery. We believe the products we sell are like works of art, so we are displaying them that way. We piped in smooth jazz and our new space became a hit with our customers. We also adopted a policy of no advertising, no posters and no pricing anywhere in the showroom, which has only enhanced our customers’ experience.”

The changes made during Covid paid off substantially, Look added. “I am always asking my customers to please post their experiences with us—especially on Google—and we are capturing more and more customers through this effort. Doing more with less is the key for us. Together with my team we turned our showroom ‘canvas’ into our ‘masterpiece!’”

The Floor Doctors
Des Moines, Iowa

Chris Friest, owner, The Floor Doctors, Des Moines, took a novel approach to his store’s lockdown by finding a way to bring his showroom to the customer. “Among many enhancements and changes we implemented during the pandemic, a standout component was finding a way to bring our products to our customers stuck in their homes,” he explained. “As a play on our name, Floor Doctors, we have a fleet of two ambulances and we decided to outfit one of the vehicles to be a full-service mobile showroom.”

Before

showrooms
After

In addition to a mobile option, Friest said he took a long, hard took at which deficiencies in operations were creating the biggest growth hurdles and set his sights on tackling those first. “A central focus became finding a way to make our store stand out from our competitors,” he said. “We took a multi-pronged approach to accomplish this. First, we hired six staff members. Our expanded sales force quickly became the driving force behind our pandemic growth. With them on the front lines, we worked together as a team to identify opportunities that previously had not been tapped. Our salespeople were instrumental in recognizing the need to expand. They helped us completely reinvent our retail presence by transitioning from an 800-square-foot to a 4,500-square-foot showroom complete with new vendors and a total redesign.”

The new floorplan, Friest noted, makes the store a more enjoyable place to shop—and work. “The changes made during lockdown have led to increased sales and enhanced margins. Our employees are happy and truly feel like they’re a key part of what we have become.”

Carpet & Tile Warehouse
Vero Beach, Fla.

When the pandemic first hit Carpet & Tile Warehouse in Vero Beach, Deby Winter, owner, anticipated a slowdown. But like many dealers, she chose to turn a lemon into lemonade. “We decided to turn our downtime into ‘up-time’ and took the opportunity to prioritize updates and renovations that we felt would enhance our showroom,” she explained. “We ended up working on these projects little by little as, thankfully, we were able to stay open during most of the lockdown that affected other parts of the country.”

The kitchen/bath area of Winter’s store represents the largest profit center, so it was only logical that she prioritized remodeling of the displays in that department. She didn’t stop there. “We also added cabinets, countertops and window treatments to our lineup in response to customer demand,” Winter explained. “We also replaced all of the dated track and fluorescent lighting throughout the showroom and installed 4K disk fixtures. That soft lighting enhanced the beauty of our products.”

showrooms
Before

After

As part of the store’s effort to focus attention on the high-ticket and in-demand products in the store, Winter repositioned sections accordingly.

“We decided to move our hardwood department upstairs and we renovated that space with new wood floors, shiplap ceiling panels, updated lighting, crown moldings and paint,” Winter noted. “From what we can tell, our customers have been very pleased with the renovation.”

Moving forward, the store’s profits resulting from this redesign will fund the retailer’s future plans, which include further floor replacements throughout the rest of the store, new paint and a new sales desk service area, among other areas.

MDG Flooring America
Medina, Ohio

showrooms

Steven Walbolt, owner of MDG Flooring America, said updates to the showroom had been on his to-do list before the pandemic hit, but became a central focus both to keep his staff busy and to prepare the store for a safe, socially distanced re-opening. “We repainted, installed LEDs—which also helped to reduce costs—added new inventory, including kitchen and bathroom, and we rearranged displays,” explained.

But in doing so, another concern arose—supply chain issues. “In order to ensure that we would be able to order and deliver products to our customers in a timely manner, we circled back with all of our manufacturer partners to determine what lines and what products were in stock and in what supply so we could confidently promote and sell only items that we knew we had access to,” Walbot noted.

Popular items that were short on supply or not available were taken off the floor and stored for future use. “This extra legwork with our vendors has been invaluable to us and has also made our showroom a much more dynamic, ever-changing environment for our customers,” Walbot explained. “Our inventory is updated and swapped out—sometimes daily due to increased or decreased stock—so our store has a different look each time our customers come in.”

Walbolt noted that the showroom upgrade has been a boon to the store. “I have no doubt that some of the changes we instituted at the onset of the pandemic will carry with us indefinitely into the future as some of the pivots we made have been very good for business.”

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Jan. 10/17, 2021

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