By Robert Persons—In recent years, retail industries have had to adapt to the new landscape, which involves both at-home shopping and online selling. Experts say the pandemic has only hastened this evolution. That helps explain, in part, the growing popularity of the mobile-showroom format.
Dealers are leaving no stone unturned or avenue unexplored in reaching the consumer in ways that are more convenient for them. However, in order to succeed in the mobile showroom arena, dealers need to ensure they have all the bases covered and that the format makes sense for them.
FCNews spoke with several flooring retailers who shared their secrets to mobile showroom success.
Karyn Mitchell, Simply Floors, Denver, Colo.
Karyn Mitchell and her husband Buddy started Simply Floors as a mobile operation with no showroom or warehouse. Some retailers believe it is not possible, but the Mitchells have proven that it is. Seven years later, they have gone from a husband-and-wife team transporting samples in a pickup truck and making a few hundred thousand dollars in sales to a sturdy company with five mobile showrooms, a storefront and over $7 million in sales annually. What’s their advice?
#1. Tailor the customer’s experience
One key to success is to avoid trying to fit an entire showroom on the road, but rather view a mobile showroom as its own entity. “I know people who have had success with the Sprinter van, but I think the idea that you need a ginormous collection is a mistake,” Karyn Mitchell explained. “That misses the point of the mobile showroom. It is about a boutique, tailored experience. You don’t need to bring them the entire showroom, that is a massive investment.”
Pre-owned minivans—the Mitchell’s chosen mobile mode—come at a fraction of the cost of new sprinter vans and can be painted and outfitted at a lower cost as well. The sale occurs inside the home, not the vehicle, so the onus is more on the salesperson than the car they drive, Mitchell noted.
#2. Send only the best qualified reps
Rather than casting themselves as traditional home salespeople, Simply Floors sends an entirely female staff of “design consultants” to engage directly with the client’s home to find the best flooring option. Women, according to Mitchell, can provide an added level of comfort for the majority of clients—who are also women. “There’s a lot of talk of marketing to women, but a lot of people under- estimate the trust level of a woman coming into the home to sell to a woman versus a man,” she explained. “People would be audibly relieved when they hear I’m sending a woman.”
In that same vein, the salesperson or measurer who comes out to the home need not specialize in installation. Mitchell herself was in the healthcare industry before becoming a successful flooring business owner, picking up all the ins and outs of the industry along the way. “A common mistake people make with sales is believing you need to be a former installer,” she said. “We have found that not to be true. You can get people with the sales skills and train them on the technical side.”
Alfred Soyar, Buffaloe Floors and Up, Houston
Since becoming president of Buffaloe Floors and Up in 2018, Alfred Soyyar was searching for ways to enter new markets without investing in a full storefront. When the pandemic hit, he was able to put in the time to make a mobile showroom a reality in a sleek, repurposed shuttle bus. However, he warns that a mobile operation won’t run itself; it requires a strong focus and an effective strategy.
#3. Be patient with the process
Though the prospect of mobility can seem enticing, it takes the right approach to maximize gain per investment. Done right, a store owner will reap the rewards over time. “It is an investment in the future,” Soyyar said. “Even without the pandemic, the retail landscape has been changing for years. The material world is catching up with the digital world, and I believe once the right technology is available, mobile retail will be the next big thing.”
Soyyar said he is not afraid to dream big. As self-driving technology is becoming more developed, Soyyar said he wonders how that might be integrated into the flooring industry. “Can we imagine a fully automated home shopping experience? Can we imagine mobile showroom franchises? If a company can get the mobile method down to a science, per- haps they can be mass produced and licensed out as an alternative business model.”
Brian Peed, Floor Boys, Lexington, S.C.
Floor Boys currently has four Mercedes Sprinter vans outfitted as mobile show-rooms on the road and plans to have 20 more in the coming years.
#4. Put in the investment
While entrance into the home may mean higher close rates, it is important that RSAs have all the tools they need to make the sale in the one visit. “Make sure you are using a retail lead system and a lot of technology,” said Brian Peed, owner. “The pandemic sparked the ability to have the time to focus on the mobile showroom. People are shop- ping different these days—a lot more online, which gave us the ability to expand.”
Peed added that investing in a more state-of-the-art vehicle was worthwhile for him, but the concept is not an easy one. “I’ll just say [mobile showrooms] are not for everyone. I don’t think you can just grab some samples and throw them in a vehicle and think you can say you have a mobile showroom.”