By K.J. Quinn—Retail sales associates (RSAs) should thoroughly understand their store’s products and services and come across as knowledgeable and professional—that’s a no-brainer. However, given the breadth of floor covering products available today, it is a never-ending battle to stay informed of all the features, benefits and warranties associated with so many different lines.
“As a full-service specialty retailer, it’s in our DNA to listen to every customer and identify their needs,” said Scott Browne, president, Macco’s Floor Covering, Green Bay, Wis. “Our sales professionals are thoroughly trained on every product that hits the sales floor. Therefore, the selection process is based on style, design and performance, which make for a better customer experience.”
Industry studies show salespeople are the most influential factor in closing a sale as shoppers are more likely to upgrade to better quality products or purchase additional flooring based on their recommendations.
To that end, RSAs wield a lot of power in altering the course of a purchase. “We have store managers in every one of our locations who work with their RSAs daily to ensure we are recommending products that suit each individual customer’s needs and wants,” said Paul Johnson, owner, Johnson Floor & Home Carpet One, Tulsa, Okla.
Still, it’s only human nature for salespeople to direct consumers to a product or category they are most excited about and confident in selling as opposed to recommending a more appropriate floor. Case in point: Secret shopping studies revealed some customers entering a store looking for real hardwood are talked into buying a “wood-look” synthetic alternative, according to published reports. In other cases, the product the consumer ultimately purchased did not live up to high expectations set by the RSA and, as a result, a product claim ensued.
All of which begs the question: How much confidence do retailers have in their sales team to recommend the right product for the customer? The answer, according to dealers who spoke with FCNews, is a lot. “The reason is because from day one, I teach the importance of being an advisor,” said Erik Warren, president, residential division at America’s Floor Source (AFS), Columbus, Ohio. “We teach that we want the customer to like us four or five years from now, and the only way to ensure that happens is to get the right product, for the right space, for the right price.” To make sure this happens, AFS provides continuing training on new products, so RSAs are well versed in flooring choices.
Whatever skills dealers instill in training their staff affects how their team works together to win over flooring shoppers, experts say. Whether this involves honing selling skills or getting up to speed on the latest hard surface installation techniques, continuing education is becoming increasingly important to bolster service levels and ensure customer satisfaction. For example, “We use Carpet One University, WFCA’s Tom’s Tips (from Tom Jennings, retail training expert), manufacturer and distributor product training,” Johnson Floor & Home’s Johnson said. “We have a fairly high degree of confidence that our sales team is recommending the correct flooring solutions.”
RSAs working at Lewis Floor & Home, Northbrook, Ill., receive weekly training on all products sold by the store. “They are expected to sell the customer the right product given the customer’s expectations,” noted Steve Lewis, president. “If the customer’s expectations are unreasonable, they need to reset them.”
The sheer number of product performance claims, especially for hard surfaces, makes it challenging for RSAs to dispel myths that certain floors are indestructible and impervious to water.
To alleviate the pain point, Macco’s provides full transparency during the selection process. “Sometimes that means informing a customer that the product they prefer might not meet their household needs,” Browne explained. “It’s important to tell the customer what they need to hear and set expectations early in the process.”
When the bar is set too high, unrealistic expectations expressed by RSAs backfire and could result in a product performance claim from the customer. That is why America’s Floor Source reinforces the message to RSAs about under promising and over delivering. “We also let customers know that words they read on displays often have quite a bit of fine print,” Warren pointed out. “We let them know that we, as a company, do not use the word ‘waterproof.’ Then we go further and explain that products are water friendly on the top, but nothing is really flood proof.”
Not only that, but the retailer emphasizes that carpet performance is largely dictated by yarn strength and does not focus on warranties—such as a 25-year warranty on polypropylene carpet. “I had a rep sell on that warranty once and immediately reminded him about his error,” Warren recalled. “When we see someone oversell on a particular issue, we let each manager know and they do a retraining in the weekly meeting, so we can all learn from the error.”
Johnson of Johnson Floor & Home offered a somewhat different spin on the question of whether RSAs can mislead customers on product performance. “It’s the manufacturers and distributors that are touting features that the products cannot live up to,” he contended. “On a daily basis, we try to explain the reality of what manufacturers are putting on their products.”
All of which makes it important to build value in product performance without overselling. “We prefer to focus on how the selection makes our customers feel while balancing the performance proposition,” Macco’s Browne said. “It’s OK to remind customers that we live on our floors, and while today’s products offer enhanced performance guarantees, they will not last forever.”