There’s an oft repeated saying in retail: “The customer is always right.” And while this reference is often relevant for retailers and other business owners alike, allowing customers to call all the shots is not a recipe for success. In fact, many successful flooring retailers know when to turn away business, even telling potential customers that they might be better served going elsewhere. Which is not to say that highly successful retailers don’t put customers first. They do put the right customers first—when it is mutually beneficial for both parties.
Winning the customer over is paramount; however, it’s only one factor in achieving retail success, according to experts. In today’s market, innovating and adapting to change and investing in technology are other equally important components to building successful enterprises.
FCNews rounded up scores of retailers from around the country to get their advice and strategies on a host of topics—customer service, merchandising, marketing and promotion and hiring, training and recruiting. Regardless of the specific objective or goal, these tips provide valuable information to incorporate into your business every day.
Here is a sample of the advice available in this year’s edition of Winning at Retail:
Never lead with price
“We try not to discuss price until deep into the selling conversation. We want customers to love the style and design of the products. And then we will discuss price and performance.”
—RYAN COMMERCE, Indoor City of Lancaster, Lancaster, Pa.
Turning ‘Nos’ into a ‘Yes’
“When a potential customer says, ‘I’m just looking,’ or ‘I’m doing research; we’re not ready to buy today,’ we say: ‘Great, we have a lot to look at. What can I do to help you narrow down your selections?’”
—TRAVIS CARLSON, Carlson’s Flooring America, Fort Myers, Fla.
Keeping customers honest when they ‘shop around’
“Sometimes customers will shop between our locations, so it is important to be consistent with our retail pricing and discount structures. RSAs need to create a new quote in our database when estimating a job, especially when providing pricing greater than our posted retail pricing. We have set discount tiers that need to be followed and get management approvals. If a customer deals with more than one RSA, sometimes we split the commission.”
—RAFFI SARMAZIAN, Sarmazian Bros. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Show more with less
“At Westvalley Carpet & Flooring, we have made a practice of focusing on the quality brands and products that consumers are looking for. For example, Pergo and Smartstrand are two excellent examples of clean, symmetrical displays with large product and color offerings; these displays offer an excellent ratio of both dollar value and SKUs per square foot of showroom space that they occupy. When you couple this with industry-leading brand recognition and attractive graphics that are easy to understand and reference, you simplify the entire buying process for the consumer.”
—RAY DAYA, Westvalley Group of Companies, Calgary, AB, Canada
Make your showroom sizzle
“We are in the floor fashion business and, therefore, we have to refresh and update our showrooms annually. Have you painted your walls recently? Have you installed any new flooring in your showroom? Are all your displays functioning correctly? Are your samples shop worn, dirty and dingy? If you answered ‘no’ to the first three questions and ‘yes’ to the fourth question, you need to put a plan together to refresh your showroom.”
—PAUL JOHNSON, Johnson Floor & Home Carpet One, Tulsa, Okla.
Showcase your strongest brands first
“Simplicity is best; be more focused on fewer suppliers. You remove the confusion for the customer, and you send a message of confidence about the brands you carry. Furthermore, you become more important to those fewer brands—which can reap benefits with your supplier relationships.”
—BOBBY MERIDETH, Flooring America OKC, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Always apply the ‘Golden Rule’
“Treat customers the way you would want to be treated. Execute and follow up in all aspects of the sale—from the start of the sale to getting the order to ordering the material to receiving the material through the installation process. Then follow up with the customer to make sure she is happy with her purchase. And always tell the customer that you appreciate her business.”
—DON CANTOR, Lake Chelan Interiors, Chelan, Wash.
Craft great shopping experiences
“We are a firm believer in a great shopping experience at Grigsby’s. We are not a high-pressure retail store and believe that listening to your customer’s needs, answering all their questions then guiding them to the product that will work best for them. Make a friend, be interested in their project—people buy from people they like and trust. It’s pretty simple.”
—PENNY CARNINO, Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood Tulsa, Okla.
Handling disgruntled customers
“The most critical component is communication. Most customers realize mistakes happen or that certain conditions transpire during the installation. What they have zero patience for is lack of communication. We require a confirmed response from the customer so we know they are aware of the next steps required to resolve the situation. Once completed, our customer experience specialists have a final confirmation from the customer that all issues have been resolved.”
—KELBY FREDERICK, My Flooring Texas, Houston
Leverage social media
“Social media is a great way to advertise. Just think about who your ideal customer is and then who spends time on social media. Most people spend a lot of time just scrolling through posts. Why wouldn’t you want your business name popping up on their device every so often directly in their hand? I use social media exclusively to advertise our rock hunt promo, so it gets a lot of action through that.”
—ERIC BUEHLER, Carpets Plus ColorTile, Thayne, Wyo.
Showcase your work
“We have all our guys send pictures of jobs we install. We then post them on Facebook and Instagram. We also will run specials and advertise on those same platforms.”
—JEREMY WIRGES, 3 Kings Flooring, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Encourage positive customer reviews
“Our Google page has been the most effective marketing vehicle for us. This is especially true for capturing new clients. In addition, we continue marketing in local print publications and support not-for-profit functions and organizations.”
—DUSTIN HILL, Oswego Quality Carpet, Oswego, N.Y.
Stay in touch with customers
“Offer customers multiple ways to communicate with your team including text, phone, email, social media messaging, etc. Ask a customer how they prefer to communicate and keep within their preferred channel when possible. We use Podium for texting with customers, which allows our customer to text with one phone number but reach any of our departments depending on what stage of the sale/project they are in.”
—LAUREN VOIT, Great Western Flooring, Naperville, Ill.
Ideal traits to look for
“A few characteristics I look for: Are they a job hopper? Do they look me in the eye when speaking? Did they show up early for the interview? What is their attire like—is it professional? Did they research our business? Did they ask for the job before exiting?”
—KEVIN ROSE, Carpetland USA, Rockford, Ill.
Think outside the industry box
“I used to look for experience, but in the last five years some of our best salespeople have come from outside the industry. We look for people who are confident, organized and forward-thinking. We look for those who think outside the box, aren’t afraid to ask for the order and can problem solve and handle issues that may arise during the install.”
—DAN MANDEL, Sterling Carpet & Flooring, Anaheim, Calif.
Indentify the go-getters
“We look for people who are driven and have a positive attitude that fits into our culture. They need strong problem-solving skills and a strong desire to serve our customers. If they have those traits, we can teach them all the other pieces that make a great retail salesperson.”
—TAYLOR DORE, ICC Floors, Indianapolis
Conduct ‘working’ interviews
“One of the things we do that helps us in our hiring decisions is what we call a ‘working interview.’ When we interview someone we like, we ask them to come back for at least a few hours to try the job on. We have them shadow or learn what they would be doing. That way they get a sense of our environment and we can see how they would fit. We pay them for the time they are here and ask the people they would be working with for their thoughts before making a final decision to hire. We have found this to be very helpful in making the decision to hire or not.”
—SUSAN HADINGER, Hadinger Flooring, Naples, Fla.
Be open to other opinions
“In the slow times, hold meetings and practice reverse mentoring. Be brave enough to listen to the young people in your business.”
—DIANNE GROSSMAN, The Carpet Girl, Springfield Township, N.J.
Value your staff members
“It is important your entire team knows they are valued and make an impact on the success of your company. We often have lunches, outings and contests to help promote community within our staff. With three locations and a few people working remotely from home it is important we stay connected. Relationships foster loyalty certainly more than a paycheck.”
—DEB DEGRAAF, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Provide ongoing encouragement
“Many companies spend money on things that don’t make [them] better. Focus on your [people.] Work with them, encourage them and yes, hold them accountable for making your business better.”
—OLGA ROBERTSON, FCA Network
Open your ears
“Listen—plain and simple. Take every bit of it in. Listen to your employees, to your installers, to your customers, to your sales reps, to other dealers and so forth. Listen, learn, digest and figure out what’s best!”
—DENISE VANDERHEIDE, DeHaan Tile & Floor Covering, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Competing with big boxes
“Our advantage is service, product knowledge and installation. We are a specialty flooring retail store that provides unmatched service with professional flooring experts who have the knowledge to help customers find the perfect floor that matches their needs and wants. We provide timely, professional installation of all the products we sell.”
—JON DAUENHAUER, Carpet World, Bismarck, N.D.
Dealing with downturns
“We make sure we always have cash reserves to sustain our business for a few months, if needed. Since we are owner/operators, a slow period gives us time to rethink our business model, clean up inefficiencies and fine-tune goals. When we are in the trenches during busy periods, we never seem to have the time to work on our business.”
—KEVIN MURRAY, Murray Floor & Window Coverings,Billings, Mont.
Don’t forget to network
“The best thing I think I ever did was stumble into the Women of the Flooring Business group. I am blown away with the amount of support and knowledge I have gained. The networking experience has been wonderful. I’m able to listen and take the advice from so many successful women in this industry.”
—ASHLEY PETERSON, Blue Mist Paint & Flooring, Spartanburg, S.C.
View the full supplement (and gain valuable retail knowledge) here.