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Salesmanship: Service what you sell

by Warren Tyler

There has been an effort from the retail merchandise groups to service what they sell. Part of this effort has been to offer in-house carpet cleaning operations, but participation, so far, has been sparse. Group members should jump on this opportunity to keep customers coming back and as a significant source of income.

For years auto dealers have used this strategy of servicing what you sell to retain customers. This has been one of the biggest weaknesses of the flooring industry. Thus far our most powerful weapon in this battle to keep a “customer for a life- time” has been personable salespeople.

Wet cleaning in the hands of certified and competent operators is an acceptable form of maintenance in the eyes of some industry people, but wet cleaning in the hands of consumers can be a disaster. Most Americans believe “the more the better” and in cleaning carpet that means more water and more shampoo.

It’s perfectly understandable the wet cleaners believe all consumers should use professionals, and I agree. The fact is the over- whelming majority of consumers, if they clean their carpet at all, do it themselves. My late wife, Shannon, conducted a training session for the women who handled the toll-free consumer help lines for DuPont, now Invista. The company not only recommended professional cleaning, it was required for warranty purposes. Shannon asked how many of the 42 women present have had their own carpet professionally cleaned; just one had.

What happens when consumers rent a do-it-yourself wet machine? The water mixes with the dirt forming mud that is forced down through the fiber, into the backing and ultimately the cushion. As it dries, this mixture slowly wicks up to the surface making the carpet look as dirty as before the so-called cleaning. Furthermore, the shampoo

residue lurks in every fiber clinging onto every bit of soil tracked in causing a re-soiling rate three to five times faster than carpet that has never been cleaned. This guarantees another dissatisfied customer.

Thus, as an industry, we’ve done a poor job of convincing consumers to use professionals and motivating retailers to offer professional cleaning. The other option is to recommend a competent cleaner, but these people have divided loyalties. The idea is to keep customers coming back to only your store. I wrote an award-winning article in 1977 that argued manufacturers should be ultimately responsible for the products they sell. Some of this alluded to the “boiler rooms” operating at the time, which gave zero service after the sale, tainting all retailers. Today, the lack of knowledge among employees of the mass merchandisers taints legitimate flooring retailers.

As a flooring retailer, because of these problems and not wanting unhappy customers, I counseled customers never to rent wet cleaning machines at the local supermarket and offered them a dry cleaning system. I happened to have used the Host system which offered a safe, fun-to-use machine, with no danger of using too much of anything and, most importantly, no shampoo residue. Moreover, after seeing its demonstrations at various markets cleaning oil and dirt impregnated carpeting convinced me how well it works.

My wife uses the dry cleaning system as a selling tool, offering a free lifetime rental when consumers buy carpeting at her Big Bob’s store. She keeps her customers coming back because the offer proves she cares and takes responsibility for service and maintenance after the sale.

Put simply, servicing after the sale is a powerful piece of the puzzle in surviving and even prospering in these chaotic times.