CHICAGO—Likening the economic climate to the adventures of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale inspired the Floor Covering Alliance Network’s (FCA) theme, Retail Wonderland: 2010 and Beyond.
“As Alice falls down the rabbit hole, wondering if she’s ever going to hit bottom, I realized that’s how I’ve felt these last few years,” said Olga Robertson, president.
It seems conditions have improved enough to joke about the dystopia that seemed to be reality. Bob Hill, CEO and chairman, reported a 33% increase in numbers for the first three months of 2010 over the same ’09 period with seven new members. In addition to the Wonderland theme, the convention focused on networking avenues and a return to the basics of selling, emphasizing the importance of salesmanship.
“We have a unique selling proposition from other groups,” Robertson said. “We’re successful retailers helping other retailers.” As a store owner herself, she knows what it is like to deal with service and installation issues, or a canceled job because supply is low. Even as president of the buying group, she still takes customer complaints.
“As a member for 10 years, we’ve never needed FCA as much as we do now,” said Daryl Ciokowitz, principal, Check’s Floorcrafters, Onalaska, Wis. “With private labeling, access to products no one else can find, marketing and competitive pricing, I’ve gained confidence from my membership. Where else can I get a personal visit from the president [Robertson] of the group to give me pointers for my sales floor?”
In addition to strong networks within the group, FCA retailers were urged to work with designers to broaden their buying market. Having a designer on staff gives members the opportunity to differentiate with the “designer difference.” It was a choice Hill made when his store was spilling more than it could drink.
“Home improvement shows always send designers to shop for products. For the last 10 to 15 years, TV has been teaching consumers to use designers.” Within two years, 350 interior designers met with the lead designer in Hill’s store to buy flooring.
“Each quarter, we’re going to hold ASID and designer seminars at our store,” said Bill Pawson of West Bay Decorating Flooring Center in Westlake, Ohio. “That seems to be where it’s going.”
Hill also found a positive side to the foreclosure phenomenon and urged members to connect with bankers, realtors and independent buyers. “These homes need new floors, and buyers don’t want to wait. In order to sell quickly, that home has to look good, fast.”
He also reminded the group not to forget the builder market, whether for room-by-room remodeling, new construction or replacement work and warned against taking new commercial and institutional work. “It would take too much time in training and claims,” Hill advised. “That work is best left to commercial professionals.”
The newest development in networking is through social media. All things digital were covered over nearly a day of talks from Sima Dahl, networking coach and social media strategist at Parlay Communications. Outlining a new school of marketing, she mapped the new areas for businesses to gain exposure across the Web and even included a LinkedIn tutorial.
Speak her language
“PR now goes to the buyer, so you have to reach directly to her and speak her language,” Dahl advised. A successful site and extra time and effort would lead to search engine optimization (SEO), successful blogging, exposure in searches and directories, positive customer reviews on sites like yelp.com or angieslist.com, and social media maintenance.
Most members admitted their Web sites were not up to par. “First thing, I am going to get my Web site up to date,” said Jay Kumar, Carpet and Rug Superstore in Charlotte, N.C. “I’m not familiar with all the social media we talked about, but now I know and I’m going to change it.”
While members were excited to learn about the future of marketing, it was recommended not to forget the foundations of selling. “We’ve got to get back to the basics,” Robertson said. “We’ve got to focus on salesmanship. You’ve got to be able to sell.”
This is a problem, according to Hill. “Veteran salesmen were very resistant to change,” he said of technological advances in his store. “Some refused to use email and even had poor phone use.” This prompted intensified FCA sales training that concentrated on basic sales techniques, how to establish customer rapport, consultative selling, how to match products to the end user’s needs and using referral marketing, he said. “Using all of these techniques, the consumer will buy from you nine out of 10 times.”