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Salesmanship: Prospering in bad times

by Warren Tyler

As many of my readers know I have a theme that changes according to market conditions. Back when the big boxes were getting into flooring, my theme was “How to Bury the Big Boxes,” which carried on for a few years. Hundreds of breakout sessions, presentations to flooring associations and dealer seminars dealt with the subject, giving floor covering retailers the confidence to not fear the boxes. Word must have gotten around because I found the big box executives attending my sessions at conventions.

My efforts must have been successful because now flooring retailers want to have locations as close to the boxes as possible. In case any reader is still fearful, just google “installed flooring Lowes” or “Depot customer comments” and a half million consumer horror stories will pop up.

Their problem is they are marketing operations as opposed to retailers who are sales operations. The boxes have little faith in the clerks on the floor so the training they have is woefully inadequate. Orders get misplaced, wrong carpets are ordered in the wrong colors, in many cases the install is bid out to the lowest bidder creating loads of consumer complaints and cancellations. In many cases installers measure, which creates huge problems. All of this could be solved with adequate training, which would give us all something to be concerned about. Never fear, it will never happen. Our biggest enemy is uniformed consumers.

For the last few years, my theme has been “Prospering in a Bad Economy.” Sitting around waiting for things to improve is committing suicide. Hundreds of dealers have experienced improving sales during this period by just reorganizing their business to fit the new economy. This column has covered many of the moves any store could make to improve sales. They all work because my clients and readers tell me they do.

Right now, I am leading sessions for the Retail Alliance, an educational organization of a few thousand retailers of all types here in Virginia. Unfortunately, retailers who need it the least are there. The people who need it most, those wallowing in that sea of mediocrity, seem to believe they know it all.

The attending retailers knew what my mother always told me: “If everyone is doing it, it’s wrong!” The best example was during the ’70s. When everyone was selling those horrific multi-color cut and loop shags, we promoted “The European Look,” low, tight saxonies. We became the market leader in the six markets we were in. Being a contrarian retailer works if you understand market conditions and basic good taste. Many of the attendees understood “contrarian” as they understood “USP” (unique selling proposition)—having merchandise or services that no one else in your market has. They understood that the most important element in retail is never the product, but engaging every customer as you would a friend: meeting them at the door, walking with them to the door, never bringing up product until they ask—in other words, basic human skills. Nothing will do more to separate your store from the competition than doing this. This was only the first session.

Finally, the professional retailers realize more has changed in the last couple of years than in the entire history of retailing because the electronic media has taken over, which means to throw out the Yellow Pages, be careful of TV because viewers skip around TV commercials. Best of all, the electronic media is free.

Keep reading, contact me and think about educating your- selves and your people about the new retail paradigm. It will save your future.

My time on the telephone is free. Call me at Big Bob’s at 804.642.3077; email warren@ or write to P.O. Box 339, Hayes, VA 23138.