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How retailers position themselves for growth in 2011

In these tough economic times, successful retailers have been making subtle moves to keep their heads above water. Many have not only survived, but thrived and are positioning themselves for growth in the new year. Last year may have been a downer, but armed with an unbridled entrepreneurial spirit, the best of the best always find ways to overcome obstacles in reaching their goals while increasing profit margins.

For Gary Canizaro, owner and president of Premiere Flooring America in Kenner, La., the company’s best new plan implemented in 2010 was its lead management system. Since he doesn’t have a sales manager on staff, this program allows him to monitor, from his computer, the company’s walk-in, phone-in and Internet prospects as they are serviced by his sales professionals. “By using the system, it forces or ‘coerces’ them to keep track of the presentation and estimating process right up to closing or losing the sale.”

The system’s built-in sales tracking option also tracks close rates, the number of “ups” and sales goals, he noted. “While we have not fully implemented the entire system as yet, during 2010 it really has self-coached our sales professionals to monitor every sales opportunity and helped me as an owner to track leads much better. We’ve all had to work smarter as well as work harder to stay in business, and I’m hoping this improved system really adds to the bottom line when sales improve in 2011.”

Sam O’Krent, principal of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio, believes the difficult economic times the company experienced in 2010 and anticipates in 2011 command a “no fear” approach. “We will not bury our heads in the sand and wait for the storm to pass us by. We will continue to advertise heavily, yet with a different look, feel and media than what has traditionally worked. Customers have not gone away; they’ve become more value oriented and reluctant to pull the trigger until they find the exact ‘package’ to fit their needs.”

O’Krent said he and his team will take this time to review its entire organization— people, policies and procedures—to see where it can trim and streamline in order to better serve its customers. “It’s much easier to institute changes when business is slow.”

Adding value by increasing service For Missy Montgomery, sales manager for Montgomery’s CarpetsPlus in Venice, Fla., adding to her profit margin meant taking advantage of the store’s affiliation with Alliance Flooring by offering a service in which the company had not previously been involved. “Late in 2009 we added a carpet cleaning division. We also specialize in cleaning tile, furniture (upholstery and leather) and minor restoration work and duct cleaning. This was a joint effort with our buying group. It keeps us in touch with our customers throughout their floors’ life cycle. Now, we sell it, install it and maintain it.”

Joan Cocuzzo, principal and president of Flooring America in Franklin, Mass., took a more pragmatic approach. Looking back on one of the worst years since she started the business 45 years ago, “It’s really hard to name one or two things that helped us carry on. I’d love to be a fly on the wall five years from now and see how it all turns out. Cutting costs is the No. 1 action that is helping. Among other things we cut staff, store hours, travel and education as well as unprofitable products.”

Cocuzzo did, however, increase advertising while substantially increasing the purchases of “well-priced” roll stock and truckload hardwood pricing. “If there is a good buy, we now take advantage of it and promote the item to help our customers, who are also fighting to get the best value.”

-Louis Iannaco