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Salesmanship: Little dinky samples and other things

by Warren Tyler

There has been a lot of postulating about why carpet has dropped to a 40% share of the flooring market. Most industry figures point to a change in the tastes of the American consumer.

I can point to many reasons: An increase in low quality goods, mills selling to the non-flooring stores who have no expertise in the applicability of the product, builder grade carpet and to no small extent, the availability of rental cleaning machines as well as untrained professionals.

Ask any woman after she has cleaned her carpet with one of those rentals and she will tell you how good it looked when she finished only to be disappointed when the dirt and water mix (mud) driven to the bottom wicked to the top. Her recipe for success: Repeat the process.

Stain resist treatments bear some responsibility since the chemical has an affinity for shampoo residue, which is sticky, thus re-soiling occurs faster. Lately, to the mills’ credit, they have introduced solution dying to residential carpeting which is a giant step forward, but even that may be cancelled somewhat by pushing high pile and soft yarn. Common sense tells you a low tight pile made of sturdier stuff will look better much longer. We have been fighting soft feel for decades.

A marketing ploy that has hurt the sale of carpet is the warrantees. When people see lifetime everything they believe they can treat carpeting as though it belongs in the kitchen. In earlier, saner times, we all knew (consumers included) that carpeting is a fabric meant to be treated like fabric and, if maintained properly, could look new for 20 years and longer.

The bottom line is today’s new consumers have the impression that carpeting is not practical. Every week people come into stores saying, “Don’t show me carpet!” which hardly ever happened years ago. One study showed that 35% of new homebuyers replaced the original carpet within three years. How does this help future carpet sales?

So we have taken a beautiful, practical flooring which may be the best consumer value on the market and ruined it. Any consumer can buy a quality carpet for the average living room, dining room and hall for less than the price of kitchen counters. Nothing we do can beautify her home more, so quickly and so inexpensively than brand new, freshly installed carpet.

Recently I attended a convention where a senior marketing executive demonstrated the effectiveness of handing the consumer a sample she could feel, caress and stroke—excellent advice.

The problem is that no manufacturer creates samples she can hold. The main mode of sampling is little dinky swatches stuck to cheap cardboard. Try caressing that.

In my day, I and other good retailers sampled 27 x 54 samples which looked and felt like a million dollars. No manufacturer has ever designed a display applicable for retail save for Trend Mills in the ’60s.

Who was the creator of consumer friendly sampling? None other than Sandy Mishkin, who designed beautiful vignettes I would copy and install in all my stores. I had mills bidding to get their samples into one of these units because the display sold carpet. My book, “Warren Tyler on Retail” has line drawings of these original fabulous displays.

Later, I incorporated these displays in dozens of showrooms of my design for other retailers. Those were the days when we sold quality carpeting and romanced the heck out of it to consumers who loved and respected the product—something that is difficult to do now.