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Retail education: Forget warranties

by Kelly Kramer

I started selling flooring some 26 years ago for New York Carpet World in Saginaw, Mich. As a new salesman I was eager to learn and read every bit of information I could, including reading the labels on the back of carpet and vinyl samples. At that time in history there were very few warranties in print but I remember one particularly well. While I was reading a warranty, a co-worker named Mel came over and had a talk with me.

Now, Mel was a true old- timer and had sold carpet and linoleum for more than 30 years. In fact, he sold flooring when linoleum was king and before carpet was wall-to-wall. At the time, one of the first carpet stain warranties had come to be and Mel told me something I’ll never forget.

“Some idiot at the mill—or fiber company—just told our customers that carpet is stain proof,” he said. “But you walk on carpet and drop things on it that will stain it. Do yourself and this company a favor and never ever mention it to a customer.”

He elaborated that clothing manufactures, which use a fiber fabric, don’t give you a stain guaranty or a warranty. Then he added, “Clothing does not get walked on and you can see the seams, so why do people think that carpet won’t flatten, mat or crush, and that it won’t show seams? It’s because we told them so.”

Over my years in flooring I’ve seen a handful of other printed warranties that manufacturers used as false selling tools that us retailers would have to pay for in the long run. The two that stand out most are “footprint free” and “no mat, no crush.”

You will notice these two warranties no longer exist today. While the fiber companies and mills covered their behinds in the fine print, us ignorant retail salespeople made these new claims look bullet proof. We presented these warranties as a selling point and eventually got stung for it. After a few years of denied claims (due to the fine print), the people giving the warranties finally learned and stopped. The problem is that every manufacturer and retailer is trying to get a selling advantage and I understand that. But it’s simply a weak way of selling.

Changing gears

How about we just switch our way of thinking in how we sell? Forget warranties and explain to our buyers how each product is built and how it will perform under her given circumstances. To do this we need to stop spouting off big, false selling points on the backs of samples and interview each buyer. What does she really need? What kind of traffic goes through her home? Does she have sloppy family members? Does she have pets? What are her cleaning habits? How long does she want this new flooring to last? No warranty can do for her what your help in a good customer interview can. Simply put her in the best product (high-end or low-end) for her given situation.

Don’t waste paper

If you do sell with warranties for a crutch, don’t give your buyer a written copy of the warranty after the sale. There is no positive in it. The fine print covers any problem that could actually happen any way, while the large print covers things that won’t actually happen.

If you get a customer who calls you back five years later, it is because she kept that worthless lifetime warranty that you gave her. Now you can waste your time all over again and explain pro-rating and the rest of the fine print.

Don’t use warranties to oversell. Just educate and you can forget warranties.

Thanks for reading.

Kelly Kramer, based in Loveland, Colo., is an author, inventor and owner of Kelly’s Carpet Wagon. To book him for public speaking engagements, call 970.622.0077 or e-mail kelly.kramer@comcast.net.