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Contrarianism revisited

by Warren Tyler

I first wrote on this subject last November and then again in February and can’t stress enough the importance of the concept.

My contrarianism even ran to underlayment. I never wanted to carry what other dealers offered. Years ago, bubble rubber held sway, but it was loaded to one degree or another with clay that dried and crumbled. Then came rebond. It sold because it was cheap and actually felt good, but it was only as durable as the worst piece of foam scrap in the product. It also seemed much of the density relied upon the adhesive within. We settled on densified foam, which was produced with new materials and protected us from other stores copying because it was a more expensive product.

One day, the foam company called when I was just home from the hospital to inform me I won a Mazda RX-7, which was just introduced. The foam rep wondered why I didn’t sound more excited. First, I wasn’t feeling good, having begged my way out of the hospital a few days early. Secondly, which I didn’t tell him, I already had a Porsche 911, an S-Class Mercedes and a 3 Series BMW and, last but not least, I bought this expensive pad by the truckload and wondered why they didn’t include one of these little cars with every truck.

The point though: How many rebond dealers ever won a sports car?

In a recent column, I mentioned we made our own carpet racks. We just cut two pieces of cheap pine in the shape of a waterfall 54 inches long and two cross pieces and four legs out of the same 6-inch stock, covered the rack with a flexible wood product, stained it and… viola! A beautiful rack when covered with 27 x 54 samples.

It’s all in the book, “Warren Tyler on Retail.” The vignettes were fashioned similarly by making a frame of cheap pine stock and a platform under which we kept the samples and covered the whole thing with a beautifully dramatic color—a vase or chair and a planting with metallic identifying letters and it was done. Customers want to see products as they are to be used in the home. My 30-ounce samples looked better than a 50-ounce nasty piece of carpet stuck on a piece of cardboard.

We designed exotic labels to cover the manufacturers’ and stuck them on complete with our guarantee. Carpets had five levels of guarantees: A = 2 years, B = 5 (light traffic), C = 7 (medium traffic), D = 10 (heavy traffic) and E = commercial. The guarantee read we would credit you toward another carpet for any reason whatsoever on a pro-rated basis. Salespeople were to ask customers what their level of traffic was and, of course, most answered, “Heavy,” so instead of price, they were looking for D-rated carpet. If they weren’t satisfied, say with a B-rated carpet after three years, they were given a 40% credit toward a newer and better carpet. Customers loved it because if it was a wear issue, we would remind them they said heavy wear and the upgrade was automatic. At our 50% mark, we made money on the replacement.

My point with this series is although we were buying right, all our products were not able to be shopped. Our merchandising showed off our similar products as a much better grade and our guarantees were actually usable. In fact, we encouraged customers to take advantage of them. It proved to be another sale.

To survive in this economy, it is imperative to do what we did in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s—be creative, invent new concepts, be ahead of the merchandising curve and most of all, train your salespeople.