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Providing help to retailers: who’s doing what

By  Matthew Spieler

(First of two parts)

When it comes to giving retailers the necessary ammunition to succeed, there are plenty of options from which to choose as just about every segment of the industry provides some type of resource or tool for dealers to allow customers to prosper and grow their business.

These tools are numerous—from educational training to professional marketing services to social media and more. In many cases most are offered at no charge. Even when there is a charge to improve oneself, there are ways for retailers to offset some or all of it depending on their affiliation with an association, buying group or manufacturer.

FCNews surveyed some of the industry’s main manufacturers, trade show owners, associations and buying groups to see who’s helping retailers and how. As it turns out, just about everyone is doing something. The following is just a few things being offered and has been broken into the four segments just noted. But before that, there is one company, FloorForce, that doesn’t quite fit into any of these areas. Made up of flooring professionals and a team of website developers, designers and search engine optimization experts, the company’s “total focus is to provide the independent flooring dealer with the knowledge and tools needed to successfully market their products and business online,” noted John Weller Jr., vice president of marketing.

Weller pointed to a variety of things the company is doing to achieve its goal. “We begin by educating dealers on the facts of online marketing and how today’s most successful retailers are prospering due to the lack of competition from independent dealers on the Internet.”

FloorForce then lays out its website marketing solutions, which include “a robust set of tools and applications” such as a fully customizable online product catalog “that can arm retailers with everything they need to not just compete with the box stores and mega retailers online but actually provide the consumer with a more intuitive and rich experience,” Weller explained. “This online catalog allows consumers to shop, compare and even put samples in an online basket for a shop-at-home appointment or showroom visit.” 

FloorForce websites are highly optimized, out of the box, he added, and many rank high on the search engines with little or no additional search engine optimization needed. The sites also include lots of “sticky” content to keep consumers engaged, including expert design advice videos, a customizable blog and image gallery and an Online Area Rug business with an industry first, 3-D e-commerce rug application that requires no samples or inventory and has direct delivery to the consumer’s home.

To learn more, visit floorforce.com.

 Manufacturers/suppliers

Throughout the years, manufacturers and suppliers have provided retailers with more than products and displays. Here are some things being done by a few of the industry’s largest:

•Armstrong. Katie Raymond, channel marketing manager, said while the mill continues to offer training and certifications at its Lancaster, Pa., headquarters, “Armstrong also works [with] our distributors as well as trade associations. We do our best to offer training or certification at the local level, along with having brief, interactive and educational tools for retail salespeople to get comfortable with new merchandising and products.”

Recognizing the Internet as the most commonly used learning tool and retailer locator is the impetus behind Armstrong’s Elite dealer loyalty program designed for its top-ranked independent floor dealers, she added. “The Elite program takes advantage of Armstrong’s web presence and strong brand name recognition to create a seamless shopping experience between retailers and consumers.”

Regarding digital marketing, Raymond said Armstrong “is emphasizing it more. Digital marketing requires more and better content, such as videos, tools, reviews, blogs, mobile sites and social media. We are playing in all these arenas and variations of online advertising.”

To learn more, visit armstrong.com.

•Invista. Steve Griffith, CMO, said the fiber supplier is “one of the few investing in consumer market research. Invista shares this work with dealers, providing insight into the most profitable way to close a consumer, and finding the best vehicles to advertise and provide an effective return.” In the past year alone, he added, “Invista has invested is substantial levels of market research and is providing one-on-one consultations with owners to discuss opportunities for profitable growth.”

While providing “a significant effort” to increase consumer awareness for its Stainmaster offerings with new signage and labels for TruSoft, SolarMax and lifetime warranties, Griffith said Invista “continues to invest in new methods of touching the consumer and co-branding with dealers to drive traffic to our network. Interactive online programs will be a primary way we’ll continue to engage and drive consumers to Stainmaster Flooring Centers and Stainmaster Showcase retailers,” via the Stainmaster website.

Continuing a tradition starting with the launch of Stainmaster 26 years ago, he said Invista innovates with products and invests in national advertising.

To learn more, visit stainmasterlink.com.

•Mohawk. In today’s retail environment, brand power plays a key role, said David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing. “Consumers buy brands they know and trust. Mohawk is the oldest and most widely recognized flooring brand by consumers today. To help retailers leverage this brand loyalty to their benefit, Mohawk created the industry’s first aligned retailer program in 1974.”

Today, Mohawk’s aligned program includes the Floorscapes and ColorCenter store formats. “Mohawk’s program offers innovative, industry-leading products, state-of-the-art merchandising, professionally designed marketing materials, and much more,” Duncan said.

Training is another key component, he added, and Mohawk “is repeatedly acknowledged for our outstanding retailer education efforts. For seven straight years, Mohawk University has been recognized by Training magazine and, most recently, we ranked 4th on its prestigious list for our corporate training efforts.”

Last, Duncan said, Mohawk offers retailers an avenue of differentiation by delivering “innovative and exclusive products such as the SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona product platform.”

To learn more, visit mohawkflooringcom.

•Shaw. Executives pointed to numerous areas where the mill is helping retailers. Beyond the Shaw Flooring Network program where the company partners with GE to promote credit options, programs and services that make the selling process easier, Trey Thames, vice president of marketing, residential direct, said, “It is our priority to reach consumers at impactful moments in their shopping process and influence their in-store journey.” All marketing efforts drive customers to shawfloors.com and its retailer finder tool.

“Our retailers enjoy the benefit of our national consumer outreach through traditional, social and creative public relations and digital outlets,” he added, noting Shaw’s four national sales last year. “Today, our comprehensive efforts include Capture the Spirit, a retail sales incentive program that currently includes approximately 8,500 retail sale associates, and our award-winning Shaw Learning Academy education program that includes world-class training modules. Also, Shaw Web Studio makes it easy to create a premier, highly functional website, complete with updated content, our newest product graphics and an entire Shaw product catalog.” 

To learn more about Shaw, visit shawfloors.com.

Buying groups

Similar to manufacturers and suppliers, buying groups do more than provide their retailer members with a platform to sell products and obtain rebates. From training to technology to exclusive products and programs, each group brings its own unique twist to dealers.

The following are some initiatives from the industry’s largest groups:

•Abbey Carpet. Steve Silver-man, president and COO, lists four primary tools Abbey offers an individual retailer would not be able to replicate—private brands, consumer website, B2B intranet site and advertising assistance.

Abbey’s private brands, he said, are “responsible for helping members improve their gross margins and profitability, as they prevent comparison shopping.” Thereby, “members enjoy improved margins when compared to manufacturer labeled products,” which allow consumers to shop “until they are confident they have received the lowest price.”

Abbey’s consumer website is an extension of the private label philosophy, Silverman said. It has an option for customizing the home page, as well as individual pages, as frequently as members like. “Members tell us what they want featured, we follow-up on their request and the custom website is ready to go in a matter of days.” There is also a “Request for Quote” feature for consumers interested in learning more about a product or price. “The leads come into our headquarters and we pass them to our members who contact the consumer and arrange for a meeting either in-store or in the consumer’s home. This is a great free, lead-generating opportunity.”

InfoNet is Abbey’s password- protected intranet site offering members a myriad of B2B information, from pricing to rebates to advertising and more. “Perhaps the most popular tool,” Silverman noted, “is the ability for members to change retail pricing on their selling floor, including material cost, freight and labor, at the desired gross margin they choose. This program also gives members the ability to print price cards for individual products, or displays containing multiple products in a matter of minutes.”

Lastly, Abbey members have access to the group’s in-house advertising agency, which assists them with production requirements from TV, radio and various forms of print advertising, as well as private sales. “Our members’ only expense is the actual placement of the advertising and associated costs.”

To learn more, visit abbeycarpet.com.

•Alliance Flooring. David Ellis, marketing manager, said one of the most popular creations the group has completed in recent years is its Proven Ways book. “We have gathered what has been most effective for our dealers and compiled it in one place. This is advantageous for members as the book contains everything a dealer would need to know to thrive in today’s economy, including marketing, advertising, social media, operations, customer service, installation, websites and more. We asked members what works and they were more than willing to share their most effective methods.”

Over the past two summers, Alliance co-CEO Ron Dunn has driven across America meeting with members at their stores. “This has yielded huge dividends for every member,” Ellis said. “I’m not sure how many other groups’ CEOs visit their members outside of conventions and other meetings. We always say relationships are what drive our industry and it’s proven to be very true.”

Alliance WebPro is a customizable website program that is easy to use and effective, he said. “Members also get a mobile app that helps their customers shop more efficiently.”

When it comes to programs, Ellis said Alliance “does not mandate or force them on members. We offer a menu of options to choose from.” Among those are “award-winning merchandising with many exclusive trademarked brands in soft and hard surface that our members can use, including Colortile.”

To learn more, visit allianceflooring.info.

•Carpet One Floor & Home. When it comes to national promotions, websites and driving leads, social media and more, Terri Daniels, vice president of public relations, said effective marketing is “often difficult for independent business owners, especially with the rise of digital and social media. Carpet One supports its membership with technologies and guidance as well as promotions that allow members to keep up with the latest technology while maintaining creative control over their business’ image.”

Knowing a great sales performance starts with a great hire, Carpet One University has developed the Hire for Success program to help members source potential top performers. “It takes care of posting ads on job boards, conducting database searches, evaluating resumes, hiring assessments, telephone interviews and even coaches owners and managers on conducting thorough, behavioral-based interviews,” she explained. “It’s designed to get the best candidates to our members with the least amount of time and effort.”

Because a compelling product selection is essential to a flooring retailer, Daniels noted Carpet One offers innovative merchandising systems to help members maximize their space yet still showcase the product selection.  “The Select-A-Floor display system gives members a simplified way to sell by categorizing products by lifestyle. Plus, Destination: Carpet One is an exclusive store design that makes it easy for members to completely transform their space to maximize the customer experience.”

To learn more, visit carpetone.com.

•Flooring America/Flooring Canada (FAC). Frank Chiera vice president of marketing and advertising, said the group “completely reinvented [its] broadcast, radio, print, online and in-store marketing materials to help members be leaders of the pack in the industry.”

FAC has also developed its Review App to “empower customers to author, record and publish reviews, recommendations and testimonials to share with friends and other consumers, which will help to make Flooring America/Flooring Ca-nada the most recommended flooring stores in North America,” he noted. Also, a new Customer Acquisition Sales Helper (C.A.S.H.) app “will provide members’ sales professionals with quick and easy lead entry, talking points and a calculator that will help quickly identify the right product for a customer’s budget.

Staying on the technology side, Chiera said FAC is rolling out the second phase of “a complete social media marketing strategy called FAST—Flooring America Social Tools—that will help local stores engage with their customers through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp and more.”

Lastly, recognizing consumers look for companies who contribute to their communities, FAC has partnered with Pets for Patriots, a non-profit that helps military members adopt adult and at-risk shelter pets. “So far this partnership is off to a great start,” Chiera said. “The amount of support we’ve seen has been overwhelming. To date, the partnership has produced over $50,000 in donations in less than six months.”

To learn more, visit flooring america.com or flooring canada.ca.

•Preferred Brands. Steve Sindlinger, president of Floor To Ceiling’s parent company, said the group works with members, vendors and others to assist its dealers on an on-going basis. Among the many things he cited are: Working with vendors to develop exclusive promotions as well as “on the member’s behalf to accomplish something specifically for their business,” i.e., credit terms, discounts, special display programs, logistics, etc.; developing displays promoting the Floor To Ceiling brand to differentiate from the competition, which includes assisting in showroom design and layout; providing a third party as a source of expertise to help members resolve field quality disputes with a manufacturer; developing training seminars, as well as interactive programs, “to make sure members are up-to-date on the latest product and industry developments and business practices, and offering advertising and sales promotion guidance, along with the availability of affordable, professional graphics services, including website design and assistance, production of print and broadcast advertising, literature, point of sale materials, displays and signage.”

He noted Preferred Brands also provides guidance for the selection of outside services such as finance programs and IT software and systems to best fit a particular member’s needs. Preferred Brands provides market analysis and statistical data as needed, in addition to assistance with public relations initiatives and publicity support for local promotion.

To learn more, visit preferredbrandscorp.com.

(Editor’s note: Next issue we will look at what some of the industry’s national associations and trade shows are doing to help retailers be more successful.)