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Professor Bhullar’s day in school

by Steven Feldman

Pami Bhullar’s business card says he is Invista’s director of retail development, North America. Retail development is title-speak for training. And training is something Bhullar does arguably as well as anyone. He may spend more days on the road visiting floor covering retailers than anyone in this industry.

When his demanding schedule allows, Bhullar will speak at industry events where he can impart his wisdom on the masses. One such event was last month’s Abbey convention in Orlando, Fla., where I had the privilege to sit in on his keynote presentation.

He began by discussing the dynamic of rapidly changing consumer behavior, which is being driven by technology. “Consumers can come into your showroom, pull out their smartphones, take a picture and send that picture to their competitors. The Internet has allowed consumers to control the marketplace. They now buy how, when and where they want to.”

That’s why the in-store presentation is more important today than ever before. Retailers must be cognizant of the fact 90% to 95% of the decision makers and influencers on purchases are women. Thus, it goes without saying the presentation must be geared toward females.

The initial presentation should surround three questions:

1. “Have you ever been here before?” If this is her first time in the store, Bhullar suggests the following language: “Thank you for giving us the opportunity. Let me share with you what makes us the best place to buy flooring.” This allows the retailer to tell his story. And if there is no story to tell about your store, all you have is a price negotiation. He recommends retailers make their stories personal and emotional. Why? Because 75% of selling is emotional. Bhullar suggests, “This is the reason our clients enjoy our shopping experience,” and not “This is why you should buy from us.”

2. “What kind of research have you done for this project?” This allows the retailer to instantly learn what she knows and who the competition may be. The idea is to focus on the things your company does better than the competition.

3. “Why are you changing the floor covering?” This allows the retailer to learn the emotional reason, the motivation to change, and whether her primary driver is product or budget.

Understanding her needs is critical, Bhullar said, because of a shift in selling from information-based to needs-based. Many customers no longer come into flooring stores seeking information. They come to verify the information they have already garnered. “That’s why it is important to qualify the customer, discover her needs and then focus on those needs.”

Speaking of needs, Invista proprietary research revealed the most common need (55%) is durability or ease of cleaning. Also, consumers don’t like the term “performing,” he explained. “It doesn’t have wheels. It doesn’t have an engine. The new word is “durability.” So make sure you start talking the consumer’s language.”

Bhullar also discussed the shopping process on a macro level. He told the audience consumers begin the shopping process more than six months before making a decision. “Buying carpet is more difficult than buying a car. There is no Kelly Blue Book.” About 55% of consumers take six months to a year to make a decision. His advice: “Don’t give up on any consumer. They are probably still in the market. Stay in touch with them.”

The other revealing nugget was one of the main reasons why consumers don’t buy, and that is because of the overwhelming number of choices. “You may be proud to have 9,000 samples. Now think about it from a customer’s point of view. She gets frustrated and buys a BMW.” As a result of all the details and confusion, close to 20% of people who do all the research give up and decide not to buy this year.

There is much more to share, which we’ll do in a future column.