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Social media boosts retailers' marketing efforts

Volume 27/Number 19; January 20/27, 2014

By K.J. Quinn

In an industry that has historically been resistant to change, flooring retailers are bucking the trend by investing more marketing dollars into social media. Dealers say they are finding more and more customers utilizing various online vehicles to stay informed and updated on the latest products and styles.

“We have one eye out there and a small budget assigned to social media,” said Allen Gindt, retail manager, Blakely’s Flooring, Indianapolis. While the store maintains a Facebook account, “we are learning about social media every day.”

Enter any retail outlet and you’ll find people of all ages accessing their social networks with smartphones and using these devices to shop products they see on display. “I recently sold a large Karastan order to a couple who are both turning 80,” reported Patrick Marlowe, president, Flooring America of Seminole in Seminole, Fla. “They went online and read our reviews and decided to do business with us.

“When I’ve asked people how they heard about us, they will show me their smartphones and say, ‘Right here.’”

Industry statistics paint a much clearer picture of the impact social networks have on the purchasing cycle. A 2011 study by digital marketing agency ODM Group found nearly three-quarters of consumers polled rely on social networks to guide purchasing decisions. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow easy access to brands while guiding product decisions and purchases. “We also use our social media sites to promote our testimonials from past clients,” noted Tom Garvey, owner, Garvey’s Flooring America, Bloomsburg, Pa.

Flooring retailers are reportedly taking notice of social media, as an FCNews spot survey found dealers are placing increased emphasis on developing an online strategy aimed at boosting foot traffic and sales. “We are definitely doing more with social media,” confirmed Erik Kadlec, owner, Walgenmeyer’s Carpet & Tile, Madison, Wis., citing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as examples. “Ever since the downturn in the economy, we’re looking for new accounts and turning over every stone we can find.”

But formulating a social media campaign is easier said than done, which is why several dealers have hired people dedicated to developing and managing these programs. Knowing how to write, share and connect with customers on a store’s social media platforms are considered integral elements for any marketing strategy. “We hired someone about six months ago to handle our social media marketing,” said Stuart Perque, president, Perque Carpets & Draperies with nine stores in Louisiana. “We got set up on Facebook and Twitter. Once we had those worked out, we started to do more marketing on the Internet.”

Dealers say they are prioritizing their investments to develop social media programs aimed at achieving a variety of business objectives. For example, some are utilizing these platforms as a medium to tell customers what’s new inside their showrooms. By posting about the latest colors, styles and lines, dealers can pique the interest of consumers who would not have known about such introductions otherwise.

Abbey Carpet in Napa, Calif., is conducting a number of social media activities aimed at raising awareness about the store and its products and services, said partner Janice Clifton. Complementing this outreach is social media marketing conducted by the retail group and suppliers. “We get a number of referrals and they’re all free. It’s a matter of making sure companies you do a lot of business with have you posted on their websites.”

Garvey’s Flooring America utilizes social media, in part, to promote the local community. “Our marketing director meets with local teams, coaches, children and organizations that we support,” Garvey said. “We post these activities through our social media sites with pictures, updates, etc.”

Social media is also seen as a great way to get the word out about upcoming events, such as a holiday sale or open house. It is not uncommon for dealers such as Garvey’s and Blakely’s to promote new sales and specials through their social media sites. “We’re looking into finding more ways to find new customers,” Blakely’s’ Gindt said.

Today, an increasing number of consumers are turning to social media peers and asking friends and connections to share their experiences with a specific product or brand. “We have a strong customer base which yields a 67% referral return,” noted Chris Jackson, owner, Carpet Man Flooring, Orange Park, Fla. “I’m sure our customers are using their individual social media accounts to help our cause.” Carpet Man Flooring plans on increasing its social media activity in the coming years, Jackson added.

Learning and properly utilizing

Retailers are now rewarding their respective social media communities with exclusive deals and offers if followers choose to share a post within their own networks. The hope is these electronic word-of-mouth referrals will lead to additional customers visiting stores. “If someone says they ‘like’ our Facebook page, they have an opportunity to win 300 square feet of tile for the kitchen,” Kadlec said. “That’s one way to increase the number of posts. We don’t have a ton of likes but it certainly has worked in getting people to our Facebook page.”

Dealers are paying particular attention to comments posted on both their social media profiles as well as websites such as Yelp, which review the shopping experiences of customers. And with good reason: A March 2010 Nielsen survey of Internet users found that when selecting the top three sources to guide decisions, online product reviews are useful to 42% of respondents. “Yelp is huge in areas such as San Francisco,” Abbey Carpet’s Clifton observed. “This kind of site is becoming more popular as people go online to narrow their choices for where they will shop for flooring.” Customer review sites have also become instrumental in providing retailers with referrals, Clifton added.

Retailers are reportedly utilizing online tools to locate direct mentions of their stores to see what people are saying about them online. By monitoring reviews, dealers are finding out who their supporters are and give themselves an opportunity to turn around a dissatisfied customer. “We’re encouraging people to go online and give us reviews about their shopping experiences,” Marlowe said. “This is helping us significantly and is part of our long-term business strategy.” He reported Flooring America of Seminole’s two locations have six reviews and he is making a concerted effort to increase this number.

At the same time, dealers say they are responding quickly to comments placed on their Facebook pages and other social media sites, which provide them with opportunities to answer customer inquiries and address concerns. When retailers are helpful and responsive, customers are left with a favorable impression and dealers can help build trust in their businesses. “Recently, we have had success with social networks such as Facebook, Houzz and Pintrest,” noted Darren Braunstein, executive vice president and COO, Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings, Edison, N.J. “When our customers use these sites to share the excitement of their recent flooring projects, the exposure is priceless.”

One challenge flooring dealers face is gauging the effectiveness of each social media campaign. Retailers reported there are several indicators which they believe provide a good measuring stick on whether their social media strategies are working. The metrics vary, depending on with whom you speak. Some dealers assess performance, in part, by the number of interactions—such as the likes, comments, replies and shares they receive on Facebook.

“It’s hard with social media or anything online to gauge how it is affecting your business,” Walgenmeyer’s Kadlec said. “But at the end of the day, our numbers are up about 20% over last year.”

The gold standard for determining the effectiveness of any marketing campaign, dealers agreed, is based on how many people walk through the door and purchase products. Only time will determine whether the latest marketing craze will take hold and impact retail sales into 2014 and beyond.