Posted on

The ins and outs of marketing to the female customer

Times, methodology have changed to appeal to target consumer

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By Amanda Haskin

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.33.29 PMIn a 1961 ad for Congoleum-Nairn Fine Floors, a smiling and stylish housewife stands in the corner of a colorful living room, accompanied by the text: “From hem to hairdo, every detail is right for her, the result of skillful blending, mixing and matching… just as every room in her home is carefully coordinated to give complete style harmony.”

If this woman represents the quintessential 1960s housewife, to whom is this ad appealing—men who wish to please their wives or women who strive to become design-savvy individuals?

Times have certainly changed since then, but the quest to market toward today’s modern woman still seems to be the Holy Grail for many flooring manufacturers and retailers alike. A 2012 study by i-on-Women, a division of Chicago-based Insights in Marketing, showed that 91% of women feel that companies are not marketing effectively to them.

Denise Fike, member of the family of ownership at Fike Bros. Carpet One in Yeagertown, Pa., believes the flooring industry has never particularly succeeded in marketing to women. “Ten years ago it was a big deal to get the flooring vendors, merchandisers and even advertisers to realize their customer was a woman in the first place. Sales staffs would be all male and displays were 7 feet tall.”

Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier at Simple Marketing Now, agreed with this assessment of the industry. “We live in a world designed by men, intended for women. This is particularly true in flooring.”

The female buying demographic has changed dramatically over the years. Women buying home décor elements are not necessarily housewives anymore. While many are still stay-at-home wives and moms, they are also 9-to-5ers, breadwinners, entrepreneurs, single moms, house-flippers and online researchers.

“Women are in the workplace,” Whittemore said. “They are educated, income earners, more demanding and chief purchasing officers at home and often at work. Women are also more digitally connected and savvy online.”

Fike believes that since the industry realized its No. 1 customer was female, retailers have moved all their marketing in that direction. But she has also found that the market is no longer just the woman, but oftentimes the couple.

“Thirty years ago the home was the wife’s territory,” she said. “Now we’re talking to the team. The house is their shared domain; they’re participating in it together. Homes have become smaller, so they both make their impact on it.” She added that she even sees many men pre-shopping for their wives, because “the team” doesn’t have the time to waste.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.33.23 PMWhittemore expanded upon this idea to include various types of couples. “Younger generations seem to be more collaborative in the shopping process. Retailers need to know how to sell to couples, which could mean husband and wife, two girlfriends, or mom and daughter. You need to be able to adjust.”

But many believe things haven’t actually changed all that much. Even though the demographic has evolved, the core values and interests of the group are relatively unvarying.

“Women have always been our main market,” said Judith Huck, owner of Classique Floors in Portland, Ore. “The partner may have a little more interest now, but it is not equal interest. I know personally my husband doesn’t care what we put in our home; he just isn’t interested. Yes, we’re not all housewives these days, but we still take more interest in the home. I still hear husbands say, ‘Well, if you like it, let’s get it.’”

FCA Network president Olga Robertson has a similar view of today’s female market. “Whether you are a housewife or in the workplace—or both—women want what they want. If they can get what they want at a discounted price, that’s even better.

“Generally, they are not inclined to sacrifice quality for price, but women do have a tendency to trade themselves down. It’s up to the sales associate to help them justify spending the money on what they want. Women, in most cases, are the ‘careful steward’ of the house and responsible for getting the best value for themselves and their families.”

Establishing a sense of community is also an important tool for selling to the female demographic. Twice a year, Classique Floors hosts a “Ladies Night Out,” which includes local vendors selling jewelry, lotions, candles and other luxury goods, wine tastings and even a tarot card reader.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Huck said. “We’re getting more strategic about it; this year we’re going to have one event two or three weeks before Mother’s Day and one before Christmas. Anything that brings people into your store for any reason will help business in the long run. They know where we are, what it looks like in here, and that we won’t attack them when they walk in the door.”

Whittemore echoed this approach by recommending hosting events that bring customers though the door. “Maybe it’s a bring-a-friend event to hear someone talk in the store. Those are successful because she has a reason to go into a non-threatening environment. I can’t stress enough: no hard sell.”

Because of the nature of the female demographic, word of mouth is another important tool for reaching this group. “We get a lot of referrals,” said Kelly Cantrell Sisk of One on One Floor Covering in Hazel Green, Ala. “A lot of times we get women who have friends or family who have already used us. The mother/daughter/cousin/aunt relationships go a long way.”

Women are also more visual customers than men and communicate their individuality and originality through the home. A well-styled showroom and captivating online presence will help target this aesthetically minded customer.

“Savvy retailers are paying attention and realize their stores are sets for showing off how product looks at home,” Whittemore said.

“We should be targeting today’s woman with inspiration,” Fike added. “Give her ideas, cool visuals and new product attributes. Get her excited about the project.”

Today’s online culture has augmented this idea of women being visual consumers. The Internet, specifically sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz, have made it possible for women to envision what they want before they walk blindly into stores.

“They do their online research before they come in,” Sisk said. “They normally already have a look they’re going for. Of course the price point is still very important, but even if they have to get the cheapest version of that look, they’re going to get that look they came in wanting.”

According to experts, retailers should concentrate less on selling and more on being a resource for their female customers.

“Respect her and her research,” Whittemore advised. “Help educate her and help make sense out of the very complicated flooring category. Be transparent with pricing and installation to prevent issues. She’s your toughest customer; satisfy her and it will be easier to meet the needs of your other customers.”