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National Floorcovering Alliance: Recruiting, training salespeople take center stage

National TV spot also in the works

April 25/May 2, 2016; Volume 30, Number 22

By Steven Feldman
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 12.23.13 PMAsheville, N.C.—Recruiting and training good salespeople is one of the most pressing issues for floor covering retailers, and the 43 members of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) are not absolved from the challenge. To that end, the group is entertaining the idea of partnering with an outside firm for help.

“There are no real solutions to this issue,” said Dave Snedeker, NFA president and division merchandise manager, Nebraska Furniture Mart. “A couple of companies have reached out to help us find the right talent and do a better job of training. Hopefully we will have a program to present to members before the next meeting in the fall.”Indeed, recruiting good salespeople—and then training them—has been an issue for NFA members. For DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., training is the bigger issue right now as DeGraaf is fortunate in that it attracts salespeople from other retailers in the area. “But it is very difficult with the high demand of work right now to train people from green,” said Deb DeGraaf, co-owner. “The issue is whether you want to bring them in and teach them your culture or would you rather them come in with experience. Due to lack of time for training, having them come in with experience so they can hit the sales floor running is preferred but probably not always best in the long run.”

While she is “absolutely a fan” of an NFA-spearheaded training program, she thinks it may be a challenge to come up with something that works for so many different people in different markets. “But if there is one that could be utilized I think it would be great. I know WFCA is working very hard to bring training for installers.”

Finding good salespeople at Dolphin Carpet and Tile in South Florida is always a struggle, said Cary Cass, general manager. “Trying to go after people who have industry experience is generally like chasing ghosts. We have to get people from outside the industry with strong sales backgrounds who can adapt to an industry that may pay more than where they are now. Luckily we don’t have much turnover.”

While Cass would also welcome a formalized training program, he questioned whether it is achievable. “Each of us does business somewhat differently. From a product side, I imagine suppliers can help us. As for the actual sales aspect, such as how to ask for the order, so much of business today is sold inside the house, and to get those guys on their own inside the house is where the difficulty lies.”

Jimmy Poulos, owner of Flooring 101 in Ventura County, Calif., also finds it difficult to locate experienced floor covering salespeople. “The same old people get circulated around,” he said. So he came up with a better mousetrap. “We hire a lot of women whose job is to assist the salespeople. The smart ones after six or seven months want to go on commission and sell. They learn everything. I say, ‘You make $17 an hour but those guys make $100,000 a year. You have the same opportunity. Let me know when you are ready to jump.’”

Poulos noted one of the cScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 12.23.41 PMhallenges in attracting people to the industry is its reputation, and that is where an NFA-sponsored recruiting program could help. “We have to convey somehow that the people in our industry can make good money. Kids don’t want to say, ‘I am going to sell carpet.’ It’s like they are selling used cars. A used car salesman can make $200,000 a year but no one wants the job.”

As the market leader, Coles Fine Flooring in San Diego has no problem attracting salespeople. But training them is a separate issue. “Anyone who wants to be the class act wants to work for us, so we get a good choice,” said Steve Coles, president. “But to teach them to sell is another story. We don’t sell by price; we sell by durability, quality, installation, etc. Trying to get people who can do that is hard. I’d love a formalized program, but can it be put together? I don’t know.”

Custom Carpet Centers in Buffalo, N.Y., has a unique philosophy when it comes to recruiting salespeople. “We’ve backed away from pulling existing floor covering salespeople and are trying to find people from other industries—like rent to own—where they are used to working long, horrible hours and have tougher things to do,” said Jay McDonnell, president. “So when they come to retail floor covering sales it’s fewer hours and less stressful.”

Cam Haughey, co-owner of ICC Floors in Indianapolis, likes the idea of a blueprint to help NFA members train new sales associates and “bring new blood into the business.” Luckily, recruiting has not been an issue lately. “We are in a nice little pocket right now where we have found some good, young guys and they are bringing in some of their friends. Aside from that, it’s been word of mouth that’s been working. But for the most part we haven’t had much luck sweeping them from someone else.”


NFA members hit the airwaves

The NFA is considering producing a professional, customizable national quality TV spot where economies of scale would allow members to participate for as little as $1,000. While in the infancy stages, the idea would be to co-brand the commercial with a vendor for a specific offer. The names Armstrong and Stainmaster were floated.

Darren Braunstein, Worldwide Wholesale, Edison, N.J., who heads up the marketing committee, explained how the committee has been seeking a marketing initiative that would work for the majority of the group. “A commercial makes sense since much of the group does TV.” Members would own the 30-second spot, which could be edited down to 15 seconds as well as changed for different promotions. It could also air on various social media platforms.

“The concept would be a couple moving into a resale home that needs new floors,” he said. “They would go into the store, make a selection with a professional salesperson and then see the finished product in their new home. The takeaway would be that any consumer going into a NFA member store would be exposed to beautiful selection and great service. Experience and result would be the message.”

DeGraaf is a big proponent. “We can all go out and spend $1,000 and put together a so-called TV commercial but not [on the level] of what you would see on a national spot of larger companies. The synergy of the NFA and ability to do that professionally in our market is an awesome opportunity. I want to instill confidence in consumers to understand its local but I want them to see the professionalism that lies behind that.”

McDonnell, who also serves on the marketing committee, is another member who believes it makes a “a ton of sense. The production quality of the spot has everything to do with how people perceive your business. We can come away with super high-quality stuff that can be divided by 20 or 30 companies and can be used for the next two or three years.”

Cass didn’t think it made sense for Dolphin because it would be branded with some suppliers it really doesn’t do much business with. “But I think they touched on something that can be more developed from a generic side, like a generic laminate spot or generic wood spot. That’s something everyone can benefit from rather than with a particular supplier.”


Rating the vendors

One of the highlights of an NFA gathering is the core vendor meeting, which is held in a “speed dating” format in which each of the 26 vendors gets 18 minutes with every member. A new wrinkle at the fall meeting in San Diego was an unofficial exercise where retailers had the opportunity to evaluate each vendor’s presentation. According to Snedeker, it was as much about teaching the vendors to think about their presentations as opposed to giving them a grade—utilizing their time and money most effectively by meeting the needs of membership.

Among those vendors who scored well were Tuftex, MS International, Shaw and USFloors. “They utilized the time they had with us most effectively,” Snedeker said. “Some practice their presentations in advance of the meeting so members are not sitting around. They get right into it and are done before you know it.”

Doug Jackson, vice president, sales and marketing, Tuftex, told FCNews he comes to these meetings prepared to give NFA members what the company believes they want. “My opinion is we have done enough of the groundwork on the front side to understand the fibers they are buying, the products they are buying, the displays they need and what they need from a retail standpoint. We don’t come on an exposition mission.”

For Manny Llerena, director of sales and marketing, MS International, the idea is also about meeting member needs. “First and foremost, we are focused on the trends for 2016 and bringing out products to meet those trends. Second, we focus on making beautiful products more affordable. We show them how they and their stores can take advantage of new trends and the lower costs. Finally, it’s about making it simple. We have booklets so they can follow along with pricing. We can show them a lot of items in a short period of time.”

For Shaw, the two operative words are “organized” and “simplicity.” John Godwin, executive vice president, residential sales and marketing, explained, “We have a plan and narrow it down very concisely. We have three very specific things we want to accomplish. We focus on what’s new, where we are going and the things we believe would have some interest. We want people to walk away and say, ‘I just talked to Shaw and they presented four things to me.’”

USFloors takes a completely different approach, according to Piet Dossche, CEO. “We are here to sell the company, not products. We are here to sell our vision. We have to create an excitement. We want them to say, ‘This is a company I want to be associated with because they have an exciting future ahead of them.’ It’s about who you are, what can you do for them, the future. Product has to be [covered] at a different stage. Our message is that in this composite core category, not only are we the current leader but we will be the leader going forward. We will also give them a private label collection because there is enough critical mass with this group to do that. No one else is doing that in this category for this group.”